Fighting the unknown.

We are always looking for challenging work. We like the feeling of overcoming difficulties and winning at the end. As exciting as it sounds, the process to get there is like a rollercoaster. One day, you feel like you have figured it all and the next day, you feel like this job is not for you at all.

Remember joining a new company and not understanding how it works for days? or starting a new project and feeling completely lost? or getting promoted and feeling like an imposter from day 1? The list goes on and on...

One thing that's common in all situations is — the unknown. And as the famous saying goes, "We often fear what we don't know". Once this fear kicks in, it affects people differently. Some people turn this fear into positive energy to push themselves and know the unknown. Some people start avoiding things that they don't understand, which leads to procrastination, and some think of giving up and assuming the job is not their cup of tea – aka the imposter syndrome.

So, how do you fight the unknown? How do you get over the imposter syndrome that the unknown leads to? There are two steps in the technique I'm about to tell you. First, write what you don't know. "Sanket, we can't write about what we know. Are you seriously asking us to write about what we don't know?" Well, yes! You don't have to write blog posts or essays on it. Just create a table with the columns below and keep adding things you don't know.

  1. 'The unknown'
  2. 'Date' when you faced the unknown.
  3. 'Status' — unknown or resolved
  4. 'Date' when you resolved the unknown

Why the table? Sometimes, we go into a thinking loop to try and figure out things in our minds. This virtual list makes you anxious. It doesn't allow you to check-off completed items from your list. Having a table solves this problem. Plus, the joy of checking things off... I know you know.

Why add the dates? To keep yourself motivated! When you track the two dates (mentioned above), it helps you realise that you can resolve any unknowns with a little more time and effort. If you retrospect after six months or a year, taking a look at the list and the dates will boost your confidence. You will realise that you've solved so many unknowns within that period; you no longer fear them; you embrace them.

Now that we have the table, let's come to the second solution -- make this list available to your peers — all of them or a handful you trust. This step can feel scarier than the actual list you've made, but this is one of the best ways to know the unknowns faster. Your peers are your best guides to help you fight the unknown at work. We don't think about this, but there is a high possibility that your peers have faced the same fears, and they can empathise with you.

Here is a thing or two to you can take away from this:

  1. If a company has hired you, you don't have to prove that you're worth it. They know you are.
  2. No one expects you to be the domain expert within the first few days. You shouldn't expect that from yourself either. There is no shame in not knowing things.
  3. Writing what you know and what you don't is a great way to keep your mind clear and focused.
  4. Pick your peers to help you fight the knowns. They have been there, and they get it.

Do you have any other techniques to fight the unknowns? I would love to know them.