I once took a job doing something I knew nothing about. Not only that, but it involved overseeing and spending a million dollars (which was more money than I had ever budgeted at home).
When I read the job description, it sounded interesting – but I had zero experience in the field it was in (medical technology), and had never worked in the sector it was a part of (academia).
Still, it sounded so doable as I read and re-read the actual work involved. I knew it would be easy for me, even though I had no business getting involved. The pay was good and it had been posted for several months, so one day, I thought, “what the heck?”
I stated on the application that I had done several of the duties the job required (it was a project management position) in many different ways. Some involved tasks I had encountered as a business owner, others as the wife of a doctor, and others as a person who had lived in the boonies for awhile (it involved interacting with rural populations).
It was a long shot.
They called me for an interview the next day.
When I went for the interview, I sat before a panel of eight individuals who questioned me; all were obviously very experienced, distinguished in their fields, and high ranking at the university.
Of course I had prepared well via the internet, the blessed research-touchstone, and got through it easily enough. I made sure I emphasized – many times – that although I hadn’t done anything exactly like this I was good at asking questions when I didn’t know the answers, and had no problem sourcing advice from key experts. I was excited about the opportunity, and it showed.
Because the university setting is so bureaucratic and is mostly based on scholarly achievements, it’s quite stodgy. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t have any real credentials for the job, and my enthusiasm didn’t quite fit in with the seriousness of the environment. Yet there I was – their best candidate to show up so far after several months of advertising the position.
I could tell by their expressions that some wondered why I even thought I should apply, given the reality of the situation.
Still, they called me only two hours after the interview and offered me the job.
I took it.
My husband and I went out to dinner that night to celebrate what felt like a coup. It was holiday time, December, and everything felt warm, sparkly, decadent and perfect.
But I woke up having a panic attack at 3am the next morning, when it hit me.
I TRULY HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING.
As I lay there awake, hyperventilating with “the swirly-eyes”, I imagined all the horrible things that would surely happen to me very soon. They’d find out I was a liar and a fraud, oh yeah. What the hell kind of stunt had I pulled, anyway? — I had waltzed in there, acted my way through the interview like some capable, confident and secure woman, and fooled them all.
Now, I would pay the price. Big-time. I was terrified and filled with regret. I seriously considered calling up my new boss to confess that I actually was a clueless, incompetent, b-grade actress who should have stayed home and watched Oprah instead of attending the stupid interview that got me hired.
But in the morning, after a cup of coffee, I felt a little better. I re-read the project description I was now the manager of. I could easily do the work involved by breaking it into pieces and then pulling it back together. Piece of cake.
When I wasn’t thinking about the actual work, though, I was riddled with anxiety and again, hyperventilating.
While I knew I could do the work, what scared the crap out of me were all the people I’d be working with. They were esteemed medical specialists, hospital administrators or deans of university medical centers. Needless to say, we did NOT have similar backgrounds.
I worried: Would they want to work with me? Would we even be able to communicate? Would the sheer intimidation of working alongside them give me an inferiority complex I would someday need to see a therapist for?
What I needed was a plan to stay sharp, stay convinced in my own abilities, and see myself as one of them – except for one little detail. I was the one in charge.
I needed a confidence strategy.
So in the end, it went something like this:
This was my project now, and they were my top advisors. They were valuable to me as resources, and I would involve them as I needed information before moving my project forward. I would handle the things I didn’t need them for all on my own.
That was it.
What I soon understood was that capable people like to help other capable people. If you can prove that you’re capable (or at least capable of becoming capable, in my case), you’ll get the help and shared expertise from others when needed to move a project ahead.
When my project ended, we had nearly doubled its original scope, spent only two-thirds of our funding, and become an idea-innovator behind the concepts the industry needed to employ to create real success.
More importantly, the “sink or swim” experience of jumping into a world I knew nothing about – and making it mine -showed me that I could do almost anything if I really wanted to.
Sure, I had no business doing it, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying – and succeeding.
So don’t let it stop you, either.