Learning On the Job: Fortunately Parenting Isn’t Like the Job Market

Geschäftsfrau und Mutter arbeitet mit Tochter im Arm im Interne Given the 2008 economic downturn, and the ongoing difficulty people have had finding jobs, keeping jobs, and just professionally progressing in some meaningful way, one thing has puzzled me.

Whether it's an entry-level position or a CEO, hiring managers seem to expect one thing. The perfect fit. That person should already be an expert at the job. Able to seamlessly meld into the position and organization, and get off to a running start. No training, no ramp up period. Certainly no learning on the job.

This “cog-in-the-wheel” approach to employment is counterproductive. It keeps positions unfilled (“there is no one who can do this job” is really “there is no one who can do this job perfectly and instantaneously with zero effort or input on our part right now”). It also misses talent and paralyzes workers. No wonder everyone is frustrated.

Turning from the public sphere to the private, I'm struck by what a very different model we use in our home lives. While adoptive parents and foster parents are put through the training wringer to show their parental fitness, those of us who get lucky the old fashioned way are on our own. Unless we read a slew of books (guilty), talk to more experienced people like friends and family (done), or take classes (yup).

Even then, as new parents, we are confronted with a crying, hungry, wriggling newborn who tries to latch onto your nose and whose first diaper is, if I can put this delicately, quite something. After mom is declared fit for discharge we're sent away with a wave as the nurses move on to the next exhausted and clueless family. I remember walking out the hospital's front door thinking, “Really? They're letting us just GO like this? What am I supposed to DO with her?!” Sheer madness. But was it?

To say that we were (and are) learning “on the job” was – and remains – an understatement. My mother had already passed by the time I had my daughter, so I had fewer resources than many women. Thank goodness for other family members like my mother-in-law and aunt, the Internet, and my trusty, dog-eared, and underlined What to Expect When You're Expecting book. (That was a great investment by the way. She should publish one on tweens. And teens. Just a suggestion.)

Why do we have such different expectations about how we learn, grow, and get things done? Should all potential parents be forced to be “experts” before the big day? Maybe, but I'd like to see you try and enforce that one. Perhaps our approach to parenting should inform other areas of our lives. Like at work.

While business thinkers love to talk about how failure makes workers and organizations stronger, employers seem to have missed that memo. They also seem to be following a very different model of how people perform best – especially over the long term.

Learning as you go is an important way to grow, as a person and as an intellect. As parents, some of us have “easy” kids and some of us have “special needs” kids. Some of us don't sleep for two years up front; some of us are going to have that luxury when our kids are teens. Similarly, as workers, some of us take our time to get to know the ropes and evaluate the playing field before ramping up the dial. Despite the narrowly worded and often unattainable job ads out there today, few hiring managers or CEOs didn't have their own learning curve. And if they think they didn't, I can assure you I'd like to know about it. Because if you don't think you have something to learn, every-single-day, then you are doing it wrong.

Whether you're the parent or the child, the boss or the worker-bee, the teacher or the student, if you're open and willing, there's always something new to learn. And sometimes you're going to get it spot on, and sometimes you're not. And that's okay. Because as Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” To which I'd add, but those that did work, “Wow! Just, wow!”

Karla Cunningham blogs about all things health at http://tissuesandtea.wordpress.com and everything else at http://musanity.wordpress.com. You can also visit her at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tissuesandtea and Twitter @tissuesandtea.

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