Why Not Me?

“He is strong who conquers others; he who conquers himself is mighty.” Lao-Tzu

Nelson MandelaSarah came up to me during a break in a seminar I was conducting. She said, “Alan, I really WANT to move up in my job, but I just can’t.”

I asked about her personal development plan and about all the things she was doing to move up in her job. She admitted that she avoided the various training programs that her company offered — as much as possible. And when she did go, she didn’t listen that carefully to the speaker or follow through on what she learned. And she never invested any of her own money into training programs outside the company. So I knew the answer to her first question — why she wasn’t moving up in her job.

Sarah went on to say, “I also WANT to be respected by my coworkers, but I don’t think they like or respect me. Can you help me figure it out?”

So I asked about the way she interacted with her coworkers. She mentioned how they seemed to enjoy her comments, especially the witty way in which she put others down — behind their backs. After all, they laughed at her comments. But at lunch time no one wanted to eat with her.

Her comments were filled with, “I WANT… I WANT… I WANT.” But she wasn’t willing to work for it, or at the very least, she didn’t know how to go about achieving her goals.

Sarah was a WANNA-BE. She wanted a better job, but she was doing just enough to get by. She wasn’t doing anything to get better. She wanted more respect, but she would never get it by showing disrespect for others.

So I gave Sarah a brief, on-the-spot coaching session. I said her problems could be traced to her lack of self-esteem. In fact, she would not move up at work until she believed in herself. And she would not get the respect of others until she respected herself.

Of course, Sarah wanted to know how she could change all that in three minutes. Well I’m good… but not that good. That’s why I devoted a whole chapter to the building of self-esteem in my new book, “PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success.”

And that’s why my two-day program, “The Peak Performance Boot Camp,” starts with a solid foundation of self-esteem work. In fact, Karen Zappa was in my Peak Performance Boot Camp just two weeks and wrote back these results: “I volunteered to give a presentation on May 9, and I just want to say ‘Thanks!’ I’m not sure I would have survived without using your ideas. I spent a few minutes reviewing my self-esteem notes from the Boot Camp, and listened to your ‘Subliminal Confidence’ CD for 10 minutes before heading to the room. Before I made it very far from my office, one of my co-workers asked if I was unnerved yet. I immediately thought, ‘You’ve just undone the last 10 minutes!’, but I recovered nicely and said, ‘Nope. I’m confident and ready to go!'”

Karen went on to write, “Then, I spent the rest of the walk over telling myself how knowledgeable I am and what a great speaker I am. And, it was amazing! I was calm, talked relatively slow and didn’t use my notes nearly as much as I did when I practiced. It was like I was in the zone. I have received a lot of compliments on my presentation and have now been unofficially elected the official speaker for the project. I’m amazed that something so easy works so well. Thanks again for sharing your ideas!”

But back to Sarah. I told her to have great self-esteem, there are three things she must do. And the same goes for all you readers.

1. Tell Yourself You’re Going To Make It!

In his book, “It’s Not Over Until You Win,” Les Brown says, “Whatever is pushing you down right now, you have to say I’m going to make it no matter what!” He’s right.

You’ve got to realize that you are greater than your circumstances. And you are greater than anything that could ever happen to you.

After all, problems are a part of our work lives. An abusive boss, the failure to get a deserved promotion, a coworker who stabs you in the back to get what she wants, a termination notice… all of these things happen. And your response to these situations will build your self-esteem or destroy your spirit.

That’s why L. C. Robinson said, “Things may happen around you and things may happen to you, but the only things that really count are things that happen in you.”

To have a great, positive, goal-achieving, barrier-busting self-esteem, you’ve got to say, “I’m going to make it — no matter what.” You may have to say it thousands of times, but you’ve got to say it until every fiber of your being believes it.

That’s what Nelson Mandela had to say to himself every day of the 27-1/2 years he was in prison. That’s what poet Maya Angelou had to say — even though she was a rape victim who was physically abused and pregnant at age sixteen. That’s what speed skater Dan Jansen had to say after his sister died, and he fell time and time again in front of millions of people. They all made it, against the odds.

You’re going to make it — no matter what. That’s what you have to say to yourself when your spouse leaves, when your job is terminated, creditors are banging on your door, and your business has failed.

That’s what Walt Disney had to say after he filed for bankruptcy seven times and suffered two nervous breakdowns. That’s what J. C. Penney had to say when, at age 56, he was $7 million in debt and committed to a mental institution. Walt made it back, and J. C. Penney lived to be 92 with $2 billion in assets.

What about you? Are you telling yourself that you’re going to make it? Or are you telling yourself you don’t know how you’re going to make it? There’s a huge difference in the outcome you’ll receive.

2. Practice Acceptance.

When the bad times come, people with low self-esteem ask, “why me?” They see life as unfair, and they act like the poor hapless victims of fate.

But people with high self-esteem ask a different question. They ask, “why not me?” They realize this is a difficult world, and they accept that. Somehow or other they seem to realize the truth of the Biblical statement that says, “In this world, you will have tribulations.”

In other words, people with high self-esteem accept the problem rather than whine about it. And they work on the problem rather than pretend they’re helpless. They practice acceptance by doing what they can do.

As Reinhold Niebuhr advises in his Serenity Prayer, they take a stand and say,” God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Don’t Look Back For Too Long

I learned this strategy a few years ago on the beautiful tropical island of Jamaica — where my stepsister lives. I could see why she chose it as her second home as it is a place lush with vegetation, mountains, and turquoise waters.

Nonetheless, as I was walking through a hotel lobby, I saw an old map hanging in the hallway. Across a remote, uninhabited part of the island I saw some faint lettering going across that part of the map.

I struggled to make out the words. I eventually did. It read, “The Land of Look Behind.”

Intrigued, I asked the hotel owner what that meant. He said in the days of slavery, the runaways from the sugar plantations sometimes escaped into that lonely barren territory. They were often pursued by slave owners with guns and dogs. He said the fugitive slaves, who were always on the run, kept looking over their shoulders. So that’s where the term, “The Land of Look Behind,” came from.

I never forgot that phrase… because my years of speaking to people have led me to believe that many people live in their own private land of look-behind. They keep dwelling on the mistakes they’ve made in the past. And the fear of making more mistakes robs them of future successes.

Don’t live in the land of look-behind. All it can do is take away your hope and destroy your self-confidence.

Action:  When do you tend to look behind? Are there certain failures that you tend to think about — over and over again?

Identify them. Ask yourself what you can learn from those mistakes. Figure out what you can and will do the next time around. And then stop looking behind.