When I’ve encountered a client who is stuck in her job search, the problem is almost always that she is stuck in the past. Rather than focusing on the future, such people frequently fixate on why they were let go from a job. For others, they are still employed at a bad job. They say they want something new, but do little to make it happen. Instead, they waste their time reliving what went wrong, imagining a world that will never be.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, Peg O’Connor, a professor of philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College, points to two words that kill our progress: “If only.” When we use those words, we’re getting lost in regrets rather than looking forward and working to make things better. O’Connor does say that some people can use this word to change their behaviors. However, for most people, “if only” is a waste of time and energy. It’s a much better strategy to set a goal for where you want to be and work hard to achieve that goal. As Satchel Paige put it, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”
I don’t know how to use Access. (But I am an expert with Excel and PowerPoint.)
I’ve never managed people. (But I have managed contractors who supervise large teams.)
I did not complete my undergraduate degree. (But I have been my company’s leading sales manager for the last eight years.)
Over the 10 years I’ve been interviewing clients and writing their resumes, one constant I’ve noticed is that most people focus on the wrong thing. They talk about what they haven’t done or what they don’t know. Instead, the key to success is knowing your selling points and then finding an employer who needs them.
While this information is important for resume writing, it’s equally important during interviews. Your goal should always be to make the employer confident in your ability to do the job. Negative thinking doesn’t help that effort. Whenever you find yourself talking about what you don’t have, stop and turn it around. What do you have that an employer wants? What qualities will make you an excellent employee?
The Chicago Sun-Times recently published an article on the power of positive thinking. This concept is not new. Norman Vincent Peale taught the power of positive thinking, which many writers and comedians have mocked. The problem with this humor is that it invites its opposite: negativity.
Two experts cited in the article, hypnotists Catherine Johns and Karen Hand, call negativity an addiction that feeds all types of negative behaviors, including poor career management. They suggest some strategies for avoiding such thinking. First, when you feel trapped by a problem, try to see it as a challenge you can overcome. Better still (This is my take on this strategy.), look at a problem and reframe it as an opportunity to change and achieve your goals. The authors also suggest seeing things in black and white, so we can “shrink” our negative feelings and control them better. Finally, they recommend that we remember our success stories and use them to help us feel confident and successful. That’s good advice for career (and life) management.
This article made me think of Helen Keller. Born blind, deaf, and dumb, Keller went on to earn college degrees and write several books. I keep a quotation from this wise woman on my office wall: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but we are often look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Keep looking forward. It’s the only way to be happy.