My great fear is having 15 years of experience, but in reality I have 2 years of experience, with the 2nd year repeated 13 times.
It's easy to fall into the pattern of repeating the same year over and over again. What we often refer to as experience is really inruttedness (that's not a word, but you get the meaning).
Or in the sharp words of David Mayer: “When emphasis is placed on experience and experience counts more than such essentials as empathy and drive, what is accomplished can only be called the inbreeding of mediocrity.”
Part of this is benchmarking bias, where we start a conversation about the future by comparing it against the immediate past. Benchmarking bias locks us into thinking about what was, not what is possible.
But the largest contributor to this phenomenon is the omission to reflect upon and evaluate our behavior. Because many of us have careers where the distance between cause and effect is quite long, so it can be difficult to discern the patterns that shape our lives and businesses.
Here's a few simple suggestions to prevent experience from becoming a rut:
What's my cadence of reflection? Start with a 30 minute date with yourself, a journal, and a park bench. Don't obsess about making it "productive" or "effective". Just learn to listen to that still small voice inside. Are you satisfied with yourself? Is the trajectory of your habits, extended over time, leading to a place you want to be? Where will the you of five years hence have regret about the decisions the you of today is making?
When was the last time I felt underqualified? You can have comfort, or you can have growth. But you can't have both at the same time. So, if you want growth, you have to move outside your comfort zone. Imposter syndrome is it's own tyrant, but sometimes it's a clue you're charting new ground and growing as a result.
When was the last time I really screwed up? Mistakes, properly documented, can be a great way to foster growth. Failure is miserable in the moment, of course, but that pain pales in comparison to the pain of never reaching your potential.
So what about you? What's your fear?
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