Last week I had the opportunity to travel to New York for a class for work. It was exciting and I learned a lot, but it was also hard. I was the youngest person in the room by 7 years (I know because the other young-looking attendee mentioned when he graduated from college) and the least experienced. And it was obvious not just to me, but to everyone else. They all had titles like Manager, Director, Vice President, none of which are my title.
Usually in society, most women want to look young, but when it comes to work, this works against you. Having a senior title or years of experience allows you to speak with authority and to be taken seriously. It was a bit overwhelming being out of my depth. Some of the participants seemed to already know material.
I spoke to the instructor at the end of the first day to get some feedback and generate new ideas strategies and ideas specific to my company. At one point, in response to a question, he said, “I don’t think you’re being asked to do this as this point in your career.” He was very polite about it and not trying to deride me. He was simply stating a fact, but I felt incredibly embarrassed.
I thanked him for his time, went back to my hotel room, did a couple hours of work and stressed and nearly cried. Thoughts filled my head, I am so stupid. I am not ready or qualified to be here. I am so stupid. What am I even doing here?
But then I realized, after speaking with my parents and my sister that feeling stupid actually meant I was learning. Not having the answers in class was a good thing because it meant I was in the right class because I needed to learn the material. It was actually beneficial to be the most inexperienced person. I had an opportunity to learn right now from more experienced professionals in my field!
Reframing the situation changed my attitude over the next few days. I didn’t care about making mistakes or being judged by others and was just really present at class in order to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
For a control freak it’s never nice to feel out of my depth, but if I’m always the smartest person in the room in any situation, it means I’m not improving. Being outside of my comfort zone is stressful, but that’s OK. Feeling stupid doesn’t mean I’m stupid, it means I’m growing and learning.
Feature photo taken by A Lively Fancy