Some years ago, a friend and I used to hit the gym together after work most weekdays. Each January, we shared a frustration with the unusually high volume of people there: newbies, learning the ropes and keeping us waiting for the equipment we wanted. We dismissively called them the “Resolutionistas” in private, and we were relieved when their numbers dwindled by February. I was at a point in my life where I was generally comfortable and confident, and I never really considered the challenges these beginners were facing.
Fast-forward to when I was promoted to lead project manager on a major account, a role I eagerly accepted with a strong resolve to succeed. Soon after taking the position, I felt overwhelmed and increasingly nervous. Self-doubt started eating me from the inside. I remember thinking, “I’m not a cross-functional team leader!” and “I can’t manage a development effort on this scale!”
In the face of this struggle, I saw the Resolutionistas in a new light: some awkward or embarrassed, already writing the story of how they failed. Others likely lacked the know-how and support to get started without making a mistake that precipitates failure. For the first group, the change needed comes from within: the commitment to improving our attitudes and outlooks. For the second group, it’s about knowing when and who to ask for help. I resolved to pursue both tactics.
My first big website development project kept getting bigger. Additional features and functions were added. Greater integration with other sites and data sources was needed. I had to fight to keep my anxiety from consuming me. I was periodically paralyzed by it. Yet as the months passed, with the unfailing support of my very smart and capable team, some confidence emerged.
One thing that I learned from that adventure is that I don’t have to know everything to be confident starting out; it’ll come. The next challenge will be totally different. The specifics that I mastered are not what will make me better next time. What will make me better, is being a little more comfortable with not knowing things. (For inspiration to fuel expanding your comfort zone, see Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk.)
As it happens, I don’t go to the gym anymore. After my son was born, I took up distance running, which I find more gratifying and more convenient. Five years in, my second marathon is on the horizon. Now, each year in January, when I see fledgling runners out in the cold, their expressions ranging from mild panic to pure determination, my heart swells, and I silently cheer for them from my car or my kitchen window. (If I’m out there too, I cheer out loud.)
My shift in perspective is more than the fact that their striving doesn’t inconvenience me. It’s that I myself am now a proud Resolutionista. I love setting my sights on the next challenge and figuring out the first steps. I try to dismiss the inner voices of doubt (with varying degrees of success). I’m also more mindful of the struggles of others and quicker to recognize the ways that we can support each other, even when it’s just by helping to quiet their doubts.
There’s a recent Nike ad about the last place finisher of a marathon. You see her alone on a course littered with the paper cups tossed by thousands of people who finished ahead of her. From her internal monologue you hear, “If you look up the word marathon, it will tell you that the first person who ran 26.2 miles died. He died. And he was a runner. You are not a runner. You are especially not a marathon runner, but at the end of this – you will be.”
There’s something brave and beautiful about another human being acting with determination, a resolution, to try something when there’s a significant risk of failure (real or perceived). I want to tell the January joggers that they are runners, because they’re running right now. Just like I am a cross-functional team leader. It’s something I practice. If I keep doing it, I’ll keep getting better.
Whatever your resolution, whatever you practice, I wish you the fortitude and tenacity to do it again tomorrow.