Content by Kathleen Hunt and Nilza Marie Santana-Castillo
Let’s set the scene: you wake up, start your computer, open the necessary applications, and then begin reviewing your to-do list. On that to-do list are a few things you don’t feel fully prepared to-do, including:
Beginning the job search in earnest may be giving you a twinge of anxiety because you still don’t feel “ready” to begin meeting with hiring managers. In the back of your mind you’re still figuring out how you’re going to convince people you are a “real” data scientist, a developer, or a designer.
We’re here to let you in on an understated secret…
Everyone experiences a bit of ambiguity and uncertainty! Stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone is part of the professional development process.
So instead of waiting for the day where you feel wholly ready, learn to operate outside of your comfort zone. Here are three steps you can take to tackle this challenge, starting today:
Take time to reflect and dissect what aspects of a task or situation are making you feel ill-prepared or uneasy. Then, begin to develop actionable steps that can help shrink down that doubt and give you confidence.
For example, not feeling ready for a technical interview challenge? What part of it? If you realize that you’re feeling uncomfortable with the prospect of using new tools or a language you have not yet learned, remember that throughout Lambda School’s curriculum you have already shown that you are capable of learning new skills. If you’ve done it once or before, you can do it again! So instead of worrying about the fact you don’t know those skills now, make a game plan to learn them. Speaking of skills....
Let’s use learning to ride a bike as an example. No one is born with the natural ability to hop on a bike and take off. You can study bike mechanics, learn how to repair a hole in your tire, and ride a stationary bike at the gym, but you still may not know how to ride a bike. Ultimately, you need to get on one and actually practice in order to fully learn. You might fall and scrape your knees a few times before you get the hang of it, but those fumbles are part of learning.
Now, let’s take this back to the skills you’ve learned in your track. You are not expected to be an expert at React or documentation right away. As you apply these skills in interviews, while networking, and on the job, you’re likely to make a few mistakes.
The way you manage those slip ups is to have the grit and drive to continue to try, and the humility to admit you are a lifelong learner who is always growing. There will always be a new challenge, so get comfortable with the idea of waking up and jumping out of bed singing “I’M READY” like SpongeBob Squarepants. This doesn’t mean you have all of the skills and experience, it means you’re ready to take on challenges as you are. What you’re really saying is “I’M READY...to go for it.”
If you’re taking on an I’m ready to go for it mindset, you will be more open to new experiences that come your way. Our feelings of not being ready can really just be a cover for our fears, speaking up in the back of our head saying:
“I’m not the developer/designer/data scientist people think I am. How can I call myself that when I have not even landed a job with that title yet?”
“What if I get asked something that I have no clue how to answer, and I look foolish in front of everyone?”
“Everyone else has so much more knowledge and experience than I have; what could I possibly add to the conversation?”
This is impostor syndrome talking, and it’s something that most people feel throughout their careers. When you find yourself thinking of all the reasons why you shouldn’t, instead think of the possibilities and why you should. Reframe the above questions into:
“Every qualified developer/designer/data scientist started somewhere and knew even less than me at some point, so I’m working towards what they achieved.”
“I won’t know the answer to everything, and I’m ok with admitting that. I can work on finding the answers when I’m not sure.”
“Everyone else has so much more knowledge and experience than I have – what interesting questions can I ask to learn more from them?”
Acting (or not acting) out of fear might save you from short-term discomfort, but it also means closing the door on the endless possibilities. Mentors, job offers, and professional connections aren’t going to come to you while you’re sitting at home! It’s ok to feel nervous – but don’t make fear-based decisions.
You’re likely to feel not ready more often than you feel ready, and that’s a good thing. Once you feel ready, the learning has already passed. Real, tough, character-shaping growth never comes during periods of comfort. Failures don’t define our potential – they just show us one way of doing something that doesn't work. So the next time you think to yourself, “I’m not ready,” shift that thinking to “I’m ready to go for it.”
Nilza Marie Santana-Castillo is Lambda’s Careers Initiatives and Curriculum Specialist. She is passionate about career development and has 6+ years of experience in student support services. In 2017 she became a National Career Development Association-certified Career Services Provider. Connect with Nilza on LinkedIn.
Kathleen Hunt is the Career and Professional Development Program Manager at Lambda School. She has 7+ years of experience in professional development and curriculum coordination, and helps prepare Lambda School students for success in their careers. Connect with Kathleen on LinkedIn.