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How to Approach Your Next Challenge Like a Master

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Have you ever felt like you put a lot of effort to get something only be be

disappointed once you got it? Or worse, you worked toward something and didn’t get it and thought yourself a failure? Haven’t we all?!

karate black belt bowing on knees

One of my clients – let’s call her Lisa -- is a high-potential middle manager at her company. Lisa told me one day, that she had been offered new job at her company, a promotion. It wasn’t an immediate move but her managers were working on a plan in which they would move her to this position in the near future. A few months later, Lisa’s managers announced in a meeting that the position was open for applications…to the whole company. When she asked, her manager told her that because of company politics, they felt they had to open the position up to people both internally and externally, but Lisa was strongly encouraged to apply -- which of course, she did.

The interview process was thorough and I coached Lisa along the way. During one particular session, as she prepared for an upcoming interview presentation, I talked to Lisa about having a mastery orientation versus a performance orientation. A mastery orientation is viewing every situation as an opportunity to learn. Instead of seeing a finish line or goal to be achieved, you see the potential the experience provides to learn something to help you grow. Every experience becomes a piece of the bigger picture. Performance orientation, on the other hand, is the view that situations are win or lose propositions; being successful means a win, you obtain your goal, if not, you lose.

When you approach a situation, such as giving a presentation, or life for that matter, with a mastery orientation, everything changes: your outlook, your ability to see opportunities and your idea of what it is to be successful. With a mastery orientation, you approach situations with greater confidence because you know you can’t lose. You are always taking something positive away and there is no end game.

This change in mindset was incredibly helpful to Lisa as she prepped for her presentation. She felt the pressure come off and her confidence soar. Even more remarkable, however, was when I spoke to Lisa a few weeks later and she told me that someone else got the job. Yes, I was surprised to hear this news, but even more, I was amazed at Lisa’s take on it.

Lisa told me that although she was initially disappointed at the result, she gained so much from the interview process that she felt really good overall. She was able to raise her profile among people in the company that hadn’t had the opportunity to work with. In updating her resume and preparing for interviews, Lisa was able to take stock of all of her accomplishments and achievements, and that boosted her confidence. Plus, she knew there was something more in store for her and accepted that this position wasn’t it – and that was okay.

Most of us approach life with a performance orientation, and when we don’t we don't get the outcome we are aiming for – the job, the promotion, the sale – we are disappointed. Worse, we blame ourselves, come up with all the reasons for our failure and our confidence usually takes a dive. But consider these situations approached with a mastery orientation and you start to wonder what can I take away from this? What went well and how can I do better next time? What did I gain from this experience? Instead of disappointment, you gain knowledge. Instead of losing confidence, you may actually build it.

A mastery orientation challenges the notion of an ultimate goal and let’s face it, so often when we do reach what we think is that goal, we find no there, there. With a mastery orientation, we see achievement as a step toward something, not an end to anything.

Are you feeling stuck - at work? in life? Get my free resource: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself to Shift Out of Neutral & Into Action

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