When I was five years old, I wanted to be a mathematician. In my circa 1988 mind, being a mathematician was equal parts intelligence and prestige. I had never talked to someone who was a mathematician, or seen one on TV, but I was absolutely certain that this was the job for me. At that point in my education, I had barely scratched the surface of math. If I had to guess, counting to 100 was a formidable challenge. Yet, barring all of these unknowns, I had chosen my life’s profession based upon my idea of what it meant to be in that role.
I continued on this path of mathematics as a job well into my teens (thanks Good Will Hunting). I studied a lot, took extra math during the summer, and was eventually two years ahead of my classmates. It would seem that I was some sort of math genius. Drawn to a profession that I was congenitally inclined.
While I would love to continue this charade of my commanding math virtuosity, this was far from the truth. My seeming ability to excel ahead of my classmates was due the many hours of studying that I completed, classes outside of school, and tutoring. Being the daughter of professional women who was banging on the glass ceiling in the 70s and 80s, it was important that her daughter excel in STEM.
What I find so poignant about this recollection of my childhood, are the implications on success as an adult. There have been a lot of studies about why people are successful, and what is the best predictor for success. When I was younger, my mother would tell me that –with enough time and effort– you could achieve absolutely anything. I agree with this view today and with some years under my belt in the professional world, I have an addition: attitude.
I was good at math because I put in the time and effort, but also because my attitude supported this view of myself as a mathematician. Seems so simple, right? Put in the time and effort, get in the right headspace, and the sky is the limit. But not so fast – it’s easier said than done. As someone who has, in recent years, transitioned into more of a leadership role, it can be harder to overcome that “attitude” requirement than it seems.
For managers and leaders old and new, there is a spiral of self-doubt that destroys the attitude component of being successful. Why would people listen to me? I’m not experienced enough, educated enough, smart enough, [insert your own “not enough” here]. So how do you overcome it? It’s easier than you might think. The quickest way to change how you feel about something tomorrow is to alter your behavior today. As a child, if I wasn’t feeling entirely confidant regarding a new math theory or equation, I would do another problem. The more I did, the more my attitude aligned with that of a mathematician.
So rather than focusing on how there are things as a leader you couldn’t possibly think, couldn’t possibly do, couldn’t possibly imagine – try just one. Do one thing that you think you can’t. Change your behavior to align with what a leader would do. It will feel awkward. You might stutter, make a weird face, or say entirely the wrong thing. However, doing those things will have a remarkable effect on your impact as a leader. It gives new meaning to faking it until you make it!
What are your thoughts on attitude, success and leadership? Share your thoughts below!
One thought on “When I was five years old…”
Enjoyed your article, Laura. Great insight…