I have been out of the formal workplace for 18 months now. It took some time before I had enough distance from the day-to-day absorption in that world that I could see how it had changed me. The years I spent there, among the people there, guided my development as an adult and as a human. I became an expert in many areas, and in some, not at all.
I am no longer intimate with the ecosystem of that planet that was ‘work.’ I see it now as if from space, spinning on its axis. I see the weather patterns and tides from this distance. There are new people tending that workplace, already new ventures in place — but I did spend 17 years there, honing my knowledge, building experience.
Many of us become experts by experience. That expertise grows incrementally in our daily commitment to the work. We show up each day no matter how we are feeling about that day’s challenges. We learn which seeds need to be propagated by hand and which crops need only tending year over year. We live in the seasons of that space.
“Experience tells you what to do; confidence allows you to do it.” Stan Smith
That is a quote from Stan Smith, a tennis player who is better known by people like me for the shoe named after him. (Seriously, follow that link to see my new inspiration for my next website photo shoot!) Whatever his fashion and sports legacy, Mr. Smith got it right: If we showed up and we did the work, we already have the experience we need to take the next step. It’s gumption we need, and self-belief.
I joined my workplace as a magazine editor and publisher. I applied myself to learning how to do that job by attending conferences, corresponding with authors, taking courses, and learning from subscribers what they responded to. I had no idea that by the time I left the organization I would also I learn how to:
- say no when asked to make decisions on the spot
- sit quietly with someone else’s pain and not try to fix it
- speak up when someone could not speak for themselves, even if it made me feel uncomfortable
- fire someone I liked
- appreciate the period of uncertainty and messiness before clarity arrives
- lean into my values every. single. day.
I had to double-down on my experience, grab hold of the resources available to me, hold my breath … and try. Just try. Luckily, I had mentors who could coach me through the hardest lessons.
What expertise have you gained by showing up every day, by re-committing yourself each morning to the great effort of the workday? Is it time for you to share it with others to make their days easier? How can you challenge your peers and colleagues? I’m willing to bet you can if you believe it, too.