You’ve made it. You’re here. I can only assume you made it this far because you’re NOT doing things from nine-to-five that scare you sh*tless. Now that I have the assumption train rolling down the tracks, allow me to make one more sweeping—but, very calculated—generalization.
I’m fairly confident that the majority of you reading this post, at one point or another in your academic career, became visibly uncomfortable (I’m talking fingernail-biting, palm sweating, I’d-literally-rather-be-anywhere-but-here uncomfortable) anytime a professor stood in front of the class on presentation day, smiled, took a longer-than-normal pause, and simply said, “Alright, who wants to go first?”
I can pretty confidently make that assumption because, I, too, was that person. I, too, still need a constant nudge to go outside my comfort zone at work. For one reason or another—which I’ve never been able to figure out—I was always terrified by the thought of “going first.” Looking for someone to go second, third or fourth? I’m your guy. But, first? That was a risk I just wasn’t going to take.
“Let somebody else f*ck up first,” I thought. If you’re experience was anything like mine, more often than not, that’s exactly what happened. The way I saw it, the odds were in my favor. Follow the guy that tripped and fell, save the day, restore order, and raise the bar a bit higher.
“Alright, who wants to go first?” the professor would repeat. Predictably, no one would say a word.
“If no one wants to volunteer,” he’d say, now talking to a class who’d seemingly morphed into an overgrown group of toddlers, “I’ll start picking.” It was at this point two things would happen—first, eyeballs would quickly and intensely gaze around the room, jumping from one terrified face to another, each individual’s way of saying, “I don’t even know you, but, if you go first, I’ll buy ALL of your drinks this weekend.”
And then, more often than not, someone would finally bite the bullet, sometimes end up with a free tab (for real, I’ve been the beneficiary of that arrangement a time or two), a better grade, and an incredible feeling of relief knowing it was over and done with.
Whether you realize it or not, this is the way the working world works. I don’t care if your an entry level “foot solider,” a 30-something who’s made his or her way up the ladder, or an all-powerful executive, you need to become comfortable with “going first.” I learned this lesson early and started raising my hand daily when opportunities presented themselves. I graduated college four years ago. Since I started the climb, I haven’t gone more than eight months without a promotion.
If you’ve made it this far, you want the same thing. More pointedly, you want all the things that come as a result of moving up the ladder—more money, more responsibility, a better title, etc. If these aren’t your goals, that’s perfectly okay. Not everyone wants to climb the ladder, and even the “climbers” might eventually want to jump off (myself included). That’s the way this stuff works. I’ll admit this is a bit “cut throat,” but then again, it’s the cost of doing business.
Regardless of your goals, you need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable because…
Other people aren’t.
Take advantage of others’ inactivity and play the law of averages. Let’s say you’re competing with a co-worker (or a group of co-workers) for the right to move up to the next rung on the ladder. Out of that group of five (or any other number), a small percentage will outrun the rest. Stay at the front of the pack, and you’re no longer competing against everyone in the group.
Seriously, especially the “people” (bosses, those in positions of power, etc.) thatneed to notice. Succeed or fail, you gain a little respect each time you knowingly take a calculated risk. Once you’ve raised your hand, however, own the opportunity and do whatever it takes to deliver.
You’ll work smarter.
Not harder, but smarter. Doing something outside your comfort zone or pay grade forces you to use all of your resources in order to succeed. When you use all of the resources at your disposal—people, skills, and tools—you increase your likelihood of success.
You’ll gain leverage.
In business, leverage is a great thing to have. Leverage opens doors, wallets and more opportunities. If you continuously demonstrate a willingness and ability to deliver outside your pay grade, you make yourself more irreplaceable. When you’re hard to replace, you’re sitting pretty.
I started my climb exactly 10 days after graduating college, stupid, naive and literally dumbfounded by the prospect of sitting at a desk for eight hours each weekday rather than waking up at 10:00 am and maybe going to class. Three months later, I packed up all of my belongings (which, admittedly, didn’t amount to much at age 22), moved to Arkansas, and then tried to pick up the pieces after I was promptly dumped by my girlfriend. All for what my bossed called, “more opportunity.” For the record, fellas, women don’t like being placed second on your list of priorities—particularly when “Arkansas” (of all places or things) occupies the number one spot. Had the roles been reversed, I’d have been a bit upset myself.
It’s funny, though—when you’re broke, thousands of dollars in debt, and working eight hours a day for what seems like pennies, “more opportunity” has a way of making you do things you never thought you’d do.
In the past three years, I’ve moved seven times (Arkansas was the first)—mostly for more money, exposure, responsibility or opportunity. Constant change ultimately brings with it a lot of instability, but instability has never really intimidated me. I try not to think of myself as a digital marketer (my day job) or business development professional. I simply refuse to define myself based on my job title. I’m an “experience collector.” It might not pay in cash, but it’s enriched my life far more than money ever will.
If you’re anything like me—a guy who often struggled with assertiveness and preferred to fly under the radar and operate behind the scenes—the anxiety of “going first” never really goes away. You do, however, become much more comfortable being uncomfortable. “Going first” doesn’t always produce positive results, but it almost always brings positive change. I can’t promise it will be easy, but I guarantee you’ll learn a few things. Whenever you can, scare yourself sh!tless. Then, drink a beer.
John Schnettgoecke is a 25-year-old ad agency veteran now trying his hand at software development. He’s spent the last four years acting impulsively, taking chances, and simply figuring things out along the way. He shares what he’s learned in a brief, albeit action-packed climb up the corporate ladder, hoping in earnest that others may benefit from his on-again, off-again rides on the “Struggle Bus.” On Twitter @JohnSchnett.
Image Credit: http://www.levo.com/