There’s a particular kind of scenario that can – and will – happen to you. A scenario that frightens many people, but is actually a tremendous opportunity if you know how to approach it. Despite its ubiquity, I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about this specifically, so here’s a perhaps unique little packet of advice.
The scenario is this: you’ve signed up for something. A job, a day of volunteering, helping a friend move, writing a book, whatever. The point is that you agreed to some task, whether long-ish term or short-ish, and you think you have a pretty decent idea of what the individual bits of that task will look like. But then, suddenly and without warning, you’re asked to do… (dramatic pause) …something else!
Seriously, this really freaks people out, no matter the level of the task. If the President of the United States is elected during peacetime and then war gets declared, I guarantee you that he’s feeling something analogous to when the new cashier at McDonald’s gets asked to fill in on the grill during the rush because someone had to go home sick.
So I don’t really have advice if you’re the President. But for pretty much everyone else – breathe. Being asked to do something unexpected is the exact opposite of a personal emergency. You’re sweating bullets, but you shouldn’t. It’s awesome, and I’ll tell you why.
First – consider that the fact that you’re even being asked means that someone thinks pretty well of you. You don’t ask incompetent buffoons to help out during emergencies. The whole scenario is starting with a compliment.
Beyond that, being put in this situation is awesome for you. You think it’s high pressure, but it’s actually close to zero pressure. Consider that without you, the whole thing would have been a disaster. If you weren’t there to fill in on the grill, there’d be no one to fill in at all – so no matter what you do, you’re ahead of the curve. You’re a lifesaver in any circumstance.
Even the worst-case scenario, where you’re so little help that you might as well have not helped at all, is still better than nothing! Why? Because you never made any claim that you could do it (so you’re blameless in that aspect), you’re still a hero for rolling up your sleeves and being willing to give it your best shot.
So the absolute worst that can happen is that you’re given a hearty thanks for being a team player. But the majority of the possibility space is far superior. You could discover something new that you love and you’re good at but wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do before due to lack of experience or credentials. You can make new friends or allies as you demonstrate competence and save the day. You can come away with awesome stories to tell.
And all at pretty much zero risk in terms of social capital!
So the next time someone asks you to do something unexpected, don’t grouse that it isn’t what you signed up for. Dive in, have fun, and walk away a hero.