(This is a story from my book, A Survival Guide For New Consultants.)
Your attitude is such an important topic, I want to end this book by getting you to look at yourself the way other people see you.
First, put yourself in the position of a person that needs to hire someone who offers whatever service you offer (programmer, designer, etc.). Completely imagine that you are this person, The Buyer. For instance, I design software systems, and I usually sell my services to other IT people, so I’ll put myself in the shoes of an IT Manager or Project Manager who needs an architect like myself.
Putting myself in their shoes, I have a good feel for all the technical skills an architect needs. After I do my legwork and interview many architects, I eventually end up with two primary candidates. Their technical skill sets are so good and so close I can’t tell the difference between them -- they’re technical twins!
Yes, they are technical twins, but as I think about them, they’re not emotional twins. In fact, there are some major differences:
Person A seems a little tired, disorganized, takes a deep sigh every time I start to ask another question, and they seem to have the attention span of a gnat.
On the other hand, Person B seems enthusiastic, interested in my problems, organized, and a real problem-solver.
Hopefully you’ll agree that all technical considerations being equal, Person B is the one you’d hire. (Taking this a little farther, I suspect you’d hire Person B even if they didn’t seem quite as talented as Person A.)
Look at yourself
Your next task is to take an honest look at yourself, and ask, “How do I come across to other people? Am I more like Person A, or Person B?”
Don’t lie to yourself -- be honest here. You don’t have to be perfect. Nobody is perfect all the time. Heck, if we were, life would be really boring, wouldn’t it? But if you tend to be a lot more like Person A than Person B, this could be a big reason why you’re not landing the big accounts or getting the promotions.
It may be that you’re a very nervous person, and you’re letting your nervousness get the best of you, and so you come across as Person A. Or, it could be that you don’t like your job, or you’re burned out, and you need some time off, or a serious change of scenery. In any case, if you’re coming across as Person A, I think you can understand why people aren’t hiring you: Getting hired is a competition, and you have to learn to compete well.
Ask other people
You get into dangerous territory when you ask other people to give you an honest assessment of your personality, because if you can’t handle it, it can end your friendship. With that being said, if you can’t assess yourself honestly, and you can really handle the truth, talk to friends or relatives, people you trust, and ask them to give an honest assessment of your personality.
Ask them about all of the qualities I’ve written about in this book, things like honesty, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, happiness, and having a can-do attitude, and a history of getting things done. Ask them to rate these attributes on a scale of one to ten, and ask them for specific instances of things you’ve done well, and things you’ve handled poorly.
Again, I caution you that this can ruin your relationship with this person, so before going down this road, I encourage you to assess yourself. Think about how you might be weak in each attribute, and make a definite plan to eliminate your weaknesses.
In my case, I knew I had to take this approach, because I knew that if I didn’t, I would have lived a life filled with regret, and I just couldn’t let that happen.
If you really take the time and effort to do this, the income you receive in your lifetime may be many hundreds of thousands of dollars higher over your lifetime -- maybe even millions -- and your work will be much more rewarding and fun.
How I raised myself from failure to success
Assuming that (a) you don’t really hate what you do for a living, and (b) you’re not burned out, I highly recommend reading the book “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling,” by Frank Bettger. I have a 1949 version of this book (wow, over 60 years old!), which I was fortunate enough to receive from my wife’s grandfather. Although the book is mostly about selling, it’s also about human nature, and how to change your own nature for the better. The first chapter on enthusiasm is worth the price of the book many, many times over.
In that chapter Mr. Bettger writes about being nervous, and how that nervousness used to hold him back, until he learned to channel his nervous energy into enthusiasm. I had the exact same problem, and that first chapter was a life-changer for me. I just re-read it now, and it still gets me fired up.
In another important chapter on life, Mr. Bettger writes about Benjamin Franklin, and the struggles Mr. Franklin had with his own caustic personality, and the steps he went through to become much less abrasive, eventually becoming the great statesman he’s known for being today. Just like the first chapter, this chapter is again well worth the price of admission. (I’ve written about Mr. Franklin’s technique in the chapter titled, “Who do you buy from?”)
A little card in my wallet
Until rereading that chapter just now, I had forgotten that for years I walked around with a simple little card in my wallet, a card that I made myself, in part based on this book by Mr. Bettger. On that card I wrote one little statement:
I will be the most positive and enthusiastic person I meet today.
Several times a day, especially when things were at their worst, I’d pull that card out and read it to myself over and over again. I can specifically recall sitting in a bathroom stall during one of my most difficult projects, and reading that card repeatedly. That project was full of all sorts of obstacles, and I firmly believe that card was the only thing that got me through it.
To be clear on this point, I attribute hundreds of thousands of dollars of my own personal income to Mr. Bettger’s book, and to this card I created. By reading his book, using Ben Franklin’s technique, and constantly referring to this card, I changed my attitude, my approach to business, and my approach to other people.
The 80% rule
I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think it’s correct to say that 80% of people are either fired, or not hired, because of nontechnical reasons. When I say, “nontechnical,” I’m being polite. What that really means is “because of personality issues.”
I won’t go into any personal stories that I had with employees, but I have to agree with this statement. If you count “inability to finish a project” as a personality problem and not a technical problem, I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever fired for purely technical reasons.
I’ll leave you with these thoughts from Mahatma Gandhi:
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
In closing, I highly recommend that you work your butt off to cultivate the following personality traits:
- Be an honest person, with others, and with yourself.
- Be the most enthusiastic person you know.
- Approach each day with a positive, can-do, problem-solver attitude.
If you’ll strive for just those traits alone, I believe you’ll find your income will go through the roof, just as mine did.
A Survival Guide for New Consultants
If you enjoyed this story, there are many more like it in my book, A Survival Guide for New Consultants: