Please tell me if I’m wrong; we’ve all been in this position. Nothing seems to be going right in your life- in your relationships or at work. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you keep hitting into dead ends and sinking deeper into your rut. You start feeling powerless, as if nothing will ever change. Searching websites and browsing books, you seek out self-help advice. The articles and books promise amazing quick-fix solutions. It becomes terribly disappointing when you realize that they are not any different from the lame, late-night television commercials over-promising that you will absolutely lose weight, grow hair, and eliminate wrinkles; none of these things work and they’re all b@llsh!t.
I’m not going to tell you that you will better your life and career overnight. If you seek to advance in your current job or desire a new position with another company to earn money and pull yourself out of a bad work situation, I can at least offer some reasonable doable first steps.
1. The first thing you must do is work on developing confidence in yourself. If you have been in a long-term bad situation, which eroded your faith in yourself or beat you down mentally and emotionally, this sounds easy, but, admittedly, it is a little rough to start out. Don’t worry; since confidence can and will be achieved over time with some simple actionable steps.
2. Tell yourself and come to peace with the fact that this will be a long journey with lots of ups and downs. There will be incredible highs, where you believe that you will get this amazing well-paying job, followed by the sounds of crickets- an absence of any response from the company- and then months later the devastating realization that you weren’t really in the running.
3. Be prepared for this type of mental and emotional roller-coaster. It can wreak havoc on you. As an Executive Recruiter, I go through this process every day. It is easy to become ecstatic when you are placing people with great companies and earning nice fees in the process. Then, there are times nothing goes right and it’s easy to become despondent. I push myself hard to maintain an even-keeled temperament. I try not to get carried away with the wins and let it go to my ego. Also, I attempt to minimize the emotional downturns when things don’t work out as planned. It’s easier said than done. I have seen many people quit the recruiting business because they were unable to manage the extreme highs and lows. Notice I say “attempt.” It’s because I’m not pretending that it will be easy for you to go through the interview process or work your way up the corporate ladder without setbacks and disappointments, along with elusive glimmering hopes of success.
4. You must decide upon your true purpose. This sounds elementary, but it is crucial to ascertain what meaningful work is for you and prepare long-term goals before you start. If you don’t create a career map, you will float aimlessly, be easily distracted, get lost, spin your wheels, and lack direction. Having a purpose provides you the inner spark and motivation to fight through all the hurdles and obstacles thrown in front of you, as you try to rise within the corporate structure or find a new job.
If you have the “why” you desperately want something, you will find the “how” to do it.
5. Put blinders on and ignore others. If you compare yourself to similarly situated peers, which we all tend to do, you end up miserable and unhappy. There will always be that a$$h@le you went to high school or college with and he is now a huge, smashing success. You could look around and always find someone who is currently doing better than you financially, professionally, romantically, and more advanced in other endeavors. Block that all out, as it is the wrong metric. The only person you should compare yourself to is… yourself. How are you today compared to yesterday? Measure yourself against who you were. How much you have improved yourself and your position in life? Don’t worry about everyone else, as they are just mere distractions.
When you compare yourself with other successful schmucks, it causes you to doubt yourself and engage in negative self-talk. This behavior weakens self-confidence and stunts your own personal growth. The only person you need to compare yourself with is the version of yourself that you want to become.
6. It is too easy to dwell and obsess over perceived problems. Don’t do it. Instead, hyper-focus on solutions and ways to forge ahead in the face of adversity. No matter how successful you get, there will always be problems and headaches. Let’s take Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, as an example. This nerdy, emotionless, robotic version of a human being is viewed as the pinnacle of success. As you may know, Zuckerberg is currently in the news spotlight- concerning all sorts of sordid acts involving ugly allegations of violating the privacy of users of his social media platform by taking their data and selling it to the highest bidders. At last count, he is worth a gazillion dollars. He has money, power, status, prestige, and armies of lawyers, accountants, and political connections to help him. Despite all these advantages, even Zuckerberg still confronts issues that could dethrone him or make his company vulnerable to an alternative social media platform. If a guy like him has problems, mere mortals like us can’t possibly escape them either.
7. There will always be a never-ending parade of challenges to face. Yes, it sucks. Unfortunately, that’s just a part of life. Focusing solely on a problem is a self-defeating practice. Rather, go boldly toward your goals with the inner understanding that problems will always arise, so don’t take them personally. Don’t let short-term impediments derail your plans or rob you of your enthusiasm. Take a step back and focus on finding solutions. As you tackle and overcome problems, you will gain more confidence and a thicker skin.
8. Incorporate goals that dovetail to your strengths and abilities. Before you rush headfirst toward your goals, make sure that they are realistic and that you possess the skills and innate abilities to achieve them. For example, I’m not a terribly bright guy, but I’m pretty good at dealing with people, schmoozing, marketing and selling, and I enjoy dealing with people. I am low on the spectrum in math and the hard sciences. A quick analysis of my skills shows that I am well-suited for being a recruiter, but you wouldn’t want me to be your doctor or tax accountant.
If I pursued a career in accounting (which was one of the professions my parents pushed on me), I would have certainly become a lousy accountant and, most likely, all my clients would have ended-up being audited by the IRS. Management would notice the high-level of audits and either ask me to leave or have pity and find another use for me. They may have repositioned me as the guy who sells companies on using my firm’s accounting services. If I spent my days crunching numbers, I would be mediocre, at best.
Ironically, my son, Jake, is going to college and majoring in accounting. He is wired very differently than I am, as he is extremely analytical, numbers-oriented, structured, clear-minded, precise, and logical. Interestingly, he is similar to my dad and wife, in those respects. For him, pursuing accounting makes perfect sense, as he is working toward his core strengths. Since he has the innate talent and enjoys this work, the odds are high that he will do well. Since he has the skills and likes this line of work, he won’t mind working the long, hard hours required to advance. People will notice his efforts and work product and offer him increased responsibilities. This will instill greater confidence, which will make him like the work even more. It will become be a virtuous, positive cycle of improvement, positive acknowledgments, and rewards, which will continually boost his confidence.
9. There will be times that you will need to “fake it till you make it.” You need to adopt the mental attitude that you are a player in the space you want to be in. I’m not saying that you should lie or BS people. Just walk the walk and talk the talk, even if on the inside you are nervous and want to puke out of fear. Embrace the concept and idea that you’re already successful. Over time, you will eventually possess the skills and abilities and you’ll become a more confident person – for real.
10. It is natural that, at times, fear and uncertainty could paralyze you into inertia. You will pile up all the challenges and problems into a mountain of woes and then feel this will be insurmountable. Fight back against the negative voices in your head telling you that you can’t do something. Don’t let the fear of the unknown restrict or hold you back. The more actions you take, the greater your confidence grows and you become more self-assured.
11. Sometimes you need to be superficial. Pay attention to your presentation. When you look good, you’ll feel good. When you feel good, you feel confident. How is your body language? Check out your posture in the mirror. Pull your shoulders back, hold your head high, suck in your stomach, and walk with purpose. Here’s a little hack: play the coolest, most badass soundtrack that you enjoy in your head, while you are walking around the office or going into an interview. Try it; it works.
12. The workplace is like a game and you need to play the game. If you are in a buttoned-up corporate environment, invest in a top-of-the-line outfit to show that you are suited-up to play to win. Conversely, if you are at a start-up internet company, wearing that same uniform will draw sideways looks and derision. Yes, I know that this is shallow, but I’m not the one who made up the rules. Just like football, hockey, and basketball have set time periods and rules, the business world does too. You need to understand the game and then play it better than everyone else. Part of this game is learning the lingo, the way to look, and how to act to win.
13. Stay positive. Always keep track of every victory and advancement- no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. Celebrate every yard of gains you made or goals scored at work or in your job search. Each single hit and every basket scored provides confidence and incentives to push forward.
14. Block out the negative self-talk and pessimism. Ignore the strike-outs, fumbles and blocked shots. Don’t dwell on them. You can, however, learn from them to improve for the next time.
15. Read everything you can about the industry or business that you are in. Try to attend as many networking events as possible. Seek out mentors. Go out to lunch with different people at the office. Connect on LinkedIn with employees at other companies that do similar work as you. Find people who are more successful than you to learn from, gain ideas, and access to opportunities. The more you learn, the greater your online and real world networks increase, and the more your confidence rises.
16. There is no magic bullet that will imbue you with immediate confidence. That’s okay because if you take the steps of finding a purpose, developing a game plan, remain positive, don’t compare yourself to others, ignore the negatives (but learn from them), and build-up a network, you will create a confident new you.