It was a Sunday afternoon and my husband and I were driving home from visiting friends in Philadelphia for the weekend. Normally the chatty Cathy on long trips (or really, any situation), he was uncharacteristically quiet.
After some prodding, he confessed that he was stressed about work.
He explained that it had been a particularly stressful few weeks due to a client who was unhappy for reasons that were both in- and out- of his control. While the situation seemed heavily weighted by factors he could do nothing about, he seemed to be shouldering 95% of the blame for the client’s discontent.
He was starting to question his ability to effectively lead his team. He said he felt like a fraud.
What’s the Problem?
Google, “hypothesis,” and this is what you’ll find:
A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
Saying or thinking you’re a fraud based on one experience is nothing more than a hypothesis—an unproven statement based on limited evidence.
Our conversation made me think about how many times I’ve had the same thoughts and doubts myself, usually in relation to one event or one particular experience—a kind of cognitive bias that limits our perception to the most recent events without accounting for past experiences.
One crappy, frustrating and challenging experience doesn’t negate all of your prior accomplishments. What it does is present an opportunity to learn something about yourself.
Reflect, Empathize and Listen
Start with past experiences. Recount the times that you did something really well or did something that made you proud. I’m not suggesting that you become a relentless optimist, but when your inner critic won’t seem to let up, it helps get your head back on a more positive plane.
Take a minute to reflect. How much of what you’re feeling is rooted in truth and what’s fiction? Now that you’re in a more positive headspace, it’s a better time to revisit the problem and determine what parts of it you own and what you could have done better. Try to approach this phase without judgement and without dwelling on any one factor; just make some observations and move on.
Empathize. If you’re really challenged to be objective about a situation or experience, try to put yourself in the other parties’ shoes. Current case in point—if you were the client, what would need to happen to turn the situation around for you? Even if the answer isn’t realistic or doable, understanding someone else’s needs and emotions can help you approach them from a sympathetic versus adversarial stance.
Seek genuine feedback and don’t get butt-hurt (yes, I went there) if you hear something you don’t agree with. It’s not a personal attack, it’s an opportunity for growth (they’re called “growing pains” for a reason). And don’t choose people who you know will tell you what you want to hear or who will be too timid to be forthcoming with you. Ask someone you trust, who will be honest (and direct), and who has both your best interest and their own at heart.
Everything Is a Choice
How you respond to setbacks and obstacles is your choice. You can allow them to cripple you and create an internal bias about your own abilities. Or, you can take a step back and look at them through an objective lens. Maybe that means you find a weakness within yourself, but you can’t fix what you don’t know to be broken.
Failure, like success, is a choice. Whether you give up or put your head down and dig your heels in is up to you.