Money & Career
Learn from Tyrants and other Keys to Success
12/1/2017 5:20:15 PM
Steve Jobs

"My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” 
"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” ~ Steve Jobs

"If one comes across as being cold or brusque, it’s simply because I’m striving for the best.” ~ Anna Wintour

Visiting with McNeese students this fall, I had a chance to share my experience in a STEM career and reflect on how the American spirit propels our success and prosperity as a nation and as individuals in our careers and communities. 

What do I mean by success? I am referring to our ability to make our way through uncomfortable places and difficult challenges in order to create something, to innovate, or to advance. Among the many contributors to success, three stand out in my experience.

Play to Your Strengths
Find and focus on your strengths. Focusing on your shortcomings is a poor use of energy that can also fuel frustration. Research into factors for professional success has shown that those individuals who focus and act on their strengths have a higher rate of success than those who focus on minimizing their weaknesses. There are lots of tools available to help you identify your strengths, but you should also rely on your own insights and the perspectives of your mentors. Think about the activities that you consistently do well and that leave you feeling energized rather than drained. Seek out opportunities that profile your strengths -- in the process, you will shine and also continue to build your strengths. 

Recognize Failure as a Teacher
The U.S. has experienced a recent abundance in domestic natural gas supplies that has, in turn, dramatically changed the role that energy plays in our economic, national and environmental security. We find ourselves in this very fortunate situation as a result of relentless pursuit of technical and operational advancements, through decades of investment by public and private interests, due to the vision of one man in particular:  Texas oilman George Mitchell. His success in fracturing shale rock formations in the late 90s has received due attention, but that success was preceded by twenty years of trying alternative technical and engineering approaches – experiences some might have called "failures”. Instead, Mr. Mitchell approached each of those setbacks as opportunities to learn. His willingness to consider failure as a teacher was vital to his success.

Considering the paths to success taken by Mr. Mitchell and other great innovators suggests that our greatest personal and professional growth will not come from moments that feel good but rather from moments of adversity and setback. The feeling of discomfort that results from failure is key to breakthroughs and significant discoveries that sharpen your skills and confidence, making you more effective and resilient, and in turn lead to success.  

Learn from Tyrants
Work lives are messy and full of people. We will encounter difficult personalities: a boss who is consistently critical or unsupportive, a colleague who takes credit for work done by others, or a client who is always dissatisfied and condescending. When faced with these tyrants, often we respond by feeling oppressed or off balance. We complain to our partners and friends about how unfair it is to be treated in this way. It helps to stop those thoughts and instead consider why the tyrant is undermining our confidence and enjoyment at work, or what fear we are fixated on that gives the tyrant power over us. We may not be able to change the tyrant’s behavior but we can control how we respond to it. Be curious about their motivations and the fears that drive their actions. In doing so, we can shift from a defensive mental posture to one that helps us feel a sense of control. Then keep asking questions: What can I learn from this person? What skills and strategies are needed to be successful when confronted by a tyrant? How can I cultivate behaviors that allow me to avoid being a tyrant? In this way, you can turn tyrants into teachers. 

All the above require authenticity: be an original, not a copy. Understand yourself, know your values, and follow them. This allows you to be confident and deliberate in your actions – particularly when addressing challenges or pursuing opportunities that require you to move beyond your comfort zone. Acting from your center in this way helps you not only use your strengths, but also grow through experience.

Paula Gant, a Sulphur native and 1991 McNeese graduate, served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Energy for several years under the Obama administration.
Posted by: Paula Gant, PhD | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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