Room To Grow

Photo by Joe Cavazos

Photo by Joe Cavazos

I hate karaoke. With a passion.

I’ve found there are two ways to win at that miserable game—neither of which I’m capable of.

  1. Wow the crowd with your incredible pipes
  2. Sing just bad enough and make it funny

After slogging through Bohemian Rhapsody, here are a few things I’m muttering to myself on the walk of shame back to a now lukewarm Shiner:

“Rookie mistake.”

“Way to go, n00b.”

“You looked real green out there.”

“What is this, amateur hour?”

Nope. Those remarks aren’t accurate. I didn’t look like an idiot because I was new.  I simply can’t sing well.  I will never, ever be a great vocalist. And that’s okay.

We all hate messing up. Especially when we feel incompetent. It’s human nature. Given this, why do we continue degrade people like they’re stupid when they’re simply naive or ignorance?

Newcomers to a craft get things wrong because they’re inexperienced, not because they’re stupid. Veteran gets that same thing wrong because they’re human beings, not because they’re incompetent.

Let’s look at the derogatory undertones “rookie mistake” actually conveys:

  • it’s not ok to be new
  • don’t ask questions because they’re probably dumb
  • you can earn my respect by growing up faster
  • we value perfection, not growth
  • do what your told—that’s it
  • you’re not in the club unless you know our secret unwritten rules

See how damaging this is? Many Interns and trainees alike have walked into a craft with an open mind, fantastic work ethic, and an eagerness to learn. Sadly, most of Corporate America scoffs at their “stupid” questions and makes them their personal whipping post and errand boy.

Organizations sink thousands of dollars into attracting great talent. They ask for young, bright, innovate minds to fill their ranks—then tell them to grab more coffee, stay quiet, and pay their dues, and fall in line.

No wonder we have a growing aversion to vulnerability. It’s not safe to be incompetent. Ever. Why should we attempt anything daring when we’re always rewarded for doing what’s expected, not forging a new path?

Making mistakes is the process of growing out of your Rookie-ness. Embrace these moments. Without them you’re not growing, being challenged, or trying anything new. You’re simply asking for a slump.

I’m talking to you, too, professionals and veterans. You can’t chide yourself with “rookie mistake” either. You’re not a rookie anymore. You’re error is simply called a mistake. Welcome to being a human. It’s perfectly normal.

We deprecate ourselves because we don’t want to look like “the new guy”, to not be in on the secret handshake. Isn’t that the point of something new, never been done before?

Anything you try for the first time you’re probably horrible at. If I gave Yo Yo Ma a trumpet he’d probably sound like a blowfish with emphysema.

Here’s the bottom line: Insults that cast newness in a negative light damage self-confidence, innovation, and creativity. When it becomes not ok try something new and be bad at it for a bit, you’ve lost the plot.

Mistakes are the fuel for growth. Snide remarks about looking new is sugar in the gas tank.

What can we keep in mind to get better that is?

  1. Reprimands and performance reviews should always be constructive and corrective, never retributive.
  2. Leave margin in project schedules for people (and yourself) to fail.
  3. Celebrate new team members. Ask them for outside perspective on your situation before they lose their “new eyes”.
  4. Allow team members to question your workflow without fear or repercussions. Your answers may help them clarify what it means to work with you.
  5. Celebrate miles, not years.
  6. Frequently put yourself in situations where you’re forced to interact or learn something you’re not comfortable with.

How will you commit to not shaming the Rookie?

Michael Curtis

A mastering engineer and composer who loves helping you sound awesome.