Asking Not Asking #24: In Search of Patience
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I’m a newly minted designer who’s been working in the field for less than a year and I feel so behind already. I had a great education, but now I feel like I’m starting over again. Everyone is more senior than me, everyone has a better portfolio, and I can’t help but feel the pressure to learn and know everything.
I graduated top of my class and it’s humbling to be a small fish in a big pond again. I know I’ll get better in time, but I’m struggling to be patient with myself and my career. How long does it take to get really good at something? To be recognized? To have better opportunities? I’m okay to wait, but I want to know I’m on the right track.
Thanks for your help,
In Search of Patience
Dear In Search of Patience,
This weekend I had a friend over to my place and we were sitting outside chatting about our businesses. We’re both entrepreneurs. I told her my business was doing well, but I’d like it to be further along, even though it’s only two years old. She reminded me that growth is sequential and we start with what we’re capable of managing and grow from there. That helped me put it into perspective. She’s right. I only have the capacity for a certain number of coaching clients. I can only say yes to a certain number of speaking engagements per year. And I only have the bandwidth to write a limited number of articles each month. I can’t do it all, but I can do what I do well. And I can grow from there.
It’s the same for you. No, you can’t do it all right now. But you can do what you can do well. You can build upon what you already know and chart a path to continued growth as a professional. Here are a few guidelines that might help you along the way:
Choose quality over quantity. Decide that instead of trying to be the best at everything, you’ll perform at your best in a few areas or skills that you really enjoy and that resonate with you. You can’t do it all, but you can do a few things very well.
Build upon existing strengths. This goes hand in hand with the first point. Know what you’re okay at, what you’re good at, and what you’re great at! You don’t have to exclude the okay and good things, but really focus on and build upon what you’re great at. You’ll begin to become known for these skills over time as they become part of your professional identity.
Remember it takes time. Anyone who you admire who has accomplished anything has taken time to get there. People who become extremely accomplished early on are outliers. It does happen, but it’s not the norm. It’s okay to take time because that means less pressure on you. Remember that once you achieve a certain level of success you have to maintain it. And that becomes its own job.
A great way to make this point more real is to schedule coffee meetings with a couple people you respect and admire. Ask them about their paths and how long it took. Ask them for their best advice to someone like yourself who is starting out and feeling impatient. This is a wonderful way to gain perspective.
Recognize what you have done. When we are so focused on a destination ahead of us on the horizon, it’s challenging to appreciate the opportunities and accomplishments right in front of us. One of my mentors calls it destination disease. Perhaps you think you’ll be less impatient and happier once you reach a certain point in your career, but our desire is endless. Once you get there, you’ll be looking ahead at the next destination. Don’t get caught up in the endless cycle of destination disease. Take time to appreciate where you’re at and what you’ve done on a regular basis.
So, how long does it take to get really good at something you ask? Well, a lifetime. We never fully arrive at a task with complete confidence and mastery. It’s an ongoing process and we become better with practice, but we don’t arrive at perfection. Give yourself permission to be as good as you are on any given day. Have goals and milestones you’re working toward, but know that it’s a process that will forever be in refinement.
And what about recognition, you ask? Well, there is much about this that is out of your control. As a professional, your best bet is to focus on doing quality work, building on your strengths, and bringing energy and enthusiasm to the work that is in front of you. Enjoy the process of making the work. And see what happens.
Recognition can be helpful because it’s feedback. If feedback is what you need, think of ways you could get feedback or have conversations now. Does your work get reviewed by your team or creative directors at work? Do you have a mentor or someone you could ask to meet with for feedback on the work? Knowing where our work is strong and where we could improve it can be helpful. Find the people who can become your real-world educators.
When you ask if you’re on the right track, what I’m hearing is that you want to know you are making progress. It’s a big shift to go from a school environment to the real working world. School is structurally set up to give us feedback with critiques from faculty and grades and peer reviews. The whole process of higher education includes a back and forth exchange. You know exactly how you are doing at any moment.
And then you enter the workforce and it feels like a vacuum. You are expected to produce work, often at a rapid pace, with little to no feedback except when you don’t meet expectations. It’s the opposite of school and it can be a challenging transition. What can you do to make the transition smoother and build in checkpoints for yourself? What kind of feedback do you need to feel like you’re on the right track?
All of us feel like imposters sometimes. All of us feel behind. All of us wonder if we’re on the right track. The questions you’re asking are not unique to you. If you don’t have support in the form of peers you can talk to, I’d encourage you to find a community to be part of.
You had a built-in community while in school, which also came with benefits: you could talk to peers about what you were proud of, what you were struggling with. You could see their work and gauge your progress in relation to your cohort. Now you’re in a setting where everyone is at a different stage of learning so there’s no standard for the specific stage you’re at.
Having peers to talk to can help normalize your experience and help you understand where you fit in. It will also remind you that there will always be peers who are ahead of you and who are behind you and wish they were where you are.
I recently had breakfast with Working Not Working cofounder, Justin Gignac, and he reminded me of something very important that is easy for all of us to forget. Today you’re living someone’s dream life. You’re working someone’s dream job. You’re living in someone’s dream city.
Yes, you want more and that’s okay. But in the interim as you’re working toward that something more, don’t forget to look up and look around at where you are. You got yourself there and you’ll get yourself to where you want to go in the future. It’ll just take time. Let patience be your friend as you traverse the long, and hopefully satisfying, road of your career.
To embracing the process,
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