"I need somewhere to take my career that gives me sustained challenge and keeps opening up more doors to opportunity. It's how I work, it's how I've always grown, and I need it again. And after spending quite a bit of time focused on real research R&D, I'm able to tackle much harder problems."
Sometime in late January, or maybe it was early February, I made a choice about my intentions for my year. You could call it a New Year's Resolution. While I don't get into the "lose 30 pounds" or "try skydiving" or whatever the traditional resolutions are... I do try to set an intention, a gentle background focus for my year and my choices. My motto for 2011 was thus:
"Make more mistakes."
By that, of course, I didn't mean be sloppy or careless, or intentionally clumsy. But rather, get out of my comfort zone. Try new things. Dare to attempt things I'd never done before and knew would be hard. Move into the unknown instead of freezing up at the threshold and then turning away. Try things that "don't seem like something I would do" and see how it felt from the other side of the first time - when the first try was behind me instead of yet to come. Take those first tries with courage and curiosity, and don't bother getting nervous or anxious about it, just go try.
And throughout the year, I very much did so.
I took a new job that was significantly above my competency but very exciting, and then worked hard to bring my skills up to match. As a result, I learned a ton of new skills and perspective, that I've then been able to reapply in surprising ways to other technical areas. I'm no longer in stagnation, and am growing like mad again (yay!).
I went to social events alone, introduced myself to people, and made new friends who eventually became "my crowd"; now I am greeted with hugs and excited smiles by wonderful friends. I taught a photography class as a solo teacher. I did formal introductions of one friend to another (something that seems so simple, but which social anxiety had prevented me from doing before). I tried various new experiences without planning ahead (or worrying ahead) about how it would work out; and just not-worrying was a new experience too.
I took my first solo trip to Chicago in many many years (maybe ever) and succeeded in navigating / coping with traffic / getting where I wanted to go, without too much stress. I did a short solo hike in a redwood forest in California, and climbed muddy paths on my hands and knees because the adventure called me more strongly than staying tidy... and when I started to lose my footing, I got creative about leverage and figured out solutions, instead of getting nervous.
I faced down my high school struggles with foreign language learning and started the process of learning Japanese. It's so foreign that even after years of listening to it spoken in anime, I still struggle just to pronounce words and syllables. But I'm having _fun_ and I'm letting myself flub it over and over so that my mouth starts to learn how to follow the sounds. I am learning at my own pace and for the joy of the learning... like a little child playing with baby talk. This is the loose play that I was so rigidly afraid of in prior years, that stopped me from doing any deep learning. And now, instead... I play. I let the mistakes roll out. I fumble through it and then giggle and try again.
Tonight I sang at karaoke for the first time. Solo, too. And predictably, I sucked. And then I asked a good friend for tips, and got back up there and tried again, and the second time didn't suck nearly as much. I still have a long ways to go before I am "good" - but I don't care. I started! And I didn't freak out at just getting up there and doing it.
I relaxed. I let go. I figured out that mistakes won't kill me, or even particularly embarass me if I don't let them.
I still hold back sometimes, out of fear of "doin' it wrong." But now I have another option, that I can choose to engage: "Make more mistakes." It comes easier now.