Many young adults say one of the hardest adjustments when starting the first job is simply “not knowing how to do everything.”
You just left an academic system you could manage in your sleep. Now, it’s like you’re learning how to ride a two-wheeler.
With the training wheels on.
In full view of the neighborhood.
In a dorky bike helmet.
Could you feel any more conspicuous?
But hey, you’re right out of school. You may be working in an industry you didn’t even study. This could be your first job ever.
How could you possibly know how to do everything?
Welcome to the world of learning in public
In school, you learned in a classroom, with books, assignments and papers. Learning hurdles were private, and grades were between you and the professor; maybe your parents if you felt generous. Your success, or struggles, were relevant - and visible - only to you.
Now, however, you are learning in public. Everyone in the workplace is observing how the “new kid” is doing. Your success is now closely connected with that of your colleagues. Your struggles might make a public appearance.
Your colleagues will notice what questions you ask, what questions you don’t and how fast you are coming along. They’ll size you up over coffee, and have their own personal insights on your progress. They’ll compare your progress to theirs at that age. They watch your wobbly ride as you pedal for your professional life. And occasionally, they’ll see you fall.
And there’s nothing you can do about any of that.
7 Keys to learning in public
What you can do is to realize that “learning in public” goes with the territory. It may be a difficult part of the transition for you. But if you approach it with the intention of being a student of a different kind, you’ll have more success than frustration. Here are 7 keys you need to learn effectively in public:
1. Humility. You have a lot to learn. Acknowledge this to yourself and others. Visualize learning in public as a key part of your job. Instead of fearing what you don’t know and worrying about looking stupid, focus on what you have to learn, and how you will go about doing that. It is OK to be in learning mode!
2. Willingness. Let others know that you’ve got a learning curve, and that you’re willing to do the footwork to learn what you need. This will make them want to help you.
3. Build relationships. Much of your learning will come from other people at first. Identify the relationships you need to support your learning process. Then start building them. This is so different from college! Get to know the folks you can learn from, buy them coffee, ask good questions, take good notes. Then apply what you learn. This helps others want to invest their time with you.
4. Ask others for help. If you do so in a way that’s empowering and not self-deprecating, you’ll get what you need AND feel confident as you gain knowledge. Most people want to help you, and you will need to learn to ask them to.
5. Ask good questions. Questions help connect the dots and test the knowledge you are acquiring. The wonderful thing about not knowing it all, is just that. You get to bring new eyes to routine situations and generate questions others may not be thinking about.
6. When you fall off the bike — and you will — get back on. It’s likely you’ll make missteps. You’ll say the wrong thing, miss a piece of information, draw a wrong conclusion. When you do so, acknowledge it! Then reflect on the experience, incorporate the new knowledge, and get back on the bike. See point 1.
7. Be a person others want to work with. A recent survey concluded that the ability to get along with others is one of the most valued skills in entry-level employees. If people have a good experience working with you, they will root for your success and help you through the curve.
Think of all this as new ways of learning. No more textbooks and papers. Now you have real life, real people, real experiences as your classroom. And in time, just as with the two-wheeler, you’ll find it hard to believe you ever needed the training wheels.