My first career out of high school was as a musician in the U.S. Navy music program. My primary instrument was euphonium (also called a baritone horn) and there was a requirement to learn to play the trombone so I could be a part of other kinds of ensembles. Versatility is a foundational trait for musicians, and the Navy is no different. I was also a self-taught keyboard player and had written some jazz tunes and done a bit of arranging. After completing the initial bouts of training, I was sent to my first band in Hawaii (that was a real heart-breaker!).
One of the regular functions of any Navy band is to provide a wide range of kinds of music in various sized ensembles to address the dynamic needs of those who request the band. This meant solo piano, brass quintet, jazz combos of varying sizes, contemporary music, concert band, ceremonial band, marching band….just about any kind of music you could come up with using a group of about 30 multi-talented musicians.
The one that I wanted desperately to become part of was a small jazz group. The last couple of years in high school I had worked very hard to learn to improvise and was anxious to keep working on my skills, along with the opportunity to work with my band-mates who I knew could teach me a lot. However, there was a kind of ‘policy’ that stood in my way: I couldn’t go out with one of the small jazz groups until I had more experience playing in small jazz groups.
This was my first real experience with a recursive rule. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I was supposed to get experience playing in a small jazz group without being able to work with a small jazz group. I wasn’t the only person in the band that ran into this, of course. All of the young, new folks who wanted to do this were in the same predicament.
Before I tell you what our solution was, I want to cast this problem into another context.
The nature of careers, society and industry in our economy now is such that the majority of us run into the same ‘policy’ everywhere.
- Unemployed – Cast away from your former role, whether by choice or not, chances are you re looking for work in a different company than the one you left. You have to convince the hiring teams that you are well able to do what they wish you to do. However, many of these companies hesitate because they feel that somehow you need more experience doing EXACTLY the job they are hiring for, despite the illogical reasoning (and the likelihood that the job description they are hiring for isn’t REALLY, ENTIRELY what you’ll end up doing, anyway…).
- Entrepreneur – You took the leap and started your own business, whether as a solopreneur or with a small team. You’re working through all the right steps in setting things up, marketing, networking, business planning, researching your product, financials….everything is solid and on track. You’ve even gotten a few customers, but testimonials are few (this is a NEW business, after all!). In discussing a proposal with a new potential client, she would like you to demonstrate the actual and, preferably, exact value of your proposed product or engagement for her business before she’ll consider the proposal. Well, you and your team are more than able to deliver all the items that are part of the proposal, and more. But, since your business hasn’t actually delivered a package like this before, you don’t have hard data or a testimonial or five on THIS PARTICULAR PACKAGE….
- Growing your Career in a Company – You’ve worked for the company for some time, holding a number of different roles. You’ve been successful, carrying the experience you’ve gained from one group to another, and the company has benefited as well. Now it’s time to look at a new role, maybe even something a little different from what you’ve been doing so far. You’ve spent a lot of time studying the role, shadowing some top performers you’ve met, and even gotten some outside education to prepare yourself. Nonetheless, you’ve never actually PERFORMED in this role before. Much like the examples above, the hiring team seems hesitant to move you into this role, since you’ve never done it before….
For all of the noise about risk taking behavior in companies, they seem to be remarkably skittish to take a chance on ‘unproven’ talent. The only way in which the talent is unproven is that the person hasn’t done the Exact Same Job that they’re hiring for (that, and every job description supposedly requires a ‘Rock Star’, but that is the subject of another post…).
Circling back to my story, I started an off-duty band with a number of my fellow band-mates. We spent all our time playing, improvising, trying out new music (including some things I wrote…) and generally having a ball. A few of us finally got the attention of the powers that be and started getting assignments to the official groups. The rest of us kept enjoying the opportunity to play and grow. The goal for me changed from fitting into an existing framework into challenging my own creativity, which I have found to be a lot harder and more rewarding.
Again, transferring this the story to the other context, your creativity and diligence may need to go into overdrive to prove, either right where you are, through volunteering or by creating something new, that You Can Do This. How you work this out will be unique to your professional situation, but the value of pushing yourself, despite the existing policies or expectations, will be rewarding and might even uncover some unseen opportunities to have bigger impact than you might have had if you had been able to just “move into” the role you have been trying to get. It’ll probably be more fun, as well.
What’s your story? Do you see yourself “busting out” to build your credibility?