I run a weekly Employability Skills session for young people aged 18-24 who are preparing to embark on a career. Recently I had a young woman - Emily in my session whose profile revealed that she had completed high school, qualified as a Beauty Therapist and went to university. When I asked her about her chosen career I learnt that her sole interest was in securing a domestic cleaning job. She indicated that she had no other aspiration, despite her education, training and employment history. I found this decision somewhat strange so I probed further. She mentioned that she had dropped out of university and lost her youth mentoring job some time ago. She had a number of failures and during this period she was told that she was dyslexic and couldn't excel at anything. She basically ‘accepted her fate’ and arrived at the conclusion that she would seek employment as a cleaner because she enjoyed cleaning her house.
Before I proceed, I want it to be clear that I have no issue with people who work as domestic cleaners. Our society needs people who are willing and able to perform a range of jobs in order for us to lead healthy, abundant lives. There is therefore nothing wrong in pursuing a career in cleaning if you are passionate about it and you made the choice yourself. However, what bothered me about the foregoing situation is the fact that Emily made this decision not on her own accord but under emotional duress. I realized that deep down there was a burning desire to aim higher but this was being extinguished by fear and the constant echo of words pronounced by others who almost succeeded in crushing this young woman’s spirits.
It cannot be right that one person can destroy the hopes and dreams of another in this way. There is a popular proverb that says: if you can’t say good, say nothing. People should be careful what they say to others, for the tongue can destroy. Those who have been on the receiving end should consider the Swedish proverb (Ingenting under solen är beständigt) nothing under the sun is lasting; let it go and live your life – treat their words as water on a duck’s back.
In the absence of self belief we can fall into the trap of unwittingly allowing other people to set our goals and limits. If we have no one to inspire us we risk focusing on our weaknesses and fulfilling the prophecy of those who either lack intelligence or who do not wish us well. Do not nurture your imperfection - look on what you have, not what you are lacking. Revisit your successes, learn from your failures but do not dwell on them. We should never allow the words of others to determine our actions or to carve our paths – our lives are for us to live and sometimes others cannot appreciate the routes we take. In my session I had a very disillusioned young woman who felt that she had no choice but to lead a life based on the dictates of others. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “the person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it”. Unfortunately my student lost focus because of that interruption which dented her aspirations. She believed the lies told by those who said she couldn't do it and she simply lost her way.
It is up to us to paint our self portrait in a positive, progressive light. We cannot rise above the person we think we are and if we fail to stand up for something we will sit down for nothing, allowing other people to plan and direct our lives. Attitude is a chosen position – we can fulfil the wishes of others or we can ignore them and take responsibility for our actions. Your dream is planted in you, not in the minds of naysayers or people who reign in their little kingdoms created for the execution of dreams. Whatever scar you may have had from your past should not deter you from aspiring to a bright future.
Sometimes the words of discouragement come from people you love within your family or circle of friends. I was in a seminar last week and heard the story of a fellow attendee who told the group that someone close to her had made her life hell for the last few years because she had made a mistake. He simply would not let it go and he used every opportunity to ensure that she didn't forget the incident. She explained that she was in turmoil inside because although she felt that his actions were wrong she had internalised the pain and it was making her ill. I told her to set herself free, for no one is entitled to harass another to the extent that she is so disturbed. We have a right to be hurt but there is no reason to remain wounded. She should put an end to it once and for all and consider what Eleanor Roosevelt said - Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. She should stop giving him consent.
I had to take similar steps in my life - I got to a point where I had to make a decision that I would not allow my mother to upset me anymore. For several years she constantly got on my nerves for reasons beyond my control. She provided me with all the material things I needed and funded my education but there was no demonstration of love. As an adult I returned the favour – providing for her as required and ensuring that she was not lacking in any way. However it came to a point where I had to establish my boundaries in terms of my relationship with her, keeping her out of my personal life and sharing no sensitive information with her. We shouldn't apologise for protecting our hearts; this may be difficult for some but when you learn to love yourself it is surprisingly easy.
As leaders of organisations we also have the responsibility to foster self belief in those we manage. Do we empower our staff, give them autonomy and encourage them to set their own boundaries? Do we interpret their assertiveness as aggression? We have to be careful particularly when working with young people as we need to ensure that we play our part in the development of their confidence and growth within our organisations and otherwise. Life is not a passive experience; if you just go with the flow you will survive but chances are you won’t thrive. Sometimes we fail but that does not matter, for it is in the face of failure that we appreciate success. Do not use your staff’s failures to embarrass them or crush their spirits. Develop the ability to make corrections and then let them go; don’t dwell on their mistakes. Actively look for the good in the individual, nurture it and it will grow. Help them determine their own future and allow them to explore their creativity. Make them accountable for their actions as well as their inactions.
As leaders we too must believe in ourselves – we have to believe in our ability to lead our organisations and believe we can succeed. Most importantly we have to believe that we are worthy and adequately equipped for the task. The depth of your belief and the strength of your conviction determine the power of your personality. (Brian Tracy). If we believe in ourselves as leaders, our staff will believe in and rally behind us, helping our organisations to weather the storms and grow stronger, for the benefit of the whole.
Self belief leads to self confidence. If we believe in ourselves we will develop confidence and be able to tap into our innate abilities and unleash our potential. Never let anyone define your goals; no one can be better at being you, than you yourself. Be your own man, believe in yourself!