inner excellenceI just returned to work 3 months ago after having a second baby.  While I haven’t been away from work too long, I was surprised to find myself insecure – Do I still know how to work? Are my analytical, leadership, and communication skills up to par? Can I still deal with difficult personalities and office politics?  Ultimately, am I still as good as I used to be?

Initially, I found myself “rusty”.  My first conference call with a lot of senior people went just “okay.”  I found myself a little tongue tied, my language a little off, and my communication less clear.   I went home dejected, and I shared this with my husband.  I told him I was afraid that I am no longer as good as I used to be.

This is what he told me: “Lei, give yourself a break.  You are always so hard on yourself.  I don’t believe for a second that you are less than what you used to be.  You are great at what you do.  I see it every time you give me advice on my work.  I know your skills are all there.  You just need to give yourself a little time to transition back to work.”

At first, I thought, “Well, of course he will say that, he is my husband and he’s supposed to be my biggest fan.  I guess I am lucky that way.”  But then I stepped back and thought about what has been going on with me, and came up with a different perspective – maybe I am feeling rusty because I am spending 50% of my mental and emotional energy worrying about whether I am doing okay, and only left 50% of my mental energy is left to actually do the work.    What if my husband is right?  What harm is it to assume the best of me, rather than the worst of me?

Well, to make a long story short, I decided to believe in myself instead of focusing on my doubts.   I decided to give myself a break if something isn’t perfect.  Now things are working out a lot better.

My point is I am realizing that self-management skills (the ability to manage my own perception of myself) are just as important, if not more so, than external skills, like people skills or analytical skills, to career success.  I can have all the external skills in the world, but if I constantly question my abilities or look for where I am not good, I can defeat myself internally and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are three things I learned from this experience:

  1. Inner Excellence is key to career success.  Everyone has doubts or frustrations.  We are all human.  What makes us great is how we can stay confident, patient, and resilient (all self-management skills) in spite of any momentary negative thinking.   I recommend reading “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack to hone your self-management skills.  It’s an athlete’s guide to inner excellence.  It talks about how  important the mental game is to an athlete’s success, as opposed to just physical skills.  I just started reading it, and have found strong correlations to what I went through at work recently.  I have the skills, but I was psyching myself out.  Reading this book is one thing that is helping me build my inner strength.
  2. Surround yourself with supporters.  I am lucky that my husband is so supportive, as are my friends.  It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in the best of you.  That positive energy can also build your inner strength, especially when you need a helping hand.  On the flip side, keep a distance from naysayers, no matter what your relationship is with them.
  3. Developing your inner strength is a life journey.  My example shows that no one is immune.  Even though I know all these concepts,  I still need to remind myself to practice them.  Inner excellence is built and tested over time.  As life and career change, we are always faced with new challenges.  The key is to be aware of how your inner dialogue affects you, and how to always focus on the best in you.   Only when we  see the best in ourselves can we inspire others to see it, too.

Your comments:  How have been developing your inner excellence?  Do you agree that inner strength is critical to your career success? Add your comments and let’s have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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