I am right in the thick of my transition from military life to civilian life. I traded in a staid 14 years in uniform with morning formations, formation runs, mandatory dental check-ups, and lots of regulations for Stanford's gorgeous campus and the relatively wild d.school. A year ago, the palm trees sounded like a dream.
I couldn't wait to be free of rules, and I was going to try something totally new. I planned to have a mash-up of working for a new non-profit, the Steinbeck Innovation Foundation, and start a fellowship at the d.school. I knew that few of the tangible skills I learned in the military would apply here. No one really cares that I can navigate a ship safely into a foreign port halfway across the world, nor does anyone need me to write counterterrorism strategy in Salinas, Calif.
I have, over time, acquired a set of skills that have carried me through a series of projects and problems. These skills include the ability to go into a new field and develop a personal process of engaging with a project's stakeholders. This skill set also includes gaining my own knowledge of the situation and produce work. I didn't expect that these useful yet intangible skills were contributing the most to my discomfort as I launched into a new project.
Remaining confident in a place of uncertainty, or "the squishy" as I like to think of it, goes against everything I think of as sane. But here's the paradox: in order to get to a place of cool expertise, one has to walk into a new arena, ask a million questions that feel like the wrong ones, come to a million wrong conclusions, and fail a lot.
So, this list is mostly for me while I learn about this new project and a new life outside of the one I have known for so many years. It's also for anyone who decided to leave something they are good at in order to start something at which, at least for now, they are not.
1. See others' strength.
Check out the crossfitter tumblr page. Those chicks are incredible. They compete in a sport with so many facets no one athlete can possibly master them all. The woman who wins a competition probably didn't win ANY of the events. She just placed high enough in each event to rack up the most points. It takes guts to "lose" consistently and still have the fire to aim for the podium.
2. Now, stop looking at other people working out and go throw around your own dumbbells.
By far the best thing I did with my body was get big and strong. I love being powerful, and realizing that the road to strength is littered with days where I find my eyes welling up with tears because of the pain.
3. Get over your body, and go inside.
The strongest muscle is intention. My body takes orders from my will, and my will gets its marching orders from my intention. I do not intend to be the fool for long. I have launched myself into new fields six times in the 10 years of my professional life. Each time, effort and faith led me to some sort of expertise and a chance to start over again.
4. Get and stay on a bigger hamster wheel.
Which leads me to my next point. I used to make fun of people on hamster wheels. Every day they did the same thing. I may not being doing the same paperwork drill every day, but I am on a wheel. At least this wheel takes a few years to get around. The activities are radically different, the learning I do is incredibly varied, but it is the same roller coaster of feelings every time. I accept that I'm on a hamster wheel, as soon as I feel comfortable with what I'm doing now, I'm sure I will be able to jump into a new fire.
5. "Life is Happiness"
Throughout time there have been people who have entered new arenas, taken on new problems and felt stupid when they started. I find it calming to think that, thousands of years ago, someone else just like me was reaching for the 1000 A.D. equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies as a legitimate coping mechanism against the same insecurities.
"I fell asleep and dreamed that life was only Happiness. I woke and discovered that life was Duty. I did my Duty and discovered that life was Happiness." - Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra
When you're just learning a new skill or subject matter, there are so many different things to read, experts to listen to, chores to do, that it is almost impossible to decipher where to focus. That task becomes that much more difficult if you don't let your brain take out the trash, repairing itself for tomorrow's ventures.
Just do something. It almost doesn't matter what. Stagnation is death, and movement is everything else - learning, surprise, insights, and, eventually, expertise.
How do you relish the squishy? Let me know in the comments. I'm also on Twitter at @AlcinoeSea.