I met Jane at a recent networking luncheon. Jane was considering her next career move after a recent restructuring and we struck up an easy conversation about the dynamics of start ups and the different career experience they provide compared to a large company role. As she shared some exciting conversations on the horizon, doubt crept into her face as she lamented what she was sure to be an immediate strike against her: a surgical boot on her ankle. Beyond the understandable inconvenience and frustration of limited mobility, her real concern was that a potential employer would see her as….well, damaged. A liability they didn’t need on their team.
I have to admit that Jane’s perspective took me aback a bit. Yes, I had noticed the boot but gave it nary a passing thought, and if anything a quick mental nod of admiration for not letting it hold her back from attending the conference. Yet this seasoned executive who had a long and accomplished track record had convinced herself that this temporary ailment might be a genuine reason for rejection as a candidate.
This conversation got me thinking – how often do we manufacture ideas in our own heads that have little basis in reality? I’ll confess – it is something I do more often than I would like to admit. How do we gain awareness of the places where we have blinders on, let alone have the clarity of mind to evaluate it critically?
Recognize – The first step is to recognize that the doubt has crept in! Mindfulness is a powerful tool to create the ability to recognize emotions as they arise. Feel that there is uneasiness, or fear, or anxiety. It may be a physical sensation you notice first – that pit in your stomach or flushed cheeks. Learn to recognize these cues and then notice what you may be feeling!
Reflect – Once you recognize that feeling, don’t squash it! We are often taught to chase discomfort away and squash negative feelings before they can take root. But contrary to that conventional wisdom, it is pushing the feelings down that allows them to fester and grow. Instead, reflect on the reaction and then name it.
Evaluate – What might be the cause of this feeling? Have you made assumptions about a situation? If so, bring them into the light of day – do they stand up to a rational assessment? Sometimes it is helpful to talk to someone else who can reflect back where you may be blind to your own biases.
Plan to Act – Now that you see that little gremlin of doubt, what are you going to do about it? Create a strategy that will be more effective.
Over our salads, I helped Jane reflect on where she may have created a false set of assumptions about her broken ankle. I shared my own reaction when I saw her boot, and then tried to put it into perspective of how I would likely react if a candidate arrived with a similar affliction. Seeing someone with a frustrating but temporary setback provides a golden opportunity to subtly demonstrate to any potential employer how she reacts to adversity – a sense of humor, perseverance, or mitigation planning are all traits she could showcase. Far from being a liability, in this framing her injury becomes a point of connection and differentiation, not to mention a great window for her into the culture of the organization. If a potential employer hesitated to extend an opportunity because of a temporary affliction, was that really the kind of organization and people she wanted to join?
This week I am going to keep an eye out for my own broken ankles – the places I am unwittingly holding myself back – and see where I may need my own virtual casts.