Being in over your head may be the best way to learn what you’re capable of. Consider the following example of someone we’ll call David.
David doesn’t know if he’s capable of swimming, so he stands in the shallow end of the pool and splashes around a little. Cautiously, he moves to chest-deep water and tries kicking his legs. When he gets scared, he stops kicking and stands up again.
Then, someone grabs him and tosses him into the deep end of the pool. David figures out quickly how to swim (while that someone stands by just in case).
Luckily, most things in life won’t cause you to drown if you fail. You might end up embarrassed and scared. But there’s also the chance that you might suddenly find yourself swimming.
I’ve had this experience over and over again. In fact, I’ve learned to prefer being in over my head. It’s definitely scary; that never changes. But it also forces me to perform in ways the shallow end never does. I go from thinking I’m capable of “x” to very quickly performing twice or three times that amount — and sometimes even 10x.
Think of being in over your head as a little magic box. In one side goes the old you and out the other side comes a 2x or 10x version of yourself.
This column, titled Want to Get Smarter Fast? Get In Over Your Head, originally appeared in The New York Times on September 25, 2017.