Quit Being a Quitter

negative words related to quitting

Self-reflection can yield deep insight into what makes us tick. Sometimes, it is hard to get to truths about ourselves. It can be even harder to accept some of those truths. I found myself feeling this way as I considered the words of Norman Vincent Peale, the famous author, minister, and positive thinking advocate. Peale said, “It’s always too early to quit.” I realized I am what you might call an “aspiring quitter.” Sometimes, it seems like I can’t quit soon enough, the opposite of Dr. Peale’s encouragement. So, I reflected further on Peale’s exhortation to not quit.

It's always too early to quit. Norman Vincent Peale quote

The flight-or-fight dilemma  that involves the decision whether to quit is one that is faced daily. The morning run is too tiring; I should slow my pace or even walk. The manuscript revision is too daunting; how can it be reworded to improve its quality? The business opportunity is too risky; failure could lead to embarrassment and even financial hardship.

Quitting could be a solution to these and other challenges we face. It could also keep us stuck right where we are. So, what forces tempt us to quit? They can be categorized as internal or external.

Voices Inside Your Head

You can usually look into the mirror to find the greatest obstacle to overcoming the urge to quit. We do not set out to sabotage our own growth, but we manage to do it. Leading the list of reasons we face internal pressure to quit are self-limiting beliefs. We buy into arguments about we can and cannot accomplish. Check out some of these beliefs to see if they sound familiar:

  • “I’m no good at public speaking”
  • “I am not a leader”
  • “I don’t have the connections needed to get ahead.”

I could go on with the list, but that’s not the point here. We can choose to believe whatever we tell ourselves about our capabilities. Those statements can be positive or negative; we get to author their content and tone. Interestingly, we often opt to tell ourselves negative things.

Well-Meaning Others (Sometimes)

Even when we convince the person in the mirror not quit on an idea or project, we may still face skepticism from others around us. Someone told me just today about a relative who was discouraging her son from pursuing a medical degree in college because “he wouldn’t be able to cut it” (thanks for the support, Mom). I have heard many stories of people with influence over others discouraging them like this mother is trying to talk her son out of studying medicine.

Well-meaning family and friends have been known to advise against moving away for a job, going to graduate school, or committing to a long-term relationship. Sometimes, their advice is rooted in the best of intentions. Other times, their position is based on lack of confidence in you or even jealousy that you might be happy if you move on. Other people can lead us to doubt ourselves regardless of whether the advice is legitimate or self-serving. Quitting is a response that prevents us from going too far out on a limb. And, it might even be pleasing to others who want us to quit (i.e., not get ahead).

What’s the Alternative?

This week and going forward, I am going to take Norman Vincent Peale’s advice to heart. It is always too soon to quit. Whenever I am tempted to consider quitting something, I will consider alternative responses. For example, when I want to quit running, I will think of a time I wanted to quit but found the strength to keep on. I will recall the euphoria of reaching deep down to complete a run and how I would like to experience that feeling again. Asking questions about how to deal with the self-doubt that is quitting can be a distraction if nothing else. We shift focus from quitting to the benefits of keeping on. The long-term goal is to remove “quit” from the vocabulary. There are options to quitting; they must be pursued.

What ideas, projects, or goals are you tempted to quit? What alternative ways of thinking about quitting can you employ to have a mindset that it is always too early to quit?

Personal Brand Defined by Habits

clock gears and parts

 The pursuit of excellence sounds like a lofty ideal that one may or may not be able to achieve. Why does it sound so far out? It sounds that way because we do not know what excellence looks like. How can we recognize something if we are unfamiliar with it? If we have never done it (achieved excellence) before, will we be able to do whatever it takes to get there?

What if excellence was not some nebulous behavior in which you engage but rather action based on habits? That is exactly how to reach excellence according to author and philosopher Will Durant. He states that excellence is an outcome of what we repeatedly do. Durant’s statement also suggests excellence is a choice. Excellence is a habit, but so is laziness. The good news is you get to decide which outcomes you wish to chase.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. Will Durant quote

The Habit Outcome

I reflected on Will Durant’s thoughts on excellence and concluded it was not a platitude. Many results in my life—good and bad—have been fueled by habit. Earning a Ph.D. degree, gaining weight, losing weight, running a half-marathon, writing three books, improving relationships, and damaging relationships all resulted from habits. We are indeed creatures of habit. People like me who love routine and consistency can easily find themselves in a groove (or rut) as a result of habits.

If habits define us, it is imperative that we define our habits. You can choose which habits to practice. Some choices are proactively made because of anticipated benefits. If you wake up one hour early each morning to write 500 words of a novel, you see a payoff from consistently engaging in that behavior. You are more likely to have a finished novel one day if you embrace a regular practice of writing. We become what we repeatedly do; choose to spend time on activities that will take you closer to who you want to be.

The Destructive Habits

To this point, I have focused on positive habits that will lead to desired results. Habits cut both ways, however. Bad habits can move you further away from the outcomes you want to achieve. It is not that you plan self-sabotage, but repeated “bad” acts can have a cumulative effect of hindering personal growth.

So, what destructive habits are impeding your progress? Some of the usual culprits include:

  • TV. American adults watch more than five hours of TV daily on average. Although some of that time includes multitasking (often on other media consumption like Facebook), the takeaway is we spend a lot of time in front a screen. Is that use of time moving you closer to or further from your goals? No need to respond—we know the answer.
  • Social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks have become media staples for many Americans. Pew Research Center estimates that 69% of American adults are social media users, and many are frequent users. An estimated 76% of Facebook users are on the site daily. Daily usage numbers are also sizable for Instagram (51%) and Twitter (42%). Could you be using social media to work toward goals? Sure. Is that how you are using it, or could you envision time spent on social media being used more effectively?
  • Wellness. Using the best time management techniques could be derailed if you are a physical mess. Some combination of too many calories, too little exercise, and too little sleep hinders our physical effectiveness. We have less energy and endurance to partake in constructive activities, missing out on growth opportunities.

Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

This week, reflect on the habits in your life. Which ones are working in your favor, moving you toward the person you wish to become? Are there habits that you would be better off not having your life? Recognize them, understand how they are hurting you, and set out to replace them with other habits (i.e., behavior patterns) that will move you closer to excellence.

Note: This quote is often attributed to Aristotle, but it was made by Will Durant in a critique of Aristotle’s work.

 

Branding and the Three Degrees of Different

peas with one different color

In branding, sameness is considered a weakness. You may have heard the term “Commodity Hell” used to describe brand parity or sameness. Notice the term is not “Commodity Heaven” or “Commodity Bliss.” The quest to avoid sameness in branding can be traced back to the purpose of brands. They identify the source of a product (i.e., the responsible party) and differentiate from other products. A brand that does not set apart a product as distinctive could be doomed to become lost in a sea of similar offerings.

The importance of separation through branding applies to personal brands, too. We like to think that the quality of our work is enough to signal our value. It can happen, but do not count on your hard work being the difference. Chances are many employees in your organization work hard, so work alone will not make you stand out. Instead of focusing on working hard, maybe it is time to make being different a priority.

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. Coco Chanel quote

This week’s One to Grow On quote comes from fashion designer Coco Chanel. She suggests that the ultimate in branding, becoming irreplaceable, is driven by being different. Let’s unpack what it means to be different.

Three Degrees of Different

Coco Chanel’s advice to be different sounds simple enough. Different is the opposite of same, right? Well, yes it is, but we must be strategic in how we set out to be different. You can realize three degrees of differentiation through personal branding. Each one has potential to work (i.e., set your brand apart from others). The question to ask about each degree of different is whether it would be effective for your brand.

Different for the sake of being different. We can be different simply by adopting a distinguishing branding element. For example, a man could make polka-dot handkerchiefs a signature look in his professional attire. Similarly, a woman could always wear a scarf (even have every scarf be the same color). These memorable attributes become associated with that person. They become “the polka dot guy” or “the scarf lady.” This degree of different allows us to check the box that we are somehow different, but we may not possess a point of difference that actually helps other people.

Different but not unique. Most personal brand differentiation is described as different from others but not one-of-a-kind different. College students earning graduate degrees join a small minority of the population with an advanced degree (only 12% of Americans have grad degrees). Select group? Yes. Different from the rest of the world? No. You may set yourself apart from many others in your organization or field in some way that benefits others. That outcome is good; it is the overarching aim of branding. The downside is that there is still room for others to eclipse your point of difference and render you less competitive.

Different and unique. The ultimate in personal brand differentiation is to set yourself apart from others in a way that no one else can replicate. That point of difference is likely small and could be a combination of traits such as skills, personality, and experience. This degree of different is realistically achieved over time. You will not start out world class at anything. Different and unique should be an aspiration, not a starting point for personal brand differentiation.

The Courage of Different

Brand differentiation comes at a price: risk. Sameness offers comfort and certainty. We are less likely to fail or stand out for the wrong reasons if we do not go looking for a way to be different.

Coco Chanel’s quote intrigued me. I wondered how she had been different. Chanel is credited with breaking ground in fashion and women’s fragrances. She challenged status quo in attitudes toward the traditional black dress. Chanel transformed it to clothing worn for mourning to a fashion staple. Equating becoming irreplaceable with being different was not merely a pithy quote uttered by Coco Chanel. Her contributions as a designer and entrepreneur were due to her willingness to take risks.

What degree of different are you at today, or are you mired in sameness? If the latter describes you, it is imperative to select how you will break out of those chains. You probably know people that are irreplaceable at what they do. What makes them different from others who are vulnerable to being replaced? What do you need to do to move to the irreplaceable list? Differentiation is not about novelty; it is about necessity.

Don’t Find Your Brand, Create It

create

The month of May is an exciting time in higher education. The conclusion of the spring term brings with it commencement ceremonies. This rite of passage marks both an ending and beginning. Graduates have completed requirements to earn a college degree. It is a time of celebration, but it is also an uncertain time as they open the next chapter of their lives.

I don’t mean to sound too dramatic when saying that graduates’ future is on the line as they transition from college to career. Given the stakes involved, you would not want to aimlessly wander off a college campus and see what comes your way next. A plan is needed for a first career step. It does not have to be a quest to find the job or company to which you will commit your entire career. You are looking for a starting point as you build something unique and valuable: your personal brand.

This week’s One to Grow On quote speaks to college graduates embarking on their professional journey. But, it also speaks to all of us regardless of where we are on life’s path. Are you actively creating what you want to be, do, or have? Or, are you hoping it will cross your path, and you will know it’s what you want when you see it?

Creating Work Life

Transitioning from full-time student to full-time employee is one of the greatest challenges for college graduates. Their experience and understanding of business can be limited. Even if you study business in college you quickly find there are many differences between business as examined in the classroom and the inner workings of a business to which you contribute. In other words, college can help prepare you to be an accountant or salesperson, but it is not equipped as well to train students to be employees.

You can choose to find yourself or create yourself when it comes to your career. One way creating yourself is manifested among workers today is the trend toward a higher number of jobs held in one’s career. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that workers born between 1957-1964 held about 12 different jobs on average between the ages of 18 and 48 . Holding different jobs has become a part of the early career stages. A LinkedIn study found that workers have an average of four different jobs by age 32. This trend among Millennial workers is markedly different from Generation Xers at the same age who changed jobs an average of twice during their first ten years after college.

The frequency of job change might raise some eyebrows, but it can viewed as a positive behavior… if the change is done in the name of creating yourself. Workers stuck in jobs in which they are not challenged or find their work meaningful are prime “create yourself” candidates.

Lost and Found

The choice to create yourself is so much more appealing than hoping to find yourself. Choosing the latter suggests that you must be lost. Many people are lost when it comes to their jobs. Surveys of workplace satisfaction have found that about 70 percent of American workers are unhappy about their job. The degree of unhappiness might vary, but it is a sobering thought that most workers have negative feelings about their work situation.

Statistics on worker dissatisfaction suggests most of us will become lost when it comes to work at some point in our careers. If you are unhappy, you can take comfort in knowing you are in the majority. Now, it is up to you to be rescued. You can drift and hope for a rescue, or you can take actions to get rescued (create a desired outcome).

What to Create

The find yourself-create yourself quandary has no quick fixes. However, the choice to create the life you want is connected to creating the personal brand you want. Your brand is a representation of who you are (meaning), how you are trained to create value (makeup), and your interactions with others (message).

Creating the life you want is impossible without first creating the person you must be to live out the life you want. The 3Ms of your personal brand are the ingredients needed to make that happen.

Authoring the Definition of You

dictionary

The definition of a brand is more complex than you think. A narrow view of a brand is that it is a name, logo, or other identifying marks that denote the owner or responsible party of a brand. Branding used for these reasons can be traced back to the medieval period. Today, the role of brands has evolved far beyond these functional purposes. A brand concurrently fulfills the roles of:

  • Identity (name, logo, etc. for which brands were originally created)
  • Image (perceptions in the minds of people who come in contact with the brand)
  • Promises (expressed and implied performance attributes associated with a brand)
  • Relationship (connection point between a customer or other person and the entity represented by the brand).

Brand building entails a tug-of-war between brand owner and constituents. Who defines brand meaning? The owner does… but so does the brand’s audience. The goal of brand management is narrowing the gap between how the brand owner wants to be perceived (identity) and how the brand is viewed (image). The wider the gap, the more branding and marketing attention needed.

"Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself." - Harvey Fierstein quote This week’s One to Grow On quote admonishes us to fiercely protect our brand. Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein suggests it is our obligation to author the definition of our brand. Others will want to do it for you, but their definition could be incomplete or worse, incorrect.

Harvey Fierstein knows something about the importance of defining one’s self. He was one of the first openly gay American actors at a time when few celebrities had come out. Rather than hide or skirt the issue, Fierstein has woven his sexual orientation into his brand. His self-definition comes through in his writing on gay issues and by incorporating gay life into dramas.

The Define Line

Why is Harvey Fierstein’s quote on defining your life (and by extension, your brand) so important? You must keep in mind that your brand will be defined. There is no such thing as anonymity when it comes to your personal brand. Some brands are more distinctive and better known than others, but all brands are defined. The question becomes who will define it?

We live in a world in which people are quick to form judgments about a situation or person. If you have any doubts, scroll through comments on just about any news article posted on Facebook. Sometimes, you wonder if the people making comments read the same article… or whether they read the article at all. Depth of understanding is no obstacle to having an opinion.

This instant reaction environment has huge implications for personal brands. While I loathe the parade of articles and blog posts about the importance of a professional looking photo in one’s social media profiles, the point made is valid. People make judgments about us with no more information than a thumbnail-sized square full of pixels. They surmise our age, form opinions on physical attractiveness, and immediately can have a like-don’t like position.

Although there is much, much more to personal branding than your photo, it is a reminder that you must put in the work to define yourself. If you do not, the world around you will be all too glad to do it for you.

What’s the Definition?

It is imperative that you proactively manage your personal brand. No product or corporate brand manager in their right mind would let their brand be defined however the market wants to define it. The reason for marketing as we know it is to create a process for influencing others’ definition of a brand. Rather than accept others’ definition of you, stake out the position you want. If not, the labels assigned as others judge us will be our defining attributes. Do you want to be known as:

  • Too inexperienced
  • Not assertive enough
  • Lacking the ideal education pedigree
  • Uninteresting
  • Incapable of leading others?

I am hard pressed to think of an instance where any of these labels would promote your personal brand. They are labels handed out by others. Do you want to own them, or do you want to operate the label maker?

Have Fun with It

Take on the challenge to define your brand rather than allowing others to have that privilege. For far too long, efforts I made to define my brand were reactive, even driven by fear. I wanted my brand to be flawless and avoid making mistakes. That was my first mistake! I have gotten over pursuing that unrealistic ideal.

Today, I am having more fun than ever living my brand. It is what it is, and there is a lot of value offered through it. It is not perfect, nor does it have to be.

Learning: Homework Never Ends

books and formulas- we are always learning

The countdown to graduation is on for several of my students. Seniors eagerly anticipate the end of their final semester. Commencement will officially mark their transition from student to their professional life. Some of them are so excited they have countdown apps on their smartphones that remind them how soon until the big event arrives. I can poll a class any given day and find someone who can state the exact number of days, hours, and minutes until the Commencement ceremony. For some students, it must feel like being released from prison. They will no longer have to attend classes, listen to lectures, and take exams. They have been set free from learning.

I hope no graduating student feels that completing their college studies sets them free from learning. Yes, it might relieve them of the obligations of a college student, but their education has only just begun. Daymond John is known as the entrepreneur behind the FUBU fashion brand and regular panelist on the TV show “Shark Tank.” John has sobering news for anyone who thinks their education is almost complete. His directive is simple: Educate yourself every day. Learning is part survival strategy, part positioning strategy.

"The key to success is to educate yourself every day." Daymond John quote.

Learning as Survival Strategy

The need to educate yourself every day is borne out of survival. Your knowledge and skill set will be a significant factor as you compete for jobs and later, for promotions. If your field is changing rapidly, continuing education is not optional. One statistic drives home this point in the marketing profession. A 2013 survey of marketing executives found 76% of them believed marketing had changed more in the two past years than in the past 50. If education is a form of movement or progress in your life, then committing to ongoing education is a must. Otherwise, if you are not moving you will be passed by as the world (and your competition) adapts and grows.

Learning as Positioning Strategy

Think of education as a “get to do” versus a “must do.” Use learning as a means of differentiating your personal brand. In Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to building skill set. Many options exist for education, including formal education (e.g., a university degree or certificate program) and self-directed learning (e.g., online courses from Lynda or Udemy). The option(s) selected depend on the skills you need to learn or strengthen. In some cases, a do-it-yourself approach is more than adequate. In other cases, your best option is to enroll in an accredited, established program through an education institution.

Regardless of the type of education delivery you choose, the end result stands to be the same. In the short run, you will acquire skills that set you apart from others in your organization or even your field. In the long run, an ongoing commitment to learning can position you as an expert, a go-to person for an answer to a question or to solve a problem.

Congrats! Now Go Learn More

Although it is not quite graduation season yet, the train is pulling into the station. So, it is not too early to congratulate the Class of 2017 on reaching an education milestone. You have worked hard and persevered. The goal of earning a degree or diploma will be achieved. You have proven you are a learner. Now, it is time to embark on a lifelong journey of learning.

Embrace the challenges you had to conquer along the way as part of your personal brand makeup. They define how you made it through your formal education program. Maybe you worked two jobs on top of a full-time academic load. Perhaps you had to deal with family sickness or even death yet stayed the course to complete the education milestone you have reached. Those chapters in your life are not just part of your history. Allow them to shape who you are going forward along with the benefits from learning. Commit to educating yourself every day as Daymond John encourages us to do.

Change the Plan, Not the Destination

Notes and notebook

Are you a planner, someone who loves coming up with detailed instructions for completing a project or goal? Plans are essential maps that give direction to reaching a desired destination. Without a map (plan), you might reach where you want to go. However, it will be a trip full of uncertainty, and you might end up somewhere other than the intended endpoint.

Plans are essential for goal achievement. Whether you want to lose 10 pounds or run a marathon, you must have a method for getting to the desired outcome. The problem is we can become discouraged when things do not go according to plan. Before you know it, the weight loss goal has been abandoned or we decide to leave marathon running to others. We let flawed plans dictate a change in goals.

This week, reflect on progress toward goals you have set. If you are not moving toward the goal, the problem could be the plan in place. If the plan is not working, rethink the plan before tossing the goal.

If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goal. - Anonymous

The Plan is the Problem…

Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be discouraging. You see a path to reach a goal, make a plan for goal achievement, but like a nightmare road trip you never arrive. More times than not, the reason for failure to arrive resides in the plan. Possible shortcomings of the plan include:

  • Unrealistic time frame. We underestimate the amount of time needed to effect change or complete tasks needed to reach a goal.
  • Lack of knowledge. A plan might be doomed to fail because of not enough information or experience to craft an effective plan. If you want to start a business but have no experience, your launch plan could be incapable of getting your business idea off the ground.
  • Lack of support. A plan can be sabotaged by others who are less interested in your goals. They may even want you to fail because success would put you ahead of them.

Or It Could Be the Goal

I embrace the spirit of the idea “change the plan but never the goal,” but it could be a situation where avoiding “never” or “always” applies. It is possible that the goal is the problem. If your goal is actually more like a dream, no plan will help you. The commitment to learn, grow, and even fail is probably not there. Other possibilities for a misguided goal could be:

  • It is someone else’s goal. As a college professor, I have encountered many students over the years who selected a major based on their parents’ desires. It is hard to be effective (or happy) when you are pursuing an outcome someone else wants to reach. You have to own a goal to engage in meaningful pursuit of it.
  • It does not align with passion. Your goal might arise from a fantasy-like vision. The idea of writing a book or vision of being an entrepreneur are fun to imagine. The work and rejection involved in those pursuits—not so much. Certain aspects of pursuing a goal can be a turn-off, particularly when you do not have a strong emotional attachment to the goal.
  • It is the wrong goal. You must acknowledge this possibility. Repeated failure or setbacks could be a sign that you are chasing the wrong thing. For example, if you fail a real estate agent exam once you might benefit from changing your plan. Do you need to study more? Use different prep materials? Meet with a mentor? But, if you fail the exam several times it could mean you are not meant to be a real estate agent.

Not So Fast

It would be naive to always stick with a goal no matter what. Sometimes, goal abandonment or revision is necessary. What this week’s One to Grow On quote encourages us to do is not give up on a goal too quickly. We owe it to ourselves to first determine if changing the plan will overcome a setback in pursuing a goal. While giving up or changing goals can seem like the practical thing to do, it can be the wrong thing to do.

A final thought on adapting plans. A mentor can be invaluable in discerning if the reason you are falling short in goal achievement is the plan or the goal itself. You owe it to yourself to get outside perspective.

Time: A Nonrenewable Resource

hourglass

Wow! Look at the calendar. First quarter 2017 has come and gone. In what might seem like a blink of an eye, we will be toasting the arrival of 2018. How are you faring in making progress toward goals or resolutions you set three months ago? Do you feel like you are moving forward or treading water? Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be frustrating, but it is not something over which we should beat up ourselves. However, failing to manage time is a shortcoming for which we must hold ourselves accountable.

This week, reflect on how you spend your day. Time is a precious resource, one that cannot be extended. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. Benjamin Franklin observed that lost time is just that—lost. Accomplishing more entails becoming a better steward of our precious time resources.

Lost time is never found again.

Where Does Time Go?

Are you proactively managing how you spend time? I often hear the lament “I don’t have time to…” nearly everything under the sun. The missed opportunities include not being able to:

  • exercise
  • read or study
  • nurture relationships
  • do chores or housework
  • get enough rest
  • pray or worship
  • enjoy a hobby

There is a lot we cannot do, at least according to our own version of events.

The activities listed above represent some of the things you want to do or in some cases, must do in the course of a day. Yet, we know all of the “want to” and even some “must do” things do not get crossed off our To Do list. Who or what gets in the way?

  • Ourselves. We are our own worst enemy and main culprit for stealing time. At an extreme, we fail to prioritize how we spend time and wander through the day with no self-discipline. An even worse outcome is that we know how to set priorities, but we do not follow through on the plan. The result is similar in that we fall short of what we are capable of accomplishing.
  • Others. Demands are placed upon us by children, parents, bosses, friends, all of the people important to us. We can manage impositions by saying “no” to requests that compete with existing obligations, that option is not always possible. We must carve out time to serve others.

Resource Management

Effectiveness and time management go hand-in-hand. My ability to get things done is highly correlated with being intentional about how I spend the day. I perform best when I manage time resources at macro and micro levels.

  • Macro. Set goals. I could stop there, but goals are invaluable for giving direction to how I spend time. Goals represent destinations I wish to reach. That information is a starting point for plotting how to get there.
  • Micro. I break down goals into weekly and daily activities to do in pursuit of them. I spend time on Fridays planning the next week. Similarly, I do not want to start a day without a To Do list in hand. Beginning the day by waking up and saying “now what?” is not ideal. Many productivity tools are available; check this list of five such tools. I use Toodledo to keep projects and required tasks organized. It does not matter what you use as long as you have a system in place.

Take Charge

We do not always have control over how we spend time, but we can minimize time controlling us by committing to control that precious nonrenewable resource that is time. Q1 2017 may be gone, but now is the time to head off regret of lost time in Q2 and beyond.

Image credit: Flickr- giulia gasparro, Creative Commons license

Allow Fear to Motivate, not Dominate

winner's medal

March is one of my favorite months of the year. Yes, warmer temperatures and later sunsets signal that summer is around the corner. But, there is something else that excites me about March: the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness has become a fixture in American popular culture. Fan frenzy spills over into restaurants, bars, and yes, even workplaces. The games offer inspiring storylines about teams, players, and coaches. And, the games themselves are high caliber basketball contested by teams all seeking to be crowned national champion.

The all-out effort given by the teams competing in the NCAA basketball tournament comes to mind when reading the quote below from Robert Kiyosaki, an author best known for his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

The 68 teams selected for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament should fear losing. Why? The reality is that 67 of the 68 teams will be classified as losers. They will fall short of the ultimate goal of being national champions. Only one team (Gonzaga, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina), will leave the basketball court on April 3 knowing the excitement of winning this year’s tournament. Yet, watching games over the last 13 days it is clear to me that teams have not feared losing, regardless of their opponent.

Play Now, Lose Later

Teams in the NCAA tournament have impressed me with their determination and refusal to give up no matter the score or situation. As a fan watching games on TV, it is easy to sit on the couch and proclaim “game over” when one team takes a seemingly insurmountable lead. Both teams know a loss means their season is over, yet maximum energy is expended from start to finish. They cannot be bothered right now about the prospect of losing. They play the game with maximum effort. If they win, the thrill of winning is experienced. If they lose, a  sense of “let’s cross that bridge when we get there” is the mindset observed among the teams.

Fear: Healthy and Harmful

Robert Kiyosaki’s quote encourages us to not let fear rule in our pursuit of success. A certain amount of fear can be used to your advantage. The teams in the NCAA basketball tournament know that one loss spells the end of the season regardless of how well they play or how successful the season has been up to that point. Fear of losing can create urgency to perform at peak levels and do so now.

Fear can also be debilitating. It can rob us of the joy found in doing everyday activities, negatively impact performance, and even change our outlook toward probability of success. No one sets out to sabotage themselves by letting fear get in the way of accomplishment. Yet, it happens regularly, and we become our own worst enemy.

Find Joy, Respect Fear

I am grateful for Robert Kiyosaki’s thoughts on balancing the joy of winning with the prospect of losing. Going forward, I want to emulate the intensity and focus shown by teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. They all have played to win, not played to avoid losing. All but one team will lose in the end, but their chase for a championship is not overshadowed by fears about losing. Besides, you do not get to the NCAA basketball tournament without having had your fair share of success. Teams have already felt the joy of winning by making it to the Big Dance.

Learn to Live with “No”

No

The old saying that there are only two things certain in life—death and taxes—should be modified. A third certainty we can expect is rejection. Our world can be turned upside down by a single word: “no.” Thankfully, rejection usually does not inflict emotional pain like death or financial pain like taxes. But, rejection can damage our ego and dent our spirit. Sometimes, rejection stings for only a few minutes, then we move on. Other times, disappointment and anger affect us for years.

Rejection may be a fact of life, but how we deal with rejection can make the difference between bouncing back or getting stuck. This week’s One to Grow On quote from Steve Jobs serves to explain why rejection occurred. Rejection can do less harm to our outlook if we frame a “no” response in a way that maintains proper perspective. Think of Jobs’ statement as a variation of the infamous breakup line “it’s not you, it’s me.” It is less a matter of your shortcomings and more about issues residing with the other person.

Why We Hear “No”

It is a fair reaction to question yourself when rejection happens. Did you say something wrong? Did you offend the other person? What could you have done differently to change the outcome? We can ask these questions and more after the fact. They are part instructional, part therapeutic. You may have a gnawing feeling inside that you could have done something to reach a different outcome. These thoughts are normal, but they will not yield an answer on how the situation could have had a more desirable ending.

When your idea or business proposition is rejected, the root problem is usually traceable to the other person. Some possible reasons for rejection attributable to the other person include:

  • “I don’t care.” The other person is often satisfied with status quo. Your idea would be new in their lives, something with which they can live without having or doing.
  • “I am afraid.” You can be rejected because you rattle cages. The other person is uncomfortable because they know you are right. They need what you are offering, but they are worried about the change they would have to adapt to by accepting your idea.
  • “I am weak.” I doubt anyone would ever cite this reason for rejecting you or your offer, but it could be an underlying problem. They cannot imagine themselves deserving and enjoying the benefits your idea delivers. It is for someone else but surely not them. Their problems run much deeper than anything you said or did.
  • I don’t like you.” I admit it; I was wrong. One reason you hear “no” is personal; the other person does not like you. You are too young (or old), too attractive (or unattractive), too friendly (or aloof), too something for their tastes. Just as a brand like Starbucks does not appeal to all consumers, your personal brand will not resonate with everyone you meet. That fact alone makes rejection normal.

Your Answer to “No”

So how do you respond to rejection? Our comeback to “no” can validate the other person’s beliefs or strengthen our resolve to stay the course. Let’s embrace the latter, shall we? If “no” doesn’t mean I can’t do it, what must I do to take the focus off the rejection? Here are three possible responses.

  • Prove them wrong. Rejection can be a powerful motivator to show someone they were wrong about you or your idea. At the beginning of my academic career, I was passed over for a position at my alma mater. The rejection crushed me at the time, but it also pushed me to become a more productive researcher. I no longer felt the need to prove them wrong once  I realized I could “do my thing” in other places and with other people.
  • Reframe the message. Rejection is not due to an inadequacy about you. The rejection is a perceived lack of need based on information available to the other person. Address this problem by ensuring your message focuses on what is in it for them. People buy ideas because they will make their life better in some way. Some people will still reject an idea positioned as good for them. Others you are losing now could be reached with a clearer answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Empathize, not sympathize. When people oppose or reject you, do not automatically dismiss them. Understand where they are coming from (empathize), but do not accept their beliefs as your own (sympathize). Who knows—an empathetic response could win them over. At the very least, you maintain beliefs in your idea and can agree to disagree about its utility to them.

A Matter of When

You will be rejected (perhaps even a lot). Rather than playing it safe and avoiding situations in which rejection is possible, understand that a “no” is not about you. More importantly, it is not a verdict against your idea. Rather, it can be a signal to look for opportunity elsewhere.