“Even if you’re not.”
Changing careers can feel daunting, especially the notion of trading in our hard-won competence for that feeling of re-found incompetence. While it’s easy to stick to jobs where we have mastery, is it possible that we can be at our best when we know the very least?
Surely you remember that feeling of being in over your head, tasked with something important and hard, and doing it for the first time. For me, I was just 24 years old when I was told I would be managing the training department for Oracle and asked to build Oracle University. I knew that my only real qualification for the job was that I had recently been at a university. I was occasionally teased by the execs for being young for the job. When a client noticeably flinched upon hearing that I ran the corporate university, my boss smiled and responded, “Oh, Liz isn’t particularly qualified for the job, but she’s bright.” Attempting to defend myself, I responded, “Who wants a job they’re qualified for? There’d be nothing to learn.”
Is it possible to have a successful career as a perpetual rookie? My research has shown that there is a distinct benefit to working in this learning mode. When you’re new to something—whether you’re 25 or 65 years old—a learner’s advantage kicks in. In the process of wondering, asking, and discovering, you do your best thinking, often outperforming those with experience, particularly in knowledge work that involves innovation and speed.
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