Leafing through the classifieds one Saturday afternoon, my attention turned to an eye-catching headline, “Is this glass half full or half empty? If you see it as half full, we’re interested in you.”
As chance would have it, the job advertisement was placed by a company where I worked as a resident change manager a good 10 years ago.
At that time, a full-time change manager job was a rare breed and not standard fare in an organisation’s job family.
The then leader helming the company was not your average “business as usual” managing director either. Spearheading a massive transformation programme, he was a virtuoso in vision shaping and culture building.
Today’s increasingly complex and uncertain environment presents us with many challenges and opportunities never before experienced.
It can be both daunting and exciting depending on how we see opportunity or obstacles in the unknown. In short, do we see a “glass half full or half empty?”
Optimism is a subject which has attracted much attention and research efforts. One particular topic which interests me greatly is positive psychology.
Dr Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, has discovered that people with a positive outlook create opportunity and don’t give up as easily as pessimists, hence are more likely to achieve more success because of it.
I saw a monkey; or was it money?
My brother, an architect, once told me a story about the development of a mountain region. Developers from all over the world were invited to transform this remote mountain into a holiday destination cum casino.
Many of them found the dense virgin tropical jungle and rugged terrain insurmountable, rendering the venture an unviable proposition. Some of them even ranted “All I can see is monkey”.
However, when the late founder of the now very successful hilltop resort hopped on his helicopter and while circling the rainforest, instead of seeing the roadblocks, he saw huge potential. He is rumoured to have uttered, “All I can see is money.”
This story led me to my career reset when I switched from finance to human resources. It wasn’t the money” that spoke to me, but the possibilities that the entrepreneur saw in a venture that everyone else thought futile and untenable.
Imagine with me. After much encouragement from his colleagues, a man named Raynoo decides to apply for a marketing director role advertised in his company’s internal job portal.
It is a strategic role covering a string of countries in Asia-Pacific, promising traveling opportunities and cross-cultural experience.
In the previous two years, he has not been successful in a couple of internal job applications and he is banking on this job as the meal ticket to the leadership level.
Rushing back to his office after a quick lunch, Raynoo sees an invite in his Outlook calendar asking him to attend a final interview with HR at 5pm that day. The company rumour mill has been predicting that the job would go to Adrian, a long-serving employee.
Let’s look at the two possible scenarios that could take place after this:
Raynoo starts to prepare for the meeting but takes a negative turn. Pessimism pervades his self-talk:
“Adrian has more marketing experience.He is an ‘old hand’ at change, having survived numerous mergers and acquisitions. He would be better for the position.
“Gosh, why did I let them talk me into this? If I don’t get the promotion this time, it will be two rejections in two years. How do I break the news to my girlfriend? .
“I am stuck in this dead end job, which I have been doing for the past five years. My peers have moved to bigger and better things. New Year is just round the corner. With all the family gatherings, what would my relatives say? My dad will be so ashamed of me.”
By the time the clock strikes five, Raynoo is a nervous wreck and certainly not in the right frame of mind for the important interview.
Let’s do a retake with Raynoo approaching the interview with optimism. Taking positive actions can also mean doing something different from what you have already tried, and did not work.
It may require you to look at the issue from another angle or try another strategy. Raynoo also decides to down play how others might judge him.
He rationalises, no matter how sensational his failure is, that it will soon become yesterday’s news. Look at Tiger Woods!
Raynoo has mixed feelings; he is excited and anxious at the same time. He starts to prepare for the meeting.
First, beginning with his accomplishments, he lists down the skills used to achieve them. Secondly, he identifies his contributions, and finally, he incorporates a couple of negative incidents.
Whilst positive experiences are usually the ones you are proud of and fondly recall, negative ones or failures will show how a person overcomes adversities and builds resilience in the process. Recalling these key experiences gives Raynoo’s confidence a booster shot.
When the clock strikes five, he feels at ease and comfortable “selling” himself at the interview. As he makes his way to HR, he is full of positivity and his stride has a spring to it.
One door shuts, another door opens
Career change – sometimes it happens by choice and sometimes, the decision is made for you. It’s never easy to change careers midstream especially after a job loss, no matter how talented or gifted you are. Let’s take a look at my friend, Misha.
A bright, vivacious and articulate medical director, she was helming the medical department of a mid-size pharmaceutical company for the longest time. She enjoyed her work and colleagues liked her collaborative and positive approach.
When a “big pharma” acquired her company, she lost her job. Naturally, she was sad but being the realist optimist she was, she saw it as an opportunity to consider career change options.
Here’s what she told me, “I am feeling sad about this but I am also quite grateful for this opportunity. I am confident my talents can be stretched. I am considering going into media to cover medical issues and topics.”
“So tell me, what do I have to do to get into media? I must admit that I do have stage fright but I guess I can start by practising my public speaking skills.”
With her optimist cap on, she gave a shot at a new career and direction. She soon found work in a different industry utilising the skills she already had.
Losing a job can either be a boon or bane. Depending on how you look at it, your thinking habits can permanently shut a door for good or open another one. In Misha’s case, it was a door to many possibilities and opportunities.
Some of the world’s most successful people have been fired from their jobs, and have used the experience to become even more successful.
Sallie Krawcheck, a senior leader at the bank where I used to work was quoted to say “I was grateful when I got fired.”
Since parting way with the bank, she has re-launched her career with aplomb. She now leads 85 Broads, a professional women’s network founded with the main purpose to advance the careers of women.
Krawcheck is an influential leader and in the league of “Who’s Who”s in thought leadership. Her articles on Linkedin provide great information and tips on dealing with failures, networking and women in careers.
On a positive note
We, homosapiens, are driven by an instinct to survive. How we react in any given situation is likely to be influenced by our negative experiences.
Over time, we develop a defensive mechanism, which defaults to the negative mode or looking at the glass half empty.
Pessimism is contagious and so is optimism. So when we consciously frame our mind to embrace positivity, we start to appreciate what is working.
When things don’t work out the way we envisage, we can be grateful for the learning opportunities they provide. When we speak and radiate possibilities, we connect with people and create goodwill.
If what you have read resonates and appeals to you, go ahead – give optimism a chance. Realise the full potential of each day and be the possibility that you are!
Anna Tan is a bean counter who found her calling in HR. Her journey in corporate HR has led her to pen “STRETCHED! Unleashing Your Team’s Potential by Coaching the Rubber Band Way” where she likened human potential as flexible and agile at the rubber band. Click here for more articles.