December 12, 2014 • 12 minute read • by Saeed
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
– William Shakespeare –
Blink, and you might miss her. At 5-foot-11 and 130 pounds, Wilma Rudolph was a sight to behold. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.
You might think that she was born with innate athleticism. You would be wrong. Perhaps even more incredible than her achievement as an athlete is her resilience as a human being.
Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely weighing only 4 1/2 pounds and the bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contracted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces. She was only six years of age. As number 20th out of 22 children (yes you read that correctly), her family was poor and could not afford good medical care. The doctors had predicted that she would not walk again. But Wilma was determined to lead a “normal” life. Despite whooping cough, measles and chicken pox, she was out of her leg braces by age nine. Three years later, her mother came home to find her playing basketball by herself bare-footed. Later, she was encouraged by a track coach who recognized her talent on the court. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is clear that Wilma Rudolph faced great adversity, both internal and external. Despite that adversity, she became a great athlete and an inspiration to many. But perhaps even more impressive than her physical accomplishments, is her sheer will, determination, and resiliency. It is her mental fitness, more than her physical feats, and her dogged belief in her Self that ultimately drove her success.
From my coaching experience, I find that many people who fail to achieve their objectives, do not fail because of a lack of knowledge, skill or ability. These, after all, can always be acquired. With thoughtful planning and execution any objective is achievable. However, some, even when they have the ability to achieve an objective, still fall short of meeting their goals. Some, even when they know they can do the job, still fail to impress at the interview.
Research shows that, on average, interviewers reach final decisions about applicants in only four minutes after meeting them. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, the decisions may occur even faster – instantaneously or in under two seconds. What he calls ‘thin-slicing’ has serious implications for job interview applicants. It means decisions are being made before the actual exchange of content.
That may seem unfair. Everyone, after all, deserves the same treatment and the same attention to factors such as experience, credentials and skills. And as with any job interview, a series of questions will be asked to assess the type of candidate you are. In truth, however, interviewers are less concerned with your technical abilities and more concerned with your personality type. They want to know if they can work with you. Hence the rise of personality testing in job interviews.
But beyond your personality type, the impression you leave behind of your Self has far more to do with your job interview success.
Agency and esteem are central to the construction of a concept of Self. A study of more than 500 students, academics and workers, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers. The conclusions drawn from this study have significant implications for professionals. The key to career success, in other words, is confidence, not talent. Despite your credentials, experience and expertise, a lack of self-belief will reduce your chances of success. Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think that you can or you think you can’t – you’re right’.
Self belief is that powerful. To succeed, you must first cultivate the mental posture and mindset for success.
In her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck argues that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Those that believe their success is based on innate ability are said to have a “fixed” mindset. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and continuous learning, are said to have a “growth” mindset. The distinction is crucial and can mean the difference between a life unfulfilled and one, like Wilma Rudolph, of extraordinary achievement.
That is because individuals with a “growth” mindset have higher intrinsic motivation to achieve. They are more likely to set higher goals and to persevere despite setbacks. Their underlying belief system tells them that if they really want to achieve something, they will find a way to make it happen. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset give up more readily when faced with problems. They are uncertain and doubtful about their ability and they more quickly lose interest and motivation.
Unfortunately, many people wait for their self belief to increase before they take action. That, however, is not how it works. You can’t sit around waiting for a sense of self belief to kick in when all your stars are aligned. You have to start developing your own self belief. The world will largely accept you at your own estimation. It is yourself that you have to convince of your self-worth, before you can convince anyone else. But once you are absolutely sure that you have what it takes to master any situation, you will act in such a way that your beliefs will become your reality. Mastery is made up of intention, concentration, and attention. To develop it, you must be willing to take risks and to face the inevitable rejections that come with putting yourself out there. You must practice, fail, learn and repeat until you succeed.
And if the interview doesn’t go your way, remember the words of Wilma Rudolph:“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.