In the times when we periodically pause to take stock of our lives, it’s been my observation that many of us feel disappointed with where we stand in life and the progress we’ve made towards our goals. We are often unhappy with the direction we are moving into, or the stagnation we are in, and how our full-of-promises dreams when we were younger have crashed and burnt in a rather non-glorious way, buried under the triviality of the everydays.
We tend to complain and blame all kinds of external forces for this check-mate position we feel we are in—unfortunate circumstances, fate, luck, the misalignment of our stars. We also, paradoxically, tend to conveniently neglect to throw ourselves into the equation. That is, we don’t want to admit that we are the main protagonist in our life story and we have a huge influence over the direction which our lives take.
It’s understandable, because once we adopt the mind-shift that we can control more than we’ve let on ourselves to believe, then the onus is on us—we can’t be the passive spectators anymore. Our actions will determine our outcomes.
So, here are my main 5 obstructors, which may be still pulling us back, despite being fueled, from having the fulfilling personal and professional lives we want:
1. You lack confidence
Unfortunately, this is a big one. A plethora of research has demonstrated that knowing our value is a major determinant of how we progress in life, and how much respect we can command form others. What’s more, lack of confidence has financial penalties—it’s shown to result in lower income flows and loss of opportunities due to fear of failure. Simply, we aren’t taken with the necessary weight to be able to influence others to invest their resources and time in us.
Overconfidence, on the other hand, when practiced within reasonable proportions, can be quite the trampoline. Aside from helping to be considered as more competent, it also gives the perception of a higher status and power. So, a bit of an inflated ego (backed by skills and knowledge, of course) can do us lots of favors—personally and professionally.
2. No quality network
Networking gets some bad aftertaste mainly because it requires extensive time and effort. It isn’t necessarily easy to engage in either, especially for someone who is more on the quiet side. But it’s a necessary evil. Everything in this world happens with and through other people. No way around it. Even more so, for those who are self- employed and don’t have the safety net of a steady salary stream.
Of course, not every conversation with someone we don’t know qualifies for networking. It has to be relevant and done right. We have to find commonalities and make a favourable impression. There’s lots of dynamics that goes far beyond the “elevator speech.” And other times, we don’t have to unabashedly promote ourselves to be noticed and taken seriously, we just have to do remarkable work.
3. You lack “Whatever-it-takes” mentality
Remember the analogy that success is an iceberg? No one sees all the blood, sweat and tears of those who have “made it” to the top, but the sacrifices are always there. There is no way around this either. It comes with the territory.
From all my years in finance, I’ve yet to meet a self-made influencer that hasn’t put in the long hours, the taking work home, the coming on the weekends when needed, the raising of their hand for more challenges. The reality is that the work-life balance many of us feverishly pursue can only take us this far.
To push yourself a bit extra means to be prepared to do all the things that are necessary to build your iceberg. Yes, it’s personally taxing on our mental and physical health, but the oh-so-sweet feeling of accomplishment is so worth it in the end!
4. The ability to talk, be opinionated and do a bit of mirroring
Many of us are now openly aware, thanks to Susan Cain’s wonderful book, that the world has been in favor of the gregarious ideal for quite a while now. Although social opinions may be slowly shifting, we are far from striking a balance.
But an introvert or extrovert personality matters merely in relation to how we handle interactions and re-charge. The skills to influence others and to market ourselves aren’t some optional “I-like-dislike” activities for either type, but requisites for getting noticed, and often getting ahead.
We are all in the sales business, even when we engage in “no-sales” selling”—the sooner we realize this, the faster we can craft strategies for “putting ourselves out there” in way that is comfortable to each one of us.
Finally, mirroring of others, or “behavioural matching,” is not a shameful undertaking, rather it’s often pleasing to the mirrored person (even if they don’t know that we imitate their actions), and for the person doing it—it’s a shortcut to learn winning behaviors, without the sometimes-costly trial-and-error experiences.
It’s based on a simple principle; we all like people that are similar to us in some way. Familiarity breeds comfort and likeability. Abundance of research shows that it’s highly beneficial when employed as a strategy to the ends of getting someone’s attention in a bar or a restaurant, to passing a job interview successfully, to closing a deal successfully.
5. You do too much
At first blush, this sounds a bit counter-intuitive to everything I mentioned above, but if you get to think about it, it’s true. In our desire to reach the finish line as quickly as humanly possible, we strain ourselves to the point that we engage in too many undertakings at the same time, thinking that they will fast-track us to success.
Simply put, the problem is that we dilute our goal by doing too many things that are peripheral to our core aspiration. Having a strategy, of course—even a whole project plan—from the get-go is a tried-and-true way to circumvent redundant activities. Revisions may be needed, but too much straying outside the lines may be detrimental to our progress.
Prioritizing our work is of no less significance. But the best thing we can do to avoid needless work is to do less. Focus on the value each activity offers to the goal, master selectivity and simplify.
In the end, we all, naturally, want to see our endeavors pay off. No one likes to work for the sake of working—it’s always to achieve something greater, to create, to leave a legacy behind.
And while things as luck, talent, abilities, even our backgrounds matter to a point, certain personality traits, which we can largely nurture, and the decisions that we make, have the greatest say in our outcomes.
In its essence, it all comes down to the simple humane behavior of finding better ways to connect, communicate and materialize our thoughts and ideas into the world.