A Mind Set on Winning

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 

― Michael Jordan

(c) Getty Images

A while back, I celebrated my 44th birthday – which now places me firmly in the territory of being middle-aged. It had an unintended and somewhat bizarre effect, as it seemed to trigger something of an existential crisis in me. All of this happened somewhat unexpectedly while I was feeding our young daughter at a typically unreasonable hour one morning. I recall how my mind drifted onto thoughts of how much of a failure I was now that I was in my forties, and many of the ambitions and dreams I had for giving my family a better life were left unfulfilled. I felt like I had very little to show for all of the efforts and work I had put into my family and career over the years.

Moreover, I felt particularly disappointed in myself that I had let go of my long-standing ambition to build a management consulting practice of my own despite spending over a decade in the industry as an independent consultant & business analyst.

It was alarming how quickly things spiralled from there.

I began to think of all of the many, many mistakes and errors that I had made over the course of my career, and of the many possibilities and opportunities to succeed that had slipped through my fingers.

I felt ashamed of the times that I knew my own performance had not been of the high standards I had set for myself, or of times when I had failed clients.

I felt terrible thinking about the few instances where professional relationships had been damaged.

I felt embarrassment at the self-realisation that I was not as skilled or knowledgeable in the discipline of business analysis as I believed that I was, even after all the time I had spent in the field.

After all, I had no formal business analysis qualification, I didn’t have an MBA or a PhD and didn’t even had a particularly great grade in my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. 

Wave after wave of negative thoughts overwhelmed me as I fed my tired-but-hungry little girl in her room, and I felt completely helpless and alone in my own mind. After feeding my daughter, I put her back in her bed and tried to get some sort of sleep, still being bombarded with thoughts of regret and failure. I awoke later that morning feeling absolutely miserable; it was the lowest I had felt in a long, long time.

I realised that I was facing a decision – I could either choose to fully embrace the negativity and. further descend into this malaise, or I could choose to reposition my thinking to focus on the things that I had achieved.

I looked over once more at my daughter, and thought about how amazing she is, how privileged I was to be her dad. If nothing else, that was something I could claim as a success. And then, I began to think about the other positives in my life.

Yes – I didn’t gain first class honours at university, but I had still managed to work towards attaining a degree in one of the most in-demand fields around.

I know there are areas in my business analysis domain knowledge that can be improved, so I decided to explore pursuing further professional qualifications, in order to add more value to my clients.

I accept that there were many mistakes I had made in the past, but as painful as they were to live through – and relive – I also came to the realisation that I had learned from them and I had used those lessons to move forward and become a better business analyst.

It’s true that some working relationships had been damaged in the past but honestly, the most important relationships I had – through my faith, family and friends – were strong and those people who really knew me, really valued me. Besides, I had matured and grown a great deal from the points at which those fractious incidents had occurred. Work and careers take place over a finite point in one’s life; who will remember that someone bore a grudge or held negative views and opinions of you when they – or you – have retired? 

Contracts come and go, and some are more successful engagements than others. It isn’t always dependent on you, either – there are some environments that are toxic and no matter how well the financial remuneration may appear to be, the cost to your emotional, mental and physical well-being just isn’t worth it.

Yes, I know that there are many other BAs far more knowledgeable and skilled than I am, but I can look to learn from them and continually improve myself and what I can offer to my clients.

A career as a business analyst is not easy. Life can be, and often is, brutally hard. 

Balancing the two can be harder still.

A key to being able to succeed in achieving that balance is the ability to be honest with oneself. But honesty and self-appraisal are constructive actions, not destructive; what I was experiencing in those moments was harmful and unhelpful. Toxic thoughts about your identity and self-worth – wherever they may rise from – have no place in the life of a successful business analyst. We can so easily lose sight of what we want to accomplish as the triple threat of fear, uncertainty and doubt – or FUD – assails our self-belief and self-actualisation. 

Later that morning, I thought through all of the garbage that had filled my mind earlier and left me in a place of despondency and perceived failure as a professional consultant and a business analyst. I chose to objectively and dispassionately assess who I was, where I was at and where I believed I could be in the future. That last part was vitally important as I’ve come to learn that without an objective, target, goal or vision to aim for, it’s easy for one to lose sight of who they really are. 

A failure to have a plan or vision for your career and life will cause both to forestall eventually.

Furthermore, any plan or vision that you do have must be supported by the belief in oneself that you can achieve it. Tantamount to this belief is adopting the correct mindset, one that is focused on your successes and the desire to build on them. Athletes call it “positive mental attitude”, successful traders and stockbrokers call it “the edge”. Whatever you want to call it, having a mind set on winning will will significantly shape the way that you live for the better.

In his book ‘Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind & Your Life’, Martin Seligman writes:

The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.”

– Martin Seligman

Business analysts have to have mental toughness, both in respect of the work that they undertake and produce – which may be subject to criticism both justified and not – as well as in the management and progression of their career. This is an imperative for those who work as independent contractors and consultants. We have to be able to control how we think about ourselves so that we do not sabotage our own success.

That is not to say that we should all become raging narcissists who believe that we are gifts from God to whichever client we are delivering to, or that we are incapable of getting things wrong. Arrogance is a certain path to disaster and disappointment. However, we should never be afraid to fail, nor should we ever see failure as being permanent. There is always a way back, even if it seems that a particular path or opportunity is closed off to us forever.

I’ve recently been watching the excellent sports documentary The Last Dance and like many others, have been fascinated by the relentless pursuit of excellence by the Chicago Bulls and in particular, their legendary player, Michael Jordan. One thing that separates him from many other athletes – even those on his own team – was his singleminded desire to succeed and be the very best at what he did, and his stubborn refusal to accept mediocrity in himself or in those around him. There were those in his own camp who disliked – hated, even – Michael Jordan and his ‘win at all costs’ attitude, but his results were able to speak for themselves.

This mind set on winning is commonly seen in those who are classed as elite in their field – the Jordans, the Kobe Bryants, the Usain Bolts, the Messis and Ronaldos, the Sergey Brins and Larry Pages, the Warren Buffets. While we may not occupy their rarified air – but more power to you if that is your goal – we can certainly learn a lot from them in terms of their perception of, and belief in themselves. Their success can be certainly be attributed to they ways in which they think, which is different from the vast majority of people.

Your thought life fuels your real life, so think better. 

When things don’t always go to plan, our perception of the circumstance will determine how we choose to deal with it. I once read a quote that said “Your attitude determines your altitude.” At the time, I laughingly dismissed it as merely a pithy slogan best placed on motivational posters that were commonplace on cubicle walls in offices everywhere in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and whose sentiments have since been ridiculed on shows like The Office. But there is some truth in these maxims. What we think and how we feel about ourselves is incredibly important, and our careers, professional and personal relationships, and even – no, especially – our health hinges on our sense of self-worth and self-identity.

There are plenty of things that you can do to change how the way your think and your overall mindset, and see the benefits of change both in and out of work. Here are a few things you can do to help get you started:

  • Learn how your mind works, then make you mind work for you.
  • Keep a Journal – whether your day is good or bad, writing about it can help you put things in context
  • Create a plan for progression
  • Gather honest feedback
  • Stick to your vision and believe you can make it real
  • Combat FUD with ICE – insight, compassion and emotional intelligence towards yourself and others
  • Don’t be ashamed to work on yourself 
  • Always be willing to learn

There will be times where you find your mind heading towards a negative or dark space. When this happens, try to stop and reposition your mindset as one focused on success – there’s no shame in asking for help to do this, either. Speak to a close friend, family member or a spouse. If you have the option, make use of your workplace’s occupational health facilities – many have helplines that you can call confidentially to talk if you need to, and they can arrange further support to get you where you need to be mentally and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor or a counsellor. Do whatever it takes to help your mind be well and think well, so you can live well.

As for me, who knows — I may decide to start up that management consultancy in the future after all. 

However, whether I do or don’t, the important thing is that I once again believe that I can.

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