In the great movie Wonder Woman, Diana Prince states, "Sometimes you can't see what you're learning until you come out the other side."
Diana is right. And one of the most powerful tools for learning is stepping outside your comfort zone and taking on an area, skill, or experience that you have not mastered.
However, for many lawyers, this is frightening. We are so used to and comfortable with achieving and being in control that we hesitate to take on these experiences. And yet to learn and grow as an attorney, we need to tackle these assignments.
Here are three tips for leaning in and leveraging the learnings:
TIP 1- Understand the Goals of Going Outside of Your Comfort Zone
To maximize your learnings from a new type of assignment—you must think about what you are trying to get out of the work and how it will help power you forward. Understanding what you want to gain enables you to invest your time correctly.
For example, one of my clients was given increased authority over a more complicated project with different teams. The goal was to have her expand her expertise to ready her for a more senior position. However, she kept immersing herself in the parts of the job she had already mastered and relied on others to do the new areas. While she took on a new assignment—it did not impact the career that she wanted.
My client, "Sally's" firm, gave her the chance to become part of a succession plan. They wanted Sally to develop relationship partner skills. However, she believed that the way to win the clients over was through great legal work and did not build the necessary relationships, and did not learn the client's business deeply. Another attorney, "Joe," was lurking in the shadows, and he filled the vacuum that Sally had left. Joe took the time to get to know the people and the business. Sally's client expressed their wish that Joe becomes more deeply involved in their matters.
You only get the benefits of taking on new types of work and skills if you step into and are willing to do the work and the risk that there may be some missteps in the process. Make sure that you understand what you want to get out of taking on something new and that you get those benefits. Do not waste your time taking on only those parts that feel comfortable.
Big Hint: Think about how you can mitigate some of the risks ahead of time and who can act as a sounding board for you (make sure it is only a sounding board and not someone who tells you what to do).
TIP 2- Assess the Learnings – Success or Failure
Often people are so relieved to have survived or even thrived outside of their comfort zone that they do not take the time to reflect. Whether your assignment is a success or a total learning experience, ask yourself the following:
- What would I do the same again?
- What would I do differently?
- What did I learn through the experience?
- Did I learn/gain what I want to in that experience?
- How can I capitalize on that learning?
- Do I need to take on a similar assignment again?
- What is the subsequent learning or experience I need?
Come up with a plan to capitalize on the learnings.
TIP 3 - Record and Jump Again
We often forget that we are taking on this new experience to better position ourselves in our career- whether to potential clients, employers, or managers who can promote us. So we take it on and move on - assuming that others will remember and know what we have accomplished and learned. That is not the case.
Make sure to take the time to update your career documents such as your LinkedIn, resume, bio and interview or pitch prep, and networking talking points to reflect this new experience.
Then guess what? You do it all over again because learning and growing never end. After all, Wonder Woman never sat on her golden lasso.
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