The Messiness and Discomfort of the Learning Curve

The learning curve is a lie!

Not really, but that's how it looks to me this week. The learning curve implies there is a nice clean arc of growth. You start slow, with little evidence of progress and then you get into the groove and momentum builds and builds, and then whoosh - you reach the goal. You are a master of your craft.  

That has not been my experience. For me, the learning curve is more like a learning scrawl. Some days I feel like I am on a high, a shoot up in growth and then other days I feel like I have gone back to the beginning of knowing nothing. There are other times when I don't even know if there is an endpoint to aim toward. And that's because the learning curve is infinite. There is no end to mastery, just a commitment to keep climbing and to keep learning. Like climbing a mountain range, and you get to the top of one peak, to find there is a much bigger mountain behind it.

And that's when you start to question yourself. Will I ever master this? How do I get good at this? How do I know if I am doing ok?

I think it's particularly difficult when you move into a new role or you are trying to build a business on your own. I left a structured corporate environment, where other people would give me feedback. I could gauge how I was doing by assessing how I was being judged, was I being included in meetings, were people coming to me for help, was I getting promoted or recognized for my work?

Creating a business, as a solopreneur, you don't have those same yardsticks to look to. You don't have the reassurance of others, you are the only one in your business. You can ask your clients how it's going, but they might not always want to be honest with you. You can measure referrals and renewals, but when you are just in the early days, you might not be getting that feedback loop yet.

I realized something at the weekend. My desire to be my best at what I do creates an impatience with the process of learning. I want to be amazing now, not in 5 years. I want to be masterful and proficient. I want to create consistent results and impact people. I want to have lots of clients and lots of experience.

But this isn't something I can do in a linear fashion, as the learning curve implies. Serving people and building a business is going to be messy. Especially when you are mastering several things at the same time, how to create clients, how to build a business, how to be the best coach you can be. It's a lot.

I think we are pretty intolerant of mess as adults. As kids, we are comfortable with making mistakes, of falling down, of getting dirt on our clothes, and play-doh in our hair. As we grow up, we become more and more constrained by our expectations, by our need to be good, to get it right the first time. We are embarrassed if we fall down, or say the wrong thing. And so we become more constricted and more pressured and stressed when we try a new job, or master a new skill. You are doing something for the first time, trying to get it right straight away is a tall order.

This week I was interviewed for a friend’s Facebook community. My first ever recorded, live interview. It went ok, not brilliant and not terrible. Then I did a couple of connection calls. One went ok, not great, it lacked structure and intention and I felt like I had done a poor job of creating value. The other was just a really lovely call, a lovely connection.

I went to bed on Tuesday night, and I felt vulnerable. I felt uncomfortable. I felt the discomfort of the messiness. And when I woke up, I reflected on what my coach told me at the weekend. Be ok with the messiness. It's going to be messy. It's going to be inconsistent. You will have days where you take two steps forward and the next a step back. She also reminded me that I don't have to be good. I can test and try things out and not having to be good takes the pressure off. I can be me, where I am right now in this moment, is enough.

Being on the learning curve is not about avoiding discomfort and mistakes, and trying to get everything right. It's not about trying to get to the end-point as quickly as possible. It's about embracing all of it. It’s about being ok with the discomfort of not being amazing at everything you do. It's about being patient with yourself.  

Staying on the path is about accepting you don't have to be good.

You don't have to be perfect.

Enjoy the ups and downs.

Find a way to have fun while you are testing and learning.

Enjoy the moment you are in and in doing so, appreciate how far you have come.

If it's messy and uncomfortable, that means you are in it.

You are not sitting on the sidelines resisting or avoiding. Your sleeves are rolled up, your hands are covered in dirt, and you are playing the game of creating.

And in all the mess, you will see what you need to learn. What skill you might want to practice, what gap you might want to close.

You are standing up and falling down. You are getting a little bumped and a little bruised because you are not staying in your comfort zone.

Enjoy being messy. Enjoy the process of creating and learning.  You are on the path, and it's not a straight, clean, linear path.

So let's rename the learning curve to the learning scrawl because for me, that sets a clearer expectation of what it's like to try something new. To master a new skill, to start a new job, or to build a business.

Enjoy the scrawl. Make it fun.

And remember, you are not on your own. You have your own intuition to guide you and the quieter your mind, the less stressed you are, the more you will hear it. Find people in a similar situation and share the journey with them. Get support from friends and family. Talk about it. Because on those days when it seems hard, talking to a friend, a mentor, or a coach, can make a world of difference. It can keep you on the path, it can help you stand up when you feel down.

If you would like someone to talk to, who will listen to you, encourage you, who will challenge your thinking and bring out your most creative and productive self, then feel free to connect with me: 

Restoring mind, soul, and spirit so you can create a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Author: Melanie Hopwood

Melanie Hopwood is the Founder of The Restorative Coach. She is a certified professional coach, accredited through the ICF, and consultant. Connect with Melanie via email or LinkedIn. This article was first featured on the blog.

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