Learning to Swim in the Deep End: 3 Tips for Handling Challenges at Work

Remember last week when I talked about that project that confuses the heck out of me? Well, this morning as I was relaxing and getting my morning tea (oh how I love the copious amounts of free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate), one of my project leads for a new contract I’m taking on started chatting me up. I mentioned how I was becoming the project manager of that very large and mature project (it’s been around my company for about 20 years now). He looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’m sorry you’re being thrown into the deep end.” Oh, well thanks for the comforting comment there, buddy.

Now, this metaphor really hits home with me because I’m a terrible swimmer. I mean, I can swim, just not well. I almost drowned once in the ocean and now I panic quite easily when I can’t touch the bottom of the pool (or at least I panic when I can’t touch the bottom and then people think it’s funny to try and dunk me -_-). So anyway, I don’t like swimming and the metaphor crashed into me like a rogue wave (you see what I did there?).

I would feel a lot better about this project if it included bacon...

I would feel a lot better about this project if it included bacon…

Despite my initial reaction of “oh no, what are they doing to me” I realized that this is actually a blessing in disguise. First of all, I’m getting to learn more about project management which is something I have dabbled in, but not on such a large scale. Second, if I succeed (and I plan to) this is going to look great on my resume, my performance review, and when I want to be placed on other projects. Plus, maybe I’ll actually love it and am just freaking out about nothing (fingers crossed). Either way, here are three tips to help you learn how to swim (and swim well) when you’re thrown into the deep end at work!

Take advantage of a scary opportunity. One of my all time favorite quotes is “don’t let your fear decide your fate.” Just because you’re scared of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try it. Take advantage of opportunities like this to step out of your comfort zone and learn new skills. You may just find that you actually excel at this new thing. If anything, you’ll find a weakness that you need to work on. There is nothing wrong with better understanding your strengths and challenges and scary new projects can help you do that!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. How do children learn to swim? Well, they usually start out with those little swim floaties and some help. You should do the same (metaphorically speaking). Chances are there are people who have a little more knowledge about the project or activities you’re being asked to complete. It may not be directly related to this exact project, but many skills are transferrable. Don’t be shy about reaching out for a little guidance. Most people are more than happy to point you in the right direction and give you that extra push to help you complete the project well and efficiently.

Just keep swimming. Keep singing that to yourself in Dory’s voice. When the going gets tough (and it’ll be tough sometimes) just keep pushing through. You will eventually make it out on the other end. You might be a little tired and stressed, but the knowledge that you successfully battled through a tough obstacle will increase your confidence. Next time you hit those rough waters you’ll be able to get through it more easily. Just remember don’t ever give up! No matter the time it takes, you’ll get there and be more awesome when you’re finished!

just keep swimming

Now it’s your turn! How did you handle a really difficult project or task?

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