How to Handle New Challenges: Step Up or Bow Out

It's a long way down
Photo By Didrik Johnck

All of us have been asked to do a job we’ve never done before.  We must learn how to do it and are likely to make several mistakes before finding success. More than likely, others will see our inadequacies. When we face a difficult challenge, we should Step Up, and sometimes Bow Out, but we should never Give In.

Step Up: We embrace both the challenge and our deficiencies.  We feel confident enough to know that we can succeed but that doing so is going to require both learning and change in ourselves.  It won’t be easy but we learn and step up to the challenge. When we do, we grow and find unexpected success.

In order to succeed, we view both those above us in the organization and those below as helpful resources toward everyone’s success. We take initiative and make decisions for which we will be held responsible later.  We put our reputation at risk, but do so, not for our own benefit, but for seeing the entire enterprise succeed.

Bow Out: Sometimes, we step up to the challenge and find that even though we’ve grown, the challenge will require more than we want to give. We might decide this even in the midst of seeing some success, but for the good of everyone, we decide to bow out. This requires both courage and confidence and is usually very difficult to do.  As a result, we are tempted to give in.

Don’t Give In: All of us can be tempted to save face, even at the cost of doing the right thing. Giving in is the cowardly response when we decide that the challenge is too much for us. When we fall into this temptation, we pretend that we are still up to the challenge and delude ourselves into thinking that we really are.  We display confidence about our own abilities even when the results don’t add up. Rather than admitting our errors, we are tempted to retrench, not wanting to believe nor reveal that we were wrong. Moreover, we are tempted to blame others outside of the organization for thwarting our best attempts and excuse obvious mistakes by pointing out that hindsight is 20/20.  We allow our managers to make the hard decisions and simply follow their guidance — no one ever got fired for doing what their boss told them to do. This path does not require us to have to change who we are, to admit we were wrong, nor to actually succeed. Clinging to the privilege, we abdicate our responsibilities. This is the path of mediocrity and it’s one all of us are tempted to take because change is tough.

Life is difficult and ambiguous.  If we are stepping into the void and seeking to produce clarity for others, we will sometimes fail, even fail badly.  But in that moment of failure, we can decide to step up, to admit our mistakes and to continue to grow.  If it’s not the right situation, we can gracefully bow out and step up to a different challenge. But whatever we do, we must avoid the temptation to give in, that easy path that mollifies us into mediocrity. Life is to short for mediocrity, be someone that steps up.







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