Measuring Your Career Through Nervous Excitement

Are you taking the right risks in order to progress your career and your opportunity for learning?

When looking back at your career, can you remember the times where you were nervously excited because of a decision you had to make? Originally, I was going to call this post “measuring your career by gut wrenching moments” but I wanted to make the clear distinction between the negative insinuation of gut-wrenching vs. the positive excitement of nervousness, even though the right level of nervousness can still make your stomach churn.

When I’ve switched roles in my career I experienced a wide range of nervous excitement that occurred with every opportunity–all the way from zero to that feeling you get when you are sitting in the first car of a roller coaster and are about to take off.

Looking back, I can say that the times where I’ve had the highest levels of nervous excitement are the opportunities that generally led me to places of great learning and growth.

At first, it was hard to make decisions that generated a positive uneasy feeling. That feeling made me question the opportunity and take a harder look. Over time–thanks to the impact, learning, and growth from those decisions–I’ve learned to embrace that feeling and take it as a good sign.

Secondly, I examine what it is about certain activities, jobs, or project opportunities that generates that feeling, compared to the seemingly same activities or opportunities that don’t give me that feeling so I can be more aware of what motivates and interests me. It’s interested to discover which opportunities initially interest me vs. ones that don’t. I’m learning more about what drives me and where I can have the most impact.

So, how many times have you been nervously excited by an opportunity? How did it turn out?  Even if it didn’t work out great, did the learning from that help in the long run?  Could you base your next career move off of what scares you?

The Question Recorder

You can tell a lot about a group from the questions they ask each other and/or ask others outside the group.

Think of the power of uncovering insights based on the ability to document every question ever asked by or to a group/brand/person/etc and tracking all the context and meta data attached to it.  Being able to record the solution as well would make it even more powerful.

The potential builds off of the data–like an automatic FAQ creator or a prioritized list of focus areas based on number or type of questions–would be incredibly valuable as well.

At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become.

-Leo Babauta

What else could we do with this data?

 

The Most Valuable Skills a Co-op or Intern Can Learn That You Help Create

What’s the most valuable skill you can learn as a college co-op on a six month assignment at a big company while you’re still early in your college career?  As a leader, what’s the experience you hope your co-op gets while they are in your group for those six months?

Let’s talk quickly about these types of positions then I’ll tell a quick story about the most important skills.

First let’s explore a few factors.

  • Co-op positions are great ways that both the student and the company can benefit.  Because they’re generally longer and have more depth than an internship there is the opportunity to develop, contribute, and learn more.
  • Co-op and intern programs are great ways that companies can start to develop future talent and build its incoming talent pipeline. Students with already in-company experience through internships and co-ops can sometimes hit the group running even faster because they have some prior experience in that type of environment.
  • Finally, co-ops generally provide a great resource for the team because they can help balance the workload of the other team members and take on lower level, yet important, work that would of usually been handled by more senior resources or just not done at all.

All that being said, would the most valuable skills that the co-op learned over her/his time be the day to day how to do this particular job skills?  No.

Would the skills and experience of “being professional” and working in an office environment and things like email etiquette be the most important? Good, but I don’t think they’re the most important.

The most important skills came to light for me thanks to a recent experience.  During the final week of a recent co-op’s last assignment (let’s call the co-op Bob for privacy’s sake) I had the fortune of having lunch and saying good bye to Bob. We talked about all he had experienced during his time at the organization, what it was like to be on certain teams, and what he thinks he learned during his time here.

After listening for a while I couldn’t stop smiling.  Not one of the things he talked about had anything to do with the particular day-to-day aspects of his job. He didn’t talk about how he now knew the internal homegrown system we used to track support requests and how happy he was to learn this random system. He didn’t talk about how he learned to use our conference room booking software and how excited he was to now use that software wherever he went. He did talk about things like learning about how big companies do things and about some important more tactical or traditional lessons, so that covered us on the common sense aspects.

The things he talked about that had me smiling had to do with what he learned about himself and what he was capable of.  He talked about gaining confidence and trust in himself and also about seeing the world in a whole new way.  He also talked about being given the seemingly impossible (in his mind) and working on making it happen.

He recounted examples of being given some ridiculous-sounding challenges (oops, opportunities) like “see if you can find a radio station in this particular area that we can take over for 4 hours with content of our choosing, 4 days from now, for free.”  Or, “it’s December and we need one of those jersey shore type banner trailing planes to fly right next to one of the busiest airports in the country with a customized message, while the sun is coming up.”  Now, to put this in perspective, co-op Bob’s role was for website-related stuff.

The way he summed it up was that when he was asked to do those ridiculous things (note: they were “business necessary”, just in an odd way that would take a whole different post to explain) he originally thought to himself “I have no idea what you’re even talking about, how the hell am I supposed to do that, where do I even start?”  By the end of his six-month experience, he said he felt like he could do anything.

He had been given the experience and, more importantly, the expectation of taking something seemingly ridiculous or impossible and making it happen. Thankfully, he also connected the last dot when he said “if I can do that, I feel like I can do anything.”

Learning about yourself and pushing the limits on what you’re capable of, building confidence and trust in yourself, and pushing to make the impossible happen are important skills for co-ops and interns early in their professional lives. Important things to make sure you’re trying to create for those you work with, with a safety net if things don’t work out completely.

I wonder if working on those types of skills would also be important for yourself as you progress further and further in your career?

Making Short Term Decisions to Long Term Problems

If the phrases “we just have to get through this next quarter” or “we just have to stabilize until the customers return and it goes back to the way it was” enter into the conversation when you’re about to make business decisions,  you should realize that you’re already starting your decision making process from the wrong place.

Many music companies and newspapers thought their customers were coming back and in order to survive all they had to do was “hold on” until things turned back to the way they were.

The customers aren’t coming back, it’s never going to be like it was, and the things affecting your business aren’t going away.

Relying on things to go back to the way they were is short term thinking. It’s easy to fall into that trap because the answers to short term problems are easy (layoffs to make a number for wall street, cutting R&D or relationship building expenses).

The challenge and opportunity is to focus on the real issues and plan how to survive long term. Long term thinking presents hard problems and forces harder conversations because it demands that you challenge what has made you successful in the past in order to thrive in the coming future.

You’ll only be in business for the long term, when you start to think and design for the long term.