Mills: Outside the comfort zone—the vulnerability of learning

In today’s workplaces, we are constantly required to process new information, master new tasks and adapt to ever changing technology.

Lifelong learning is not just a voluntary choice anymore.

In today’s workplaces, we are constantly required to process new information, master new tasks and adapt to ever changing technology.

Of course it’s an good mental exercise and it can be highly rewarding. But learning can also make us cranky.

It has been my own personal experience that learning something new is when I feel the most incompetent.

That isn’t a comfortable place to be. Even though I know I will eventually “get it,” the early steps of venturing into unfamiliar territory can be stressful, even if the learning curve isn’t steep.

Not everyone admits to this, but I’m fairly certain that most people feel this way.

The emotional side of learning is quite fascinating. There is a necessary state of vulnerability that goes along with real learning.

We are outside our usual comfort zone and it can be unnerving.

Learning is good for us but it is also difficult and everyone experiences it differently.

Some people get energized by the mere idea of gaining new knowledge.

To them, it is a welcome challenge that leads to the personal satisfaction of mastering something new.

Others may feel quite vulnerable when their lack of knowledge is exposed, especially in the workplace where their performance is noticed and assessed. Their defences and anxiety levels go up as a result.

Learning involves a state of tension where we are between not knowing and finally understanding.

It helps to appreciate the natural stages of learning which are—unconscious incompetence (not knowing what we don’t know); conscious incompetence (being aware of what we don’t know); conscious competence (using new skills and applying new knowledge with more ease); and unconscious competence (becoming proficient).

I won’t get into each of these stages in detail here.

The point is that becoming skilled at something takes time and there is a predictable cycle to it.

With more awareness of which stage we are at in the process, we can go a bit easier on ourselves knowing that if we keep at it, we will progress to a higher level of competence.

That doesn’t mean it will be a stress-free experience—quite the contrary.

Learning something new means change and we all know that change is not necessarily easy.

In the workplace, the constant demands to do more and learn new things endlessly will put some people into a state of low-grade, persistent stress which will take a toll on them and everyone else around them if it is not managed well.

I saw a perfect example of this recently with one of my clients.

In this particular workplace, there had been a great deal of change in the last six months  involving new team members and a reshuffling of job duties.

Interestingly, the most experienced employee in the department had the most difficulty adjusting to a different workload.

As the senior employee, this individual enjoyed a reputation for being the team’s main source of knowledge and information.

What no one realized was how uncomfortable this employee was growing in that role as a result of having to learn unfamiliar tasks, perform other regular duties and train new co-workers all at the same time.

This individual did not make the link between all the learning that was going on and the internal stress that was building as a result.

In this case, the senior employee didn’t handle things well and became more than a little cranky.

Unfortunately, that behaviour led to a conflict situation with a co-worker that could have been avoided.

What is the main message here? We can all learn from the process of learning.

It’s a constant requirement in the workplace, so why not support each other through it?

We each need to find our own way of being okay with not knowing something temporarily and have faith that we will get there eventually.

That’s the real lesson.

Just Posted

Kelowna man charged with sex crimes gets closer to trial date

A pretrial conference has been scheduled

Bail for man charged in Kelowna murder

The man charged in a 2013 Glenmore-area murder has been released on bail

Former New Zealand politician attacked in jail

Charges have been laid against an inmate who allegedly attacked Peter Beckett during his trial

Illness numbers grow in Interior Health

GI and RI illnesses reported in Vernon, Lake Country, Kelowna, Penticton and Castlegar

Immunization clinics this week

Meningococcal outbreak prompts vaccines across Okanagan

Fire crews investigating oil sheen on Penticton Creek

Fire crews are working to contain the oil from spreading

Kamloops man cuffed after running from police

Kamloops RCMP say a suspect was arrested after running from police

UPDATE: Grizzly bear trophy hunting over in B.C.

Now only Indigenous people can hunt bears for meat

Warriors head to break after 3-point weekend

West Kelowna rallies in third period Sunday to tie Powell River in last game before Xmas

Star Blue Jays announced for Vancouver ‘Winter Tour’ event in January

Toronto’s pro baseball team heads west for two-day event

UPDATE: ‘Multiple fatalities’ as Amtrak derails over the I-5 in Washington State

13 cars jumped the tracks as train made its first voyage between Seattle and Portland

Mental effects of wildfire still linger in Fort McMurray

‘Resilient, but tired:’ Mental effects of wildfire lingering in Fort McMurray

Climate change hits Winter Olympic preparation

AP Exclusive: Climate change hits Winter Olympic preparation

Calgary Flames thump Vancouver Canucks 6-1

Mark Giordano, Sam Bennett lead the way as Flames thump Canucks 6-1

Most Read