Friday, July 30, 2010

When Ambitious People Hit the Brakes

The most dangerous part of a journey can be the last leg. We are tired, our minds practically assume that the trip has ended, and we let our guard down.

There is a related career practice that deserves our attention. Many highly competitive people push themselves right up to almost achieving a goal and then begin to apply the brake. The self-doubt and the second-guessing kick in.

“Do I really want this?” “Will it disrupt my life?” “Will people regard me differently?” “Do I truly deserve this?” “Can I handle the extra responsibility?” “Am I the right person for the job?” The questions and doubts begin to accumulate. In far too many cases, the person backs away from success or sabotages the plan.

These individuals are not slackers. They choose to compete. They are competent and ambitious. Most have managed to succeed in other endeavors. The fact of their past success, however, may keep them from recognizing their efforts to apply the brake. “I’m just being responsible,” they may say. “It only makes sense to consider all factors.”

Those excuses hold enough truth to provide a cover story for self-induced failure. Their foundation is the assumption that the individual is unique and that others do not harbor such doubts. Some (I’m tempted to say most) of the highest positions in any organization are held by people who wonder if they really should be in the job.

What can help is to recognize the self-doubt as a stage and factor it in. Just as a marathoner will know the attitudes to avoid in the last few miles, so too should we be alert for the second-guessing. For many, this stage can be a natural part of competing. Moving through it should also be a standard practice.

Consulting with others can help enormously. Delaying any negative decisions is also important. Regarding the second-guessing as a mere speed bump instead of a brick wall helps to keep up the momentum. We may slow down a bit to recognize the stage, but we’ll know when it is time to hit the accelerator.

By Michael S. Wade

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