In the summer of 2004 I was poor. I was fresh back from playing the wandering European for a year and I was cashless, homeless, jobless, and had spent too long living on what I’m proud to call “Zoe’s stolen spaghetti stew” (secret ingredient: stealth).
The first temp company had no design jobs, but on the way out the receptionist asked me if I knew anyone who could use Visio. Why yes, I said, I’m a Visio expert, did I forget to put that on my resume? She called my interviewer back, who said in that case the job started tomorrow.
I left the building, went the the nearby Barnes and Nobles and looked up what the hell this Visio thing was. Then I called the guy on whose whose couch I was crashing and had him pirate me a copy. I spent the night working through the help files, and started my new job designing userflows for SAP the next morning. It lead to what’s been a rather nifty career in interaction design.
I am proud to say I have never been hired for a job I didn’t have to lie to get. Not about my achievements, those are stupid to lie about and anyway they’re easy to check on. But when it comes to skills, to take a job you’re absolutely sure you can already do seems silly. Taking career risks is the only way to make sure of having one, and I’d sure as hell prefer to try and fail than demur until some imaginary time when I’m 100% sure I’ll be perfect.
This is the time of year when students start coming to me for career advice. The dudes in general either have something or don’t. But for some of the ladies its not so clean-cut. Yesterday, for the third time this year I heard a variation on this theme: girl has a job, usually an internship. Girl is offered a promotion to full time. Girl is nervous she’s not ready yet and decides to turn it down. Or this variation: girl is offered dream full-time job. Girl is also offered dream freelance job on the side. Girl decides to take full-time job, but turn down freelance one because she wants her performance in the full time job to be perfect. Neither of these scenarios have happy endings, at best her career stalls from lack of trying new things, and at worst at some point she’ll be replaced by someone with a bit more guts.
From where came this bizarre female aversion to self promotion? This insistence on perfection to the point where, like OCD, it handicaps the victim and ruins their prospects? Why is taking a risk so impossible to contemplate for some otherwise brilliant ladies ?
Lets run through these scenarios again. Girl gets offered promotion. Girl takes promotion. Girl fails. The boss is disappointed. Or this one: girl takes both jobs. Girl does marginally less well at both. Girl will be forced to quit one of them. One of the bosses will be disappointed. Bottom line: disappointed bosses. Is that truly the worst possible thing that could happen? Without resorting to the highly improbable, the answer is yes, yes it really is. But hamstringing a career from fear of letting down an authority figure is something even the most desperate of daddy issues should balk at.
Well ladies, being successful takes guts, and having guts means taking the type of risks that sometimes result in looking stupid and disappointing people. That assurance, that strike of lightning that says “Why yes, I just realized I am the best possible person in the world for this particular job” may by long coming. As Nietzche points out, “claiming to be good only because you have no claws” isn’t actually being good at all, and cowardice masquerading as politeness does no one any favors, least of all your boss. Speaking as one now myself, I’d surely rather have my employees ambitious than submissive. It makes them more fun to be around, for one.
So go after that job ladies, even though you don’t have a clue if you can handle it or not. Grit your teeth and tell that lie about your confidence that, for you all you know, might just be the truth. And maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you’ll be fired. Maybe you’ll have to cut back your hours. Maybe your boss will yell at you in front of everyone and they’ll all point and laugh while you cry. But maybe, just maybe, you will be amazing at it.