How often do you choose work that scares you?

Today is January 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you choose work that scares you?” Actor Mary Tyler Moore noted “Looking back on it, I realize that I have always chosen work that challenges me, because if I don’t go in to work a little scared, I don’t have any interest in it." Being ‘a little scared’ is a trait often found in those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. They take jobs that simply make them uncomfortable and figure out a way to succeed. Being scared is akin to traveling outside of your comfort zone.


Instead of selecting work that scared him, college senior Parker Hall choose to wait for his dream job and while doing so wrote to Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame stating, “I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do… I want a career that will always keep me happy but can allow me to have a family and get some time to travel.” Hall’s thinking aligns with far too many colleges and universities are telling college students these days – follow your passion and only settle for your dream job. Such an approach is the opposite of what students and recent graduates should be doing.


Rowe’s response was most likely not what Hall expected. In fact, Rowe’s advice runs contrary to the often proclaimed ‘do what you love’ mantra of today and wrote “Stop looking for the right career and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what is available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later and be no worse off than you are today. But do not waste another year looking for a career that does not exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.”


Rowe’s comment about looking for a job, any job, as opposed to a career is exactly what recent college graduates should do. Getting work experience is far more important than having no job and waiting for the dream job to appear. It could take months, or even years, for a dream job to appear on the horizon. One common thread found among many people who have navigated the chaos and practiced the art of living well is that they took action and figured things out along the way. They seldom waited for the right anything to come along.


In his July 2016 Harvard Business Review article "If You're Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won't Learn Anything," Andy Molinsky wrote “As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement.” Being scared, then is a necessity if you want to grow in your career.


In the world of career development, being scared at work where you travel outside your comfort zone on a new task, project, or function is also known as a ‘stretch job.’ As Rebecca Zucker wrote in her January 2020 article "Is That Stretch Job Right for You?" published in the Harvard Business Review "During the course of our careers, there are job opportunities that arise — either internally and externally — that seem appealing but may be a stretch, taking us beyond our current level of knowledge, skills, or experience.”


When stretch jobs are examined closely at the gender level, an interesting story reveals itself and should be consider for today’s reflection. Research from Hewlett Packard illustrates women tend not to apply for jobs unless they are 100% qualified, whereas men apply when they are 60% qualified. While the statistical difference is significant, what is more telling is why the gap between the genders exists in the first place. Additional research reveals the difference is not so much about women’s confidence in their abilities as it is about their beliefs about the “hiring rules” — that the required qualifications are actually “required.” In other words, what held women back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process. Zucker suggested “knowing that job requirements are essentially a wish list from employers and, given that our personal and professional growth is a function of how much we stretch and challenge ourselves, it’s worth applying for stretch jobs.” Thus, the next time you read an employment opportunity that you would consider a stretch job, apply anyway regardless of the requirements. Afterall, you never know unless you try!


How often do you choose work that scares you?