The Employment Nerves Test

April 11, 2008

When I went for the job at Acme I liked the people that I spoke to there, but one thing really piqued my interest. The job description gripped me with fear. I wasn’t at all sure I could handle the work they wanted me to do.

This is The Employment Nerves Test I use to tell whether a certain job is worthwhile for me to accept. If I am nervous about my ability to perform my job function, then it’s a job that may be worth taking.

Power Lifting for your Brain

I’ve done my time in gyms, and I have good news and bad news. The good news is that once you are at a personally acceptable fitness level, you can be fairly lazy and still maintain that level by showing up and doing the minimum. The bad news is that if you want to grow, you have to bust your ass. Way out there on the edges of your workout, at the very end when you really just want to give up, you have to push harder than the other 90% of the workout. That’s where the real growth takes place.

The reason for the nerves test is simple. I want to put myself into situations that are outside of my comfort zone. Those who dwell in that death-defying region of the learning curve are poised to succeed because they are always learning. I’m not talking about passive knowledge acquisition. I’m talking about sink or swim, patch this ship before it sinks, mental turmoil that really burns lessons into my brain. If I can’t feel that burn, then I’m just maintaining, I’m not growing.

I was right about Acme; I learned quite a bit. I also knew right away that that pace of learning probably wouldn’t last. In a fast paced environment that was always changing, I may have been able to grow, but Acme was not a place like that. After three months, I was dead in the water. All of my assignments were brain dead easy, and nothing was coming down the pipe for at least a year.


That’s when I ramped up my job search. The fear that once gripped me was gone, and I no longer saw it looming. Acme, which has once passed the employment nerves test, had been retested and failed.

If you continue to stay sharp by putting yourself into situations that push you to your limit, the quality and pace of your learning will far outstrip what a university could provide.

As someone who has gone to college and pushed myself at work simultaneously, I have had a chance to compare the two experiences qualitatively. College is an exercise in patience. It taught me to be methodical, to cope with the quirks of the “boss” professor, and it occasionally expanded my way of thinking. Working consistently pushed my abilities to their limit, and forced me to quickly grow in meaningful ways. Working was the more valuable experience for me, and I think it was because of the Employment Nerves Test. If you’re not terrified, you’re just coasting.


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