Stop Researching Your Life. Live it (and help your career along the way).

380896663The information age has been revolutionary. We have more information than we can handle and can learn how to do just about anything we can imagine. But just like anything, there are upsides and downsides. The downside is information overload and overwhelm. Even as we are able to learn new skills, we are bombarded with articles and books telling us that how we’ve been living our life until now is wrong. I often find myself Googling and YouTubing the simplest of things – how to boil a perfect egg, which doorstop is really the best? I’m ashamed to admit that last one, but it’s true. A doorstop? Really?

As embarrassed as I am to write that, I know we all do it. Not always with doorstops, but often with equally mundane objects and topics. It’s symptomatic of our current culture – too much information, too much sharing about everything and too many people willing to stand up and tell you you did it wrong or that there is a right choice to make.

We stop mid-conversation to Google something to make sure we’re right about it. In fact, when I got my first iPhone, I often used to interrupt conversations with my boyfriend (now husband) with “Why wonder?”, pull out my phone and make sure we were discussing what was “right.” What’s the point in a discussion when you can get straight to the point, after all?

Eight years later, I’m now at a point where I want to wonder. I miss it. I miss reasoning my way to an answer – even if it was wrong. It caused me to shift my thinking. To see things differently. To form new connections between disparate pieces of information.

You may be asking, how is this related to my career? That’s the reason I’m on your site right now, after all. Well, we’re at a place where many people are complaining about a lack of good jobs and many employers complain about a  lack of good employees. There is a gap. And I think a huge contributor to that gap is the ability to just figure something out.

When you start something new and try to find your way on your own, you are learning more than just how to do that skill. You are learning how to learn. How to figure things out. How to use logic, reason, intuition, data, emotion, communication, teamwork, initiative, time and a host of other transferable skills on other projects.

This is a crucial skills gap that I see in some of my clients. Many of them don’t know how to figure things out. They don’t knowapple-1281744_1920 how to trust what they know or think, to explore and to learn from missteps. And it’s a reason why there is a skills gap in the employment market. In fact, in his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that this ability to figure something out, solve problems and learn is the number one skill that can keep you marketable in an ever-changing job market. I agree.

If you’ve been taught your whole life to follow rules and protocols, to follow what others have done instead of come up with your own way, it makes sense that when you don’t know with certainty what the next “right” step is, you might freeze up. But it’s a fear worth overcoming in the digital age. After all, why would someone trust you with something that’s never been done before or just a general, thorny question with no “right” answer? If there is a “right” way to do what you’re doing, what’s preventing your job from being replaced with technology?

So – my advice. Whether at home or at work, next time you are faced with a type of project or problem that you’ve yet to master, try to figure it out. Resist the urge to research the right way or how other people are doing it or what others think is best and play with how to get to the right answer on your own. Notice how much more engaged you are in the work, how accomplished you feel when you figure something out, and all that you learned along the way that you would have missed out on without trudging through.

As for me and my doorstop, I learned that it’s best to pull the trigger on a $5-$10 purchase and risk getting the wrong one. An hour of reading reviews on Amazon for doorstops left me confused and drained (though moderately amused at the emotion a simple doorstop can evoke for some people). Next time I will spend my hour in the world, searching for that perfect doorstop learning along the way, and actually interacting with real life instead of just researching it.

 

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