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Why you should try something you believe you’re bad at

It can be easy to try something once – or not at all – and decide to never do it again because we believe we’re hopeless at it.

But imagine if we gave up on everything we didn’t nail on the first go. For starters, none of us would be able to walk, or drive, or play tennis, or read – or anything that involves a bit of practice and determination.

When it comes to careers, it can be easy to stay in a job you’ve mastered and cruise along, rather than push yourself to go for that promotion or to apply for a more senior role elsewhere.

Daizy Maan, who manages Deakin’s entrepreneurship program SPARK, says family and friends might encourage you to keep doing that job that’s financially secure, but is no longer challenging enough to feel meaningful.

‘People always say, “I wish I left earlier, I wish I started this earlier”,’ she says.

Sometimes the leap from where we are now to where we want to be just seems too great. And that can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’, where we end up doing nothing at all, and getting down on ourselves in the processes.

But what if we all ditched our perfectly natural fear of failure and began to approach our careers (and personal lives, for that matter) with the same gusto as the founder of a start-up business?

What can we learn from start-ups?

‘Start-ups are always in a growth mindset,’ Maan says. ‘Generally when you’re a start-up founder or when you’re an early employee you have to do a lot of different jobs.

‘That’s very challenging because it may not be your skillset. It teaches you to try lots of different roles.’

Of course when you’re reading about start-ups in the media, they tend to be stories of entrepreneurs raking it in. ‘We tend to have this skewed view that these founders are going from success to success to success,’ Maan says.

What we don’t see is their early failures, financial struggles, the time they had to recall a product, or simply the fact they ate way too many instant noodles on the way to the top. ‘We only see the glamorous side, so we assume it’s easy to get there,’ Maan says.

If you want the real story, she suggests attending the Melbourne version of the global event F***up Nights, where a handful of people get up on stage to share their stories of professional failure.

'Generally when you’re a start-up founder or when you’re an early employee you have to do a lot of different jobs. That’s very challenging because it may not be your skillset. It teaches you to try lots of different roles.'

Daizy Maan,
SPARK, Deakin University

But I hate (insert task here)…

In any job, there are going to be things you have to do that you don’t particularly like – maybe because those tasks don’t come naturally to you.

But that doesn’t mean you should ditch them entirely, even if that were a possibility.

‘For example you might have to do budgeting,’ Maan says. ‘If you’re bad at it but you really want to acquire that skill for various reasons it’s important to try.’

And remember, even if you do struggle with a task initially, it’s likely to get less difficult the more you do it.

When you’re starting your career, or have taken a leap up the ladder, you might feel like the entire job is beyond you. ‘I think we are our own harshest critics,’ Maan says.

But it’s worth persevering, and giving yourself the opportunity to learn. After all, ‘fake it until you make it’ became a popular saying for a reason.

Why stepping out of your comfort zone can help your career

Learning to do something that challenges you – such as public speaking, networking or figuring out how to use your company’s latest software – can also give you a sense of mastery and the confidence to try other new things in your life and career.

Maan says that given most of us spend about a third of our life at work, it’s vital that we keep pushing ourselves in order to keep things exciting and satisfying. ‘Think about what it means to have a meaningful career for you.’

And when it comes to climbing the career ladder, stepping outside your comfort zone is really the only way to do it.

So if you spot a job where you believe you only have seven of the 10 selection criteria advertised, why not throw your hat in the ring? If you only have three of the criteria, there’s also absolutely nothing to stop you having a red hot go.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

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Daizy Maan
Daizy Maan

Program Manager, SPARK, Deakin University

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