Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 8

We’re on to Part 8 of this series.  Last week I wrote in Part 7 about being patient.  One of the reasons I urge patience is because of this week’s topic.

8. You aren’t as good as you think you are

This was a tough learning for me and is one that many younger employees and employees new to their current company don’t realize early enough.   This learning is important to consider for three reasons.  First, it helps you calibrate the timing of your advancement.  Second, it focuses you on constant improvement.  Third, it keeps you humble.

Whether you believe it or not, experience counts.  Wine gets better with age.  Cheese gets better with age.  Employees get better with age.  Notice I didn’t write “smarter.”  I wrote “better.”  Many employees are smarter than their bosses and even their boss’s boss.  But being smarter, doesn’t mean better.  I ask, how many really smart people do you know that don’t cut it in your company?  Probably quite a few.

Smartness, however, doesn’t account for experiential knowledge.  The longer you work, at one or multiple companies, the more you experience and re-experience the same types of problems, situations, people, and processes.  The book-smart way to do something may not be the best.  A less experienced employee will gain a lot of points by asking the “older guys” how things are done and, with that understanding, proceeding down his or her own path.

There is reason that the only time you see very young CEO’s is when they founded the company and, even then, the founders often bring in the “gray hairs” to take over at a certain point.  Yahoo did that.  Google did that.  Take a look at a list of Fortune 500 CEOs when you get a chance.  Most are over 50 with many years of experience in the business world.  I’m sure they approach problems differently than you do, and, from time to time, you think they do things wrong.  Without their experience, however, you don’t know what you don’t know — and you realize that you aren’t as good as you think you are.

Even when you get up to a position of responsibility and authority, you can’t forget this learning.  You need to maintain humility and a focus on constant improvement.  More often that not, you aren’t as good as you think you are, and understanding that opens the door for improvement.  Your President or CEO isn’t as good as he or she thinks she is and, hopefully, understands that.

The concern I have in writing this is that many younger folks in the workplace don’t believe this advice.  They think, “Spidey – you weren’t as good as you thought you were, but I am as good as I think I am.”  They think that, once they get a chance, they could easily do jobs above them in the org chart and do it well.

For these people I have news.  At some point in your life, you’ll realize that half the music you listened to in college really sucked, that 9o% of the stuff your mom & dad told you is right, and that in the early days of your career, you really weren’t as good as you thought you were.  I promise all three will occur.


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