“We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.” – Darth Vader
“There comes a point in adulthood when you find yourself looking for a grown up and then realize that you are one. Then you look for someone adulting harder than you. An adultier adult” – popular internet meme
In the professional development field we tend to hone in on what we can do better, what we can learn, and how we can support a project. And that’s a fantastic focus! But there’s another aspect to keep in mind, and it’s something I’m a big believer in:
When you work hard, when you learn from others, when you practice, you ‘get.’ Once you ‘get’ you have something to ‘give.’ After a while, it’s time to start ‘giving.’
It’s easy to miss but essential – when you have something to share or bring to the world, something that can help others, it becomes your duty to help them. While development is very much a process, there are 3 realistic phases we can break it down into – novice, practitioner, and mentor. For our purposes, we will use a Star Wars metaphor to illustrate.
Novice: Luke Skywalker
“I want to come with you to Alderaan. … I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
This is that newbie feeling at its purest, the rush of anxiety/excitement at the beginning of a new course of learning. The frustration of trying to do things the first (or fiftieth) time and having them come out not-quite-right. Everything is fresh when you’re in the Luke phase. You may be practicing, you might even be getting a little bit better each time (go you!) and feel like your skills are getting stronger. This is what it means to be a novice.
Practitioner: Princess Leia Organa
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan”
This is one phase that’s easy to miss, because in many ways it feel natural, or like becoming a better novice. Once you’ve gotten the hang of things in your new pursuit you start running with it. Every challenge is new but you know how to handle yourself, have goals in mind and have steps lined up to achieve them. You may have mastered what you’re doing and be operating smoothly now. In Leia’s case, you know how to withstand interrogation and lead a rebellion.
Mentor: Obi Wan Kenobi
“You must learn the ways of the Force, if you’re to come with me to Alderaan.”
You’ve achieved a level of mastery now that means you can do more than excel in your pursuits – you can help others excel in theirs. You’ve been a practitioner long enough to understand the how and why behind the choices that you make. This stage is also tricky to pinpoint, often folks don’t even know they’ve reached this level until someone comes to them and asks for help. For Obi Wan, suggesting training to Luke comes naturally because he knows his own capacity to be a mentor.
So now that we’ve broken down these three categories here’s the most crucial thing to remember: You are in all three states at one, at all times.
I know, hard to believe but true. You are a novice, a practitioner, and a potential mentor, all at the same time – just in different fields and skills. You might be learning to negotiate your salary, a practicing web metrics analyst, and an excellent cook who could teach others. You might be moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone, be an adept swing dancer, and an accomplished public speaker who can see how others are struggling. At every given moment you have something you aren’t very good at yet, something you are good at, and something you are so good at you could help someone else get better. The wonderful thing about this is that at any moment in time, you have the opportunity to seek help from someone and offer help to someone else.
So here’s your homework assignment: Estimated time 5 minutes
What are 3 things you are just learning to do for the first time?
This is liable to be a long list, so pick projects that you’re excited about.
What are 2 things you’ve become adept at?
If this is difficult, think of things your friends/family/coworkers ask you to handle for them.
What is 1 thing you know you could help someone else do?
To get started, try thinking of times someone has asked you to help them do something.
Take a look at your list, and in the next week keep it in mind: how can you learn from others? How can your skills help others, and how can you help others develop their own skills?
I’d love to see what you’re working on in the comments below!