The Pit of Despair
by: Addison Kubicek
When we hire someone new, or train people in a new skill, everyone goes through a growth journey. At some point along the way, when they’re learning to master their new skill or environment, there is a period where they’re in danger of falling into the Pit of Despair.
So what is the Pit of Despair?
This is the place where they feel like no matter how hard they’ve tried, they just can’t make it, they don’t understand the expectations set for them, or they feel in-over-their head and overwhelmed. The result can be abdication, or depression, or unhealthy behavior at work as they seek to cope with this sense of failure and feeling trapped.
We all can remember a moment such as this, where we have also felt incompetent in a position, we were in. Maybe we felt a lull in work, or we messed up and thought there was no recovering from it. There so many different feelings that come with it, but no matter the situation, we all have a chance of falling in the Pit of Despair, and we all have fallen in at one point or another.
This is a place that feels like a dead end. The person stuck in the pit of despair feels in-over-their-head, overwhelmed, tired of trying, and depressed. Support and challenge go out the window, and there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. It is like the person in the pit can see the ladder, but not the rungs, and have resigned themselves to the idea that this is just how it is going to be.
There is hope! There is a way out. The leader is the ladder out of the Pit of Despair. While it may be tempting to criticize the people in the Pit of Despair because “they just didn’t have what it takes” or any other frustration about why you think they’re down there, what they really need is you. They need Time, Vision, and Encouragement. Drop any criticism that may come when you see someone in the Pit of Despair, because we all have been there at one time or another, and it is your job to liberate.
Not everyone learns at the same pace, so what may take a week for one person to figure out takes a month for another. It builds hard skills and it also builds trust. Formal time is necessary for developing hard skills, but Informal time is crucial for building trust. That could look like intentional training or inviting them to dinner.
Vision means that there is short term vision to help them see what is immediately ahead of them. It is like focusing on each rung of the ladder as they climb out of the pit. Focus on the next project, focus on the due date, or focus on the end of the day. As you focus on the short-term vision, it is easier to work, learn, and lead because it is a change of pace. Long term vision is helping the person see what is to come and building excitement for it. Look at the projects in the future, or the company dinner that is planned. If there is purpose behind the work, it will continue to grow the excitement for the future.
Finally, your encouragement needs to be genuine, authentic, and specific. If you know of someone who is in the pit of despair, help them by being a leader and using these three tools to help them get out of the pit and grow into the person they can be. If you are in the pit, be honest with someone around you, and allow them to help you with these three tools so that you can be the best version of yourself.
Remember, we all have hit our Pit of Despair moments before. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for your job, or that your coworker isn’t cut out for their job. It simply means that you need to liberate yourself and those around you. You can do it! You can climb that ladder and help others to see the rungs as well!
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