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Newb Valley

Why improving feels a lot harder than you think it should

There comes a point when you are good at what you do. If you're like me, you've been pretty good at things for a long time - pretty good at school, pretty good at work, pretty good at structured environments that provide a path and use skills you already know. This is a very comfortable place to inhabit. It comes with respect, both self respect, and respect from your peers and colleagues.

As long as you stay in your structured environment, on the path that uses/improves your existing skills, getting better feels easy - or at least, predictable. You put in effort, your skills improve in a (more or less) linear fashion.

Sooner or later, you may have the desire to learn something outside of your existing expert skillset. If you're like me, you are surprised when this hurts. Suddenly, you are not good at what you are trying to do. The shock of a drop in your skill level is disconcerting, and the temptation to retreat back to the comfort of your old groove is strong.

To pick a concrete example, you may be a talented developer. You can pick up new languages, or build new systems. If there is something programming-related you don't know, you have a good idea how long it will take to learn it, and how you should go about learning it.

But one day you become a lead developer, or transition into the management. Suddenly, you need skills that you haven't practiced for years and don't have a clear path from where you are.

Welcome to Newb Valley!

It's the difference between your hoped for path and your actual path that causes a lot of pain. There are a couple things you can do to reduce your pain and power through Newb Valley

  1. Know it is coming
  2. Have a plan to bridge the gap
  3. Forgive yourself for mistakes

Know it is Coming

This is an easy, but critical step. If your new found lack of competence surprises you, the impulse to pack it in and retreat to comfort may prove overwhelming. Instead, lean in to your newb-ness. Embrace your lack of competence - after all, if you knew what to do, you wouldn't be learning.

Developing a level of comfort with uncomfortable situations will go far.

Have a Plan

One way of developing and keeping comfort in the face of uncomfortable situations is to have a plan to lean on. You know you're in for an uphill struggle, so figure out in advance how you want to climb that hill. Give yourself some smaller goals and ways to check on your progress.

Forgive Yourself

You will be less competent for some amount of time.

That means you'll make mistakes. You'll blow deadlines. You'll deliver less scope than you had planned. Your plan to progress to the next level will be wrong.

Take a breath, re-evaluate, learn a lesson and move on.

You'll climb out of Newb Valley before you know it


Thank you Sandy Brown Jensen for the picture of the mountain climbers