When you’ve been at your job for a while, learning something new can be intimidating. It’s easy to feel comfortable with the skills you’ve already honed and refined during your time in your current role, and the idea of feeling like a beginner again can be daunting and stressful — and it also requires a certain level of emotional courage. After all, research shows that learning at work is an emotional experience, and in order to move past that fear and continue your professional development, improving your emotional courage is key.

In order to improve, you have to first be self-critical about the knowledge you’re lacking,” Arthur Markman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work, tells Thrive. 

It can feel uncomfortable to admit you need to learn something new, but Markman says there are benefits to occasionally starting from square one — and the discomfort that comes along with it is a sign of growth. Here are some small steps you can take to improve your emotional courage at work. 

Acknowledge gaps 

No matter how long you’ve been at your job, there are of course always gaps in your existing knowledge, and Markman says that without first acknowledging them, you’re unlikely to find the drive to fill them. He notes that people often fear that they’ll come across as incapable by admitting they don’t know something, but if you don’t say it out loud, those gaps will never get filled on their own. Ask people — with compassionate directness — to teach you, or for recommendations on how to learn, he urges. “Start by recognizing that that’s a part of what highly-skilled performance means.”

Talk back to your imposter syndrome

When you don’t feel that you earned the position you’re in, you’ll find that you’ll lack the emotional courage needed to grow in that position. “The biggest barrier in admitting that there are things you don’t know is some version of imposter syndrome –– that you got put in this role despite who you are, instead of because of who you are,” Markman explains. “When you suffer from imposter syndrome, you don’t want anyone to know that there are gaps in your knowledge.” Imposter syndrome is common, and when it holds you back from learning something new, that’s a clear sign that it’s time to hone in on your inner critic, and remind yourself that you are worthy of being where you are. “Remind yourself that you deserve to be there,” Markman recommends. “Part of deserving to be there is that willingness required to learn whatever is needed to learn in order to succeed.”

Reach out to colleagues

It’s important to have someone you trust at work to ask your questions to, and Markman says that all too often, people lack the emotional courage to actively find that mentor on their own. “Don’t wait for someone to assign you a mentor,” he suggests. “Find someone with skills you think are important, and spend time with that person to learn those skills for yourself.” Markman also points out that mentorship is equally important if you’re in a leadership position, and encourages managers to pick the brains of other people at the company. By doing so, you can improve your emotional courage, and develop meaningful relationships that could help you down the line. “Go out of your way to find people in different positions who know things you don’t,” he adds. “No matter where you sit in the org chart, it’s your responsibility to find things you don’t know how to do, and learn how to do them.”

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  • Rebecca Muller Feintuch

    Senior Editor and Community Manager


    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.