I know a lot of people hate their first job out of college. With no work experience, freshly minted graduates are forced to accept entry-level jobs that involve a lot of grunt work. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a job with plenty of room for growth, so you don’t have to continue doing menial tasks day in and day out for the next 40 years.
I’m at the turning point in my career right now – we recently brought on two new people in my department, so after four years I’m finally no longer the low man on the totem pole. The extra hands mean I can take on more interesting and challenging tasks. It also means I can delegate some of the menial tasks I had been doing to the newbies. Interestingly, I find myself clinging to many of those menial tasks.
I spent four years figuring out how to optimize efficiency and perfect execution of these menial tasks. They may be boring tasks, but damnit, I do them really well! They give me a sense of accomplishment because I don’t struggle to complete them, I don’t run into roadblocks or procrastination, I just do them and cross them off my list. Some of the new projects I’m working on are difficult and frustrating. I’m doing a lot of writing about one of our products, with three people shouting their ideas at me, and it’s my job to make all three of them happy. When I get particularly frustrating feedback from one (or all) of them, I just want to abandon that project and turn to my comfort zone of menial tasks I know I’m good at.
Additionally, I have this completely misguided notion that the newbies aren’t going to be able to execute these menial tasks as well as I can. Why I would be concerned that an intelligent college graduate couldn’t figure out how to fill out a form, create a mailing list, or edit a recorded speech to remove “um”s is beyond me. My boss keeps telling me to delegate those tasks to the newbies, but I’m having a hard time letting go.
There are two issues at work here: first is my fear of leaving my comfort zone and taking on new projects that I’m not as good at yet, and second is letting go of this silly notion that I’m the only one who can remove “um”s from a recording.
Four years ago, I was the newbie. I didn’t know how to do anything. The first time my boss asked me to schedule an event, I called up our event manager and she asked me dozens of questions that I didn’t know the answers to. I had to say “let me check on that and get back to you” to nearly everything she asked me. But I learned. And so will the next person. I will also learn how to deal with three people shouting their oftentimes opposing ideas at me. At some point that will become comfortable to me. And then I’ll have to hand that job off to someone else when it’s time for me to move on to my next challenge. And they’ll learn how to deal with it too.
It’s a little early to set my goals for 2013, but I think this might be one of them. I need to learn to let go. Let go of my comfort zone, because that’s the only way I’ll grow. Let go of my need to control all the menial tasks, because in doing so, I’m sending the message to our new hires that I don’t trust them. They are capable people. And so am I. We can all take on new challenges and learn new skills. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll get through them and come out ready for the next challenge.