What type of job would you go for if you weren’t afraid?
Recently I have been talking about my role of helping graduates develop the courage they need to go for the job of their dreams. These are graduates who have been bruised by set-backs, rejections and disappointments. They’ve done everything they were told to do to get a top job – they’ve gone to university, they’ve studied hard, they’ve got great grades but all they have to show for it is a pile of sorry emails and £60k in student debt.
While some prepare well and come early while they are still at university, others come because after a year or more since graduating they still haven’t been able to get the job they really want.
My first step is to help them understand what’s going on inside their minds. Most people will say that to go after what you really want isn’t realistic. After all, not everyone can become a top salesperson, marketer or accountant. No everyone can get the kind of job they really want. You have to be realistic.
But that is not a good place to start when you’re going for anything, as psychological research increasingly shows.
Imagine a lesser job, get a lesser job
“If you imagine less, less is what you undoubtedly deserve”, said brand consultant Debbie Millman as she finished her speech to a roomful of students about to graduate from San Jose State University. She told them that for most of her adult life she chose ‘fail safe’ and went for what was realistically attainable rather than what was burning in her heart.
“It never once occurred to me that I could achieve what I dreamed of” she said, so “I chose to stay close to what made economic sense”.
She highlighted some of the thinking behind these self-imposing restrictions: “we worry we aren’t good enough, smart or talented”. But while we’re dreaming about what could have been had we chosen another route we come across those who were brave enough to do so – and we marvel. We marvel at their luck, intelligence and ability when in fact these have nothing to do with it.
Rather, says Debbie Millman, “it’s about the strength of their imagination”. They didn’t determine what was impossible before they even tried.
Our abilities and where we go in life are determined by our beliefs about ourselves. Once Millman realised this she began to rewrite the code for where in life she could go next. It was so amazing, exhilarating and possible that she wished she had started sooner.
Hence came her closing lines – “Run with what you imagine. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can… don’t waste time. in order to strive for a remarkable, life you have to decide that you want one.”
You need a growth mindset to get the job you want
We can now turn to findings of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who tells us that people go for and get what they want because they have a growth rather than fixed mindset.
Carol Dweck’s work on psychology helps us understand how even the simplest of our beliefs can profoundly affect what we get in life. If you have a fixed mindset then you will see your character, intelligence and creative ability as largely static and fixed, that is, it cannot really be altered. If you belong to this group, then you will try to avoid situations and opportunities where there is a high chance you might fail, including going for the type of job you really want.
If you have a growth mindset you see failure as the opportunity to learn and to grow, so you don’t shy away from competing for that top job. If you don’t have the skills, abilities or experience you need to get that job today you will find a way to acquire them.
These two mindsets determine our relationship with failure and success and we can easily imagine the course of thought and action that flows from each of these. Fixed believes what they have is set in stone. Since they only see their present ability they don’t go for that job that requires a bit more. On the other hand, growth sees this as a great opportunity to grow, and if they don’t get it they’ve still gained what they need to try the next time round.
There’s much more to her research, in that the fixed mindset expends a lot of energy and effort trying to prove themselves, hide deficiencies and stay in their comfort zone. The growth mindset focuses on improving themselves, overcoming deficiencies and seeking opportunities that will help them stretch.
The good news is we can all develop a growth mindset with a bit of practice. My life’s work is to help graduates develop the courage they need to go for the job they want by helping them first to break out of the self-imposed limitations that tell them they can’t do it. I say, Yes you can.