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Playing Up

What made you successful in your past or current jobs, may not be the skills required to succeed at the next level. The only way to really know what it takes, is to do the job. And there, my friends, lies the catch 22. Is it the job (the chicken) or the skills to succeed (the egg) that comes first. Imposter syndrome is real, and can be very detrimental to leading your career. Most of you have probably felt this at some point in your career, since it's estimated that 70% of people share in this experience. One cause of this is people feeling that they do not have the skills needed for the job they took on. So how do you attempt to avoid this? How do you try to side step the fear that comes with not being ready for a promotion? By playing up.

This baseball season will be my first year coaching my son, Logan's, baseball team. He's 6 and it's a coach pitch league meant for 5 and 6 year old's. Logan will not be my only son on the team. I was able to talk to the league administrator and Logan's 3 year old brother, Tucker, is able to play on the team as well. I figured this would probably be the only time they could play on the same team due to their age differences. Tucker is only 3 months shy of being 4, and to give him the credit he deserves, he is actually bigger than Logan. However, his attention span is that of a 3 year old. Tucker is playing up. He has most of the skills that will allow him to succeed at this level, but not all. Will he struggle to play at the same level of the other kids? Probably. Will he be able to follow along with all the drills at practice? Probably. Will he be more prepared to play at that level at the end of the season, than he would have been not playing? Absolutely.

That is the benefit of playing up. It's like studying for a test with a strong study group, or going on a bike ride or a run with people that are faster than you. They all push you slightly beyond your comfort zone and show you what you're really capable of. In the corporate world, opportunities like that often surface as volunteering for work, or responsibilities that are "above your paygrade" to steal a military term. It requires a level of awkward feeling you need to embrace. No longer are you able to get by on experience alone. You're 100% back in learning mode. Working to understand the nuances of the position, the dynamics of leadership at that level, and if that level is even somewhere you truly want to be.

One word of warning is don't confuse "playing up" with "faking it 'till you make it". Playing up is about pushing yourself beyond your limits and giving yourself the opportunity to learn and prepare yourself for that next level. Faking it 'till you make it is just a sheep in wolf's clothing who talks the talk, but whose motives are usually fueled by status and not growth and development. Only one of these people has longevity at the next level. Don't be a sheep.

Also don't expect to get special treatment and lower expectations because you decided to play up. You don't want either of those, or it weakens the purpose of what you're trying to do. You want that same bar, that same expectation, and that same experience of those at that level. You want to practice like you play, and with the same level of work quality. Playing up helps you to know your true limitations. I'm not referring to the fear based ones you have, but your actual limits to growth opportunities that will help you succeed at the next level. Unless you're using the same bar as those as at that next level, you're really only cheating yourself. With that…

I ask two things of you this week:

  1. Stop telling yourself "no" and raise your hand! In order to gain the benefit from playing up, you actually need to play up. This doesn't mean go chasing promotions. It means looking for opportunities to push your current yet temporary boundaries. This takes some humility to acknowledge you're operating, even temporarily, with people with more experience than you. That's the point. Allow that to push you!

  2. I've hit on this concept in a couple previous podcasts, but look for team members who are either looking for, or show the capability of playing at your level. Look for opportunities to allow them to play up. If they show hesitancy, don’t shy away. Educate them on how the task you're asking them to take on will help to build their skill set and raise their understanding for what it takes to excel at the next level.

It is not impossible to push yourself to be ready for the next level, or next promotion or next opportunity from where you are today. I've seen a few people do it. But I'm more of a hands on learner. I learn best by doing and experiencing, and the only way to do that at the next level is to play up.

Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.

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