I was so excited to get my first really big promotion

It was quite early in my career and the role was just as interesting and challenging as I had hoped. It was exactly the stretch I thought I needed, testing my abilities in lots of different directions all at the same time. I thrived on the adrenaline and the pace of rapid learning.

Until one day, a few months after starting in the role, it all came to a crashing halt. I can’t remember the exact trigger, but I will never forget the feeling, even though it was decades ago. Over the course of the next week I had many sleepless nights, convinced I should never have taken on this role as I clearly had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately I had a great manager who was also a wonderfully supportive mentor. He knew something was up and asked me what was happening. I was reluctant to open up about it, but he guessed the issue. He had taken a risk in appointing me to this role on the basis of assessment of my potential, as I had very limited relevant experience. I was so grateful that he had supported me but I was terrified he had realised the magnitude of his mistake.

Introducing “The Dip”

He looked me in the eye and asked me, “Have you reached the dip?” I asked him what he meant.

He said, “Well, you’ve had the first few months of the new job exhilaration, where your main responsibilities are to learn, and now the rubber has hit the road, and you need to deliver on the responsibilities and you’ve had a crisis of confidence.”

I froze. There was no way I was going to admit such a thing to my new boss! I didn’t hide it well though. I suspect I looked like a deer in the headlights.

He said, “Relax. It’s nothing to worry about.”

I still said nothing, as I was quite sure it really was a lot to worry about as I genuinely had no idea what I was doing.

Then he said, “I know exactly what you are going through as I have gone through it myself whenever I started a new role that was a stretch for me. Plus I have managed many people over the years that have also found themselves in this same dip.

“I recognise the signs, and I want you to know that I am not concerned at all.

It’s not where you are that’s the issue, but where you go from here

“You think this is all about you and your ability to do the job don’t you?”. I nodded. He said, “That is where you are wrong. It’s not. It’s a stage that most people go through early in a new role.

“What matters is not that you are in this dip, as it is a familiar place where we all find ourselves at some point.

“What matters is how long you choose to spend there and how you go about finding your way out.

“Relax, and know that this feeling is not about you, but is a normal part of picking up the reins of a new and unfamiliar role.

“What I want you to do now, is to think about some strategies to navigate your way to the other side of the dip, and come back later this week and we can talk about them.”

I have never forgotten this conversation

I have reminded myself of it many times over the years when the feeling of panic settles in after taking on a bigger challenge. Often I will carry the stress for a day or so before I remember: Oh right. The dip. Here I am again. It’s ok. Relax. Now, what’s my plan to get out of here?

I’ve told this story to many people I have mentored over the years.

It has been a gift that my manager and mentor gave me all these years ago. It has helped me and so many others not get ourselves caught up in the spiral of fear that can derail the careers of talented leaders.

I hope it is of value to you too.

As to how to get out of the dip, well that’s the topic for a future post!