New Is Stressful, And It Means You Are Probably Doing It Right

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May 16, 2014

I want to share two important ideas that I learned from one of my key, long-time mentors, Jim Davis. These have proven to be profoundly valuable through my career.

Big Idea No. 1 — New is stressful mistake

There was a time when I started a big, new, executive job, and the enormity of what I needed to learn was crushing. I was terrified.

And I was very stressed because I felt like I couldn’t possibly learn enough, fast enough, to add enough value soon enough — and I was going to get found out and lose my job.

Lesson No 1 — It’s supposed to be stressful.

Jim simply said:

New is stressful. You’re doing it right. You are supposed to be stressed right now — because everything is new! I promise you, very soon it will all snap into focus and you’ll know what to do.”

This was such a gift! I was doing OK after all.

I was supposed to feel like this. Everyone feels like this. If you are feeling like this in a new situation, you are OK too!

I can report that exactly this happened about a week and a half after that conversation.

Indeed, the ideas started to repeat, the feeling of chaos and lack of traction went away, and a clear picture started to form. I suddenly knew what I needed to do and how to add value, as if a light switched on.

Lesson No. 2 — Coping is a deliverable.

When you step into a big, messy job, one of the things your manager is needing from you is to cope (though almost no one will say this out loud). They don’t need you to be brilliant immediately as much as they need you to merely cope:

They need you to show up again tomorrow, and not run fleeing from the building. Because if you went away, all that crap would be theirs again.”

The fact that you are willing to show up and not let it kill you has value in itself. Think about people you have hired and how glad you are when they show up. There is truth in this.

Lesson No. 3 — Don’t make additional stress.

Don’t waste energy you could spend at getting good at your job, by worrying about not being good at your job. Your brain works better when you are not worried. If you calm down, you’ll get where you want to go sooner.

Big Idea No. 2 — The second meeting

I remember walking out of an important meeting with a new client, where I had big hopes to achieve something, and feeling vaguely let down by the whole thing.

Jim said another thing to me which is so simple, but so profound — I think about this all the time:

You have to have the first meeting before you can have the second meeting.”

The first meeting is new. (New = stressful). In the first meeting, both sides are dealing primarily with the newness. It can feel awkward and unproductive.

Then you get to the second meeting and everyone is more connected, focused and ready to go.

The thing is, you have to have the first meeting before you have the second meeting. You can’t just jump to the second meeting.

I can’t even count how many times this simple ideas has kept me on course, and kept my spirits up.

Stress means you are doing it right

I find this to be true when I am learning something for the first time too. You can’t start in the middle. You have to start with the initial, awkward, frustrating part.

When ever I start something new, or meet someone new, and the initial experience is stressful, challenging, disappointing, or confusing, I simply say to myself, “You have to have the first meeting before you can have the second meeting.”

Good luck with your new endeavors.

If you feel stressed, you are doing it right!

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.