Right after finishing school at 17, I started helping my father with his real estate business. The world of real estate in India is fraught with litigation: visits to the police station to file complaints or stops at court for interventions when the police don’t accept those complaints. In India, it’s uncommon for a 17-year-old to be filing complaints in police stations, but my father trusted me to handle it without help.
My father essentially put me through stress tests before I even knew what they were. He always believed that age and experience level are not barriers to career achievement or growth, and he never hesitated to assign any task to me, whether it was meeting a senior government official or meeting with our lawyer to track the status of a court case. He gave me only a basic outline of the situation and then told me to handle it.
This type of stress test — navigating a tough situation to hone my skills — helped me develop problem-solving strategies and the confidence to eliminate mental barriers. The skills I learned here helped me grow to lead a company with clients in 160 countries without ever going to college. While I started honing these skills in childhood, it’s not too late to put yourself to the test and build your own talents.
Throw Yourself Into The Deep End
Similar to the way I geared up for my first trips to the police stations in my hometown, I have to prepare myself when I’m speaking at a conference or conducting a workshop for my team — career opportunities I treasure. I take these speaking engagements very seriously and prepare intensively for them. Recently, I spoke about India’s opportunity in the SaaS market, a speech for which I spent five days preparing.
Even if you’re not a natural public speaker, put yourself in stressful but beneficial situations such as speaking engagements, conferences, and leading workshops. They’re real learning opportunities that can be highly fulfilling. In “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” Cal Newport writes that concentrating intensely on mentally taxing tasks, instead of flitting among shallow stops on the to-do list, is how we learn to better solve problems and to expand our abilities. To put your abilities to the test, throw yourself into the deep end by setting a time limit and, for that period, committing yourself to tackling an uncomfortable task.
Embrace Your Disadvantages
My team is based in Chennai, India. Until recently, our city didn’t have an active software ecosystem. We made that work to our advantage, though, by focusing our resources on our software product instead of the lack of support or competition. Clearly, other companies in the area felt the same way: Chennai is now thriving. To thrive similarly, think of obstacles as an opportunity for growth. Disadvantages can be a way to unleash creativity and find new solutions to problems.
The first step to turning drawbacks to your advantage is to identify your disadvantages. List them out. Is your department weak in a particular skill set? Is there a way you should improve as a manager or as an employee? Once you have a list going, brainstorm ways you and your team can overcome these obstacles, such as signing up for companywide training, reading books on the subject, or attending individual improvement courses. Take steps to introduce these solutions as soon as possible.
Unlearn What You Think You Know
Working outside our mental comfort zones breaks us from our problem-solving routines and sets for us a stress test that helps us learn and grow in our careers. Walking in our co-workers’ shoes by trying on their day-to-day duties, for example, is a way to challenge our own thinking and to increase our empathy for our teammates. Neurologist Michael Trimble found in a study that when we watch someone else experience emotions, our brains are activated similarly to when we experience those same emotions ourselves. Keep your brain active and challenged by feeling what your team is feeling.
For example, I might take a support call to answer customer queries on behalf of the customer success team or handle a complex enterprise qualification call for the sales team. Not only do regular exercises like this remind you how knowledgeable and flexible you are, but they give you an opportunity to unlearn, relearn, and remodel. Reach out for the opportunity to shadow your co-workers, then work on boosting your skill set by trying your hand at tasks you haven’t attempted in a while — or ever.
You don’t have to have entered the Indian real estate industry as a teenager to go through stress tests. But rather than letting yourself be stressed out, you should embrace these manageable challenges. Use them as a way to hone your abilities, a path to career growth. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to achieving your dreams.