Why You Should Get in Over Your Head

Why You Should Get in Over Your Head
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Why you should care

Because you won’t learn if you know how to do everything. 

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Getting in over your head should be part of your job. At the core of career mobility — climbing the ladder, or maybe even jumping over to another ladder entirely — is the willingness to move to the unknown.

That’s something I’ve embraced ever since I left my childhood home in Nigeria to study in England. My path has been anything but straightforward. I started out with an engineering degree before earning a postgraduate degree in computer science. The emergence of automation and algorithms in trading helped me land a job in the Foreign Exchange division at JPMorgan Chase. This was a big opportunity, as foreign exchange is the largest financial market, transacting up to $5 trillion daily. Here is my guide on surviving and thriving in the unknown.

1. Always learn on the job

After innovating and expanding electronic trading across various regions and currencies, I ended up heading the FX Automated Trading Strategies team, and today I am managing director of Currencies and Emerging Markets, based in New York. JPMorgan Chase now ranks in the top tier of the foreign exchange industry, most of which is transacted by electronic trading these days.

Of course, you may not be able to create mobility opportunities like this whenever you want. But they do come along quite often, and, in my experience, a track record of flexibility will make you most prepared to meet them.

I truly believe it is an integral prerequisite for growth that, when taking a job, you place yourself in an environment where you will have to learn and develop. Yes, this will mean there are times when you have to work on new material with a steep learning curve. But it is important to remain confident in your ability to learn, take feedback and progress.

Cultivating a personal brand through your performance and relationships will help you be seen as the “energetic can-do” individual when future opportunities arise.

2. Embrace Diversity

Sure, shifting toward something new will always be challenging. When I took on my current role, the world suddenly became much larger, not only because the team I’m responsible for spans Singapore, Hong Kong, London and New York, but because I had to transition quickly from focusing on the specifics of developing a trading strategy with analytics and technology to understanding how the business fits into JPMorgan Chase as a whole.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that the value of collective effort can be incredible if we encourage diverse perspectives. The diversity of knowledge, experience and culture that I encounter in interactions with my global colleagues is invaluable.

Progressing and learning, then, is not something you do alone. To really succeed, it’s teamwork that makes the difference.

3. Develop a thirst for knowledge

Learning is a process that never ends; you have to keep at it. Comparing yourself to the experts can be unnerving, so I’ve avoided this. Instead, I focused on my own personal development and pace. Seeing how much I’ve learned after what seemed impossible or complicated at the start is truly energizing.

Seeking out feedback and opinions is an important part of this. I probably have asked just about everyone I’ve worked with for advice, including cases where I already have a strong view on the decision. I prefer to hear from a variety of perspectives when considering any action.

I have been fortunate to have a wide range of colleagues and managers who have provided candid feedback, which I have taken constructively. You need it in order to understand your performance and make changes.

Chinedum Nzelu is managing director of Currencies and Emerging Markets at JPMorgan Chase & Co.