One of the hardest things for me to do is step outside my comfort zone. To do things that I've never done before and I'm not entirely sure how to do. But the only way to grow is to step outside your comfort zone. Sometimes you do it by choice, and sometimes you're forced to do it.
This is a story of how I was forced to step outside my comfort zone.
There are some tasks on my team that we rotate the responsibility for doing. Last week, I was given the responsibility of completing one of these tasks. And it was my first time being asked to complete this task.
I had some advanced warning, so I made sure to take time to prepare myself. I mentioned this new responsibility to my managers in a one-on-one meeting, and she gave me a link to some great internal documentation about the task. I read through that documentation, made myself an internal plan and script for the day, and tried to mentally anticipate the things that I knew could go wrong (mostly based on seeing what went wrong when others were responsible for this task). There's always an element of anxiety with something new, but I tried to minimize the newness and uncertainty as much as I could.
And then the day on which I was expected to complete my new task came. I knew I'd be busy with it starting at 10, so I decided to begin my work day around nine so that I had time to take care of one or two other things and get started on what I needed to do in plenty of time. A late night (not entirely my fault), some insomnia, a 2.5 mile run, and breakfast later ... I finally sat down to get started on my work around 9:30. Okay, only half an hour behind schedule. I had to cut a few unrelated things out of my plan for the day, but I was ready to start my on my new tasks a little before 10, so my late start hadn't really set me back much at all.
Once I got started, things went pretty smoothly. Everything I needed to do on my own I was able to do with the documentation my manager had given me, and my fellow engineers seemed very on top of the things I needed from them (I only had to nudge a few people). Things went even more smoothly than I had expected, and I was on pace to get things done pretty early, which is always nice. Everything was appropriately signed off on and ready to go ... and I discovered that I didn't have permission to perform one of the actions I needed to perform. I reached out to my team and my manager, and my manager was able to work with one of the other managers to get me the permission I needed.
Once I got that permission, I was able to complete the task. All that was left was making sure nothing had gone wrong as a result of what I did ... and it turns out, something had gone wrong. I forgot to double check with my teammates whether one (often not necessary) part of the task needed to be done, and it caused some errors. I brought the errors to the attention of the team, and someone was able to troubleshoot and fix the problem easily. Ultimately, this didn't even put us behind schedule, since we had been ahead of schedule before that and it was a fairly quick fix.
Other than these two bumps, the whole task had gone smoothly, and I felt very comfortable in my work for the day. My manager reached out to me afterwards and asked if I felt more confident for the next time I have to do this. The answer was an emphatic yes. I know what mistakes I made and what I can do better. But really, the fact that it went so smoothly is what helped me most. I'm sure that I'll have problems with this in the future. But I can always lean back on this experience and remember that I can successfully complete these tasks, and hopefully that will help when I struggle.
They say that if something doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. I've always been somewhat resistant to change, but I understand that part of growing as an engineer is changing my capabilities, and the best way to do that is by taking on new team responsibilities (whether by choice or as part of the normal operating procedure at my company). My first time taking on this new responsibility may not have challenged me as much as I expected it to, and I'm grateful for that, but that doesn't mean it didn't change me. Since I started this job, I've been hesitant to take on new responsibilities, because I felt in my heart that I couldn't do some of the things I was asked to do. I have another new responsibility coming up on the horizon ... and now I'm less afraid of it. If I can do this, I can do that too.
All things considered, this was a pretty small step. I didn't entirely screw up something that I had pretty good instructions for, and I managed to properly handle the one thing that went wrong. This is a task I will have to continue to do every few months for as long as I'm at this company, and I know that just because it went well the first time, that doesn't mean it will always go well. But it does mean that I have a constant reminder that it can go well, and I can carry that knowledge with me into the future.
This was a small step forward. A small opportunity to grow my comfort zone. But at the end of the day, small steps move you forward, and that's all that matters.