I used to believe I was a ‘trial and error’ guy. The only problem – I was intolerant of the ‘error’ part. It’s like I had this unreal expectation that I was infallible – even though I fallible’d so often, it could have been my full-time job.
When it comes to trying something new, we often think we’re hesitant to do so because of fear of failure. I know that to be true because I hear it regularly from my clients. Yet, lurking beneath the surface is another reason – ridicule and humiliation. For me, and many others I speak with, we’re more concerned about protecting our egos (not to suggest we’re egotistical) and doing our damnedest not to put ourselves in a position to be laughed at.
Going a layer deeper, what’s really fascinating to me is that we do new things all the time. So there’s something about our rating system or assessment of the new thing that is on the lookout for consequence and possible ridicule.
We try new foods. We start new jobs. We meet new people. We visit new places. We drive new roads. We hike or bike new trails. We public speak. We post a video on LinkedIn…and the list goes on.
With one of my old clients named Jack, when he was faced with something new that he was going to try, we used to come up with Jack SOP’s. These were his guiding principles, and sometimes, they were even step-by-step, how-to guides. The first time he’d try the new thing, he’d whip out his handy guide, follow the guidelines, and – voila! He reduced the inner voice saying ‘they’re all gonig to laugh at you’, felt more confident in what he was doing, and eventually mastered the thing that before seemed daunting.
I have another old client named Lizzie who was working through some challenges with her direct reports. As we dug deeper we realized she wasn’t getting the information she needed from her team during one-on-ones. To solve this problem she created a meeting template for how she wanted to structure the one-on-ones to make them consistent, ensure she was getting the info she needed, and also that her team was able to maximize their time with her to ensure they were getting what they needed. Even though this all sounds like a win-win scenario, it was change. It was new. And she wasn’t completely confident with how it would go, if her team would respond positively, or if they were going to laugh at her (so to speak). After the expected growing pains of this new process, it quickly became apparent to everyone that this uniformity was the exact thing that was missing and they all wondered ‘why didn’t we do this sooner?!’
Both Jack and Lizzie knew they weren’t going to fail – they were more concerned with how they’d come across. Would they lose the respect of the people they respected, or might these same people point and laugh at the ridiculousness of what they were doing?
One last example – some of you might be reading this blog for the first time. If that’s the case, thank you for reading! The reason I have some new readers is that, for the first time, I directly reached out to people, told them about the blog, and asked if they’d subscribe to my newsletter to receive a notice when I publish a new blog.
Nowhere in my mind’s eye did I think I’d ‘fail’. I knew someone would say yes! I was more concerned about my message coming across as arrogant, as if ‘who am I to think my words are important or valuable’ (do you hear my Judge in there?), and what if they laugh at me?
Interestingly enough, someone I’ve known for years named Bernadette declined and told me ‘no’. At first, I was hurt and a little huffy. Then I realized, she gave me a gift – instead of ignoring me and saying nothing, she extended the courtesy of letting me know. She also wished me luck. No hard feelings, our relationship is undaunted, and she still has my back. This led me back to my initial thought about trial and error. I had to try sending out a bunch of messages to get some yes’, some no’s, and many non-replies. But I had to try!
As with many things in life, and following the lessons from Jack’s SOP’s, here is a simple process to consider engaging in. As I’ve written about previously, what holds us back is often a lack of answers to questions, and that unknowing leads to diminished confidence – often the tipping point of trying or not trying.
1. Ask questions
I know, this sounds too basic. And yet, you’d be surprised by how many people don’t ask questions because…survey says…they’re afraid of sounding stupid. Yup, simply because we don’t know how to do something we feel stupid because somewhere in our brain we’ve decided that we should have somehow known the thing(s) we have no knowledge of nor experience with.
Take my email example for instance. Somewhere in my brain I thought – this isn’t rocket science, I can figure out how to build an email list, and I’ll sound dumb if I asked questions.
Fact is, nobody is all-knowing on all things. Just think about your employment situation – you do your job, they do their job, and the company (hopefully) succeeds. A bunch of experts exercising their expertise in their field. If you were interested in another department or position, wouldn’t it make sense to ask those experts some questions?
Before doing the new thing (assuming you have time and weren’t thrust into the lion’s den), think about what you’re most curious about. What are the basic questions that you’d like to know before taking decisive action? Then ask those questions! That’s it!
2. Consult an Expert
This goes hand-in-hand with #1 however, they aren’t always tied together. Using my email example yet again, I spoke with many entrepreneurs who have email lists and asked them questions. None of them were expert email marketers. Yet, they gave me enough insight and answered my initial questions to give me a better idea of what they did, the challenges they faced, the internal judgments they had to overcome, and the results they achieved.
Once I gathered enough info from them, I decided to consult some experts. They taught more about the ins and outs, the intricacies and nuance of building a list. They also educated me on all the things that fall into ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.
Another example, lots of people get really stressed and anxious when they have to present something to their broader team. However, you’ve probably seen plenty of others perform this very task. And it’s likely you’ve asked people about PowerPoint best practices, how this person or that likes info presented, or how much time you have to present. These are the basics that align with #1, Ask Questions.
If public speaking or presenting to broader teams is a core function of your job, and you want to improve, you might consult and partner with an expert specializing in speaking or presenting. Maybe they help people with storytelling.
I was the keynote speaker for the local SHRM chapter in Denver a couple of years ago. Even though I had experience on the ‘big stage’, I wasn’t fully confident with how I presented and told stories. So I hired an expert on storytelling – Keith was a guy I met years prior, and he helped me tremendously!
Even with all the questions answered and expert advice in the world, nothing can replace experience. Once we try something new, we’re no longer an absolute beginner – we’ve done it for the first time and have that experience to call upon.
When trying something new, that fear of failure or ridicule is often a driving and screaming voice in our head. I sometimes hear Adam Sandler’s voice saying ‘They’re all going to laugh at you!’. But, I know I’m going to do the thing – whatever it is. I might fail. They might laugh at me. Yup – that’s possible. I might also crush it and exceed my expectations.
When it comes to interviews, I often suggest candidates practice telling their stories in the mirror or film themselves. This type of practice can be invaluable.
If you play a sport, you know how important practicing can be to get the basics and mechanics down. As you master those, you start practicing refinement and incorporating more challenging aspects of the sport.
The same holds true for someone in your role or function with 2 years of experience compared to 10. The person with 10 has more practice and experience. In both instances, you were both beginners at some point, and things were new. How did you learn your trade? How did you lean into not knowing? What questions did you ask? What experts did you seek out? How did you go about practicing?
Summing It Up
Here’s the deal: the fear of messing up and getting laughed at can absolutely stop us from trying new stuff. We’re all about protecting our precious egos and avoiding embarrassment. But hey, trying something new doesn’t have to be complicated.
Step one: ask questions like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t worry about sounding clueless because nobody knows it all. Step two: hit up the experts. They’ve been there, done that, and can drop some serious knowledge on you. Step three: practice, practice, practice! It’s all about gaining confidence and getting those skills on point.
Yeah, there’s a chance you might fail or face a few chuckles, but there’s also a chance you’ll blow everyone away with your awesomeness. Just remember, even the big shots started as newbies once. They learned, got guidance, and practiced their butts off. So, ditch the fear, embrace the adventure, and see where it takes ya!