By Tim Ressmeyer ’84, Leadership Coach, Ressmeyer Partners
We are all the creation of everything that has happened to us up until this point in time. Every relationship, hardship, joy, loss, gain, job, heartache has created us and we can’t change any of it. Regret doesn’t serve you. We can learn from it. We can’t change it. And we have control to decide how we want to show up for what’s next.
Writing the Story
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to expect what happened in the past has to happen again. Whether we expect this outcome from our self or others, we “write a story” in our own head. A script if you will of how things will turn out. It’s not always true! Too often these stories limit what we really can be. The past does not have to repeat itself. You don’t have perfect information of what might happen. You can’t control everything; you can control how you show up.
Learning to not make up stories frees us to experience what is in front of us, confidently make decisions, and take control of what’s next.
These stories we write in our own minds tend to lean more towards the things that have gone wrong rather than reinforcing what has worked. Focusing on the problems creates a downward spiral of negativity that prevents us from finding solutions and outcomes.
We will look at things that have happened in the past, and assume that because they happened before, they will occur again. I frequently encounter people looking for a new job who have written off an entire company or industry because of one job interview that didn’t go well. There might be a variety of reasons it didn’t come through at that time, and it doesn’t mean you cannot try again. Evaluate why it happened and ask the simple question, why does it have to happen that way again?
Other times we leap to conclusions we make without any real evidence. Imagine walking into a client meeting, and one of their team members looks at you and glances away without greeting you. Immediately you come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like me and the meeting will therefore go poorly. How do you know that? Maybe she’s thinking about something problematic that happened at home this morning. Maybe her phone buzzed and she was distracted. Be careful not to go down the path of negativity and making it all about you.
Before You Jump to Conclusions
A good check on a tendency to leap to conclusions, is to run it through the “what’s another way to look at it” or “what would my best friend say” test. Your boss challenged you on a decision and you can’t believe what an idiot he is! Ask yourself; is there another way to look at what he said? How can I reframe his response to me so I have a more productive reaction? How would my best friend look at this?
We also carry with us beliefs about ourselves or the world that we have never experienced, but still believe to be true. “You can’t successfully have a career and a family.” “Unless you have an MBA from a top tier school you’ll never be able to be successful.” “You can never rise to the top with a Liberal Arts degree.” Believing these viewpoints without questioning them can lead to decisions that don’t play to your strengths, or allow you to control your own life.
A way to negate the impact of such unproven beliefs is to look for one instance when the belief is proven to be wrong. If others have proven it wrong, what would it take to follow that path, rather than give up without trying?
Dealing with the “Gremlin”
Our stories also come from our inner critic, or more popularly known as a Gremlin. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t do something so why try. It can also stop you from taking risks so that you don’t embarrass yourself. Most potently, your Gremlin brings up the thoughts of the imposter syndrome and suggests one day they will find out you really don’t know what you’re doing!
Getting rid of your Gremlin is impossible; it’s been with you forever, and it will stay with you forever. What you can do is lessen the power of your Gremlin by naming it, reminding yourself of all the proof points you have that you are successful, and continually telling the inner critic to, “shut up!” and train yourself to not listen to that voice.
Unfortunately, there are chemical factors in place that exacerbate negative situations and help create this dark cloud of fear and frustration. When we encounter a situation – real or perceived – as being a threat, the cortisol that’s released not only activates your amygdala to protect yourself from danger, but also triggers your limbic brain where all old experiences are stored. The result is a flood of memories of how you were hurt, embarrassed, or experienced failure. It’s hard to counteract this if you’re not intentionally training yourself to not focus, or take too seriously, the negative things that pop up. So many of these situations are not as problematic as we make them out to be, and we can train ourselves to be less pessimistic.
Take hold of your next steps by taking back control and write a new story of why it can happen, instead of why it cannot.
Learn more about Tim’s work and find other blogs on his website.
Read more about the things that prevent us from controlling our own destiny in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon
The views expressed by guest bloggers are those of the authors and do no reflect those of Stony Brook University or the Stony Brook Alumni Association.
Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. This blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.