As kids we were always told that there is a very clear linear equation between effort and results. Not just that. As I got more and more entrenched into believing in the growth mindset, in a way I have internalised the idea that if you want something real bad make all possible efforts for it even to the point of making changes to yourself. But, then life throws some curveballs.
There are times when the distance between efforts and result can sometimes seem cloaked and foggy. The gestation period for those efforts to bloom into results seems to be longer than you ever thought. I have seen it happen in terms of career as well as big life events. This could be getting a new job. Or getting to a sustainable level in your entrepreneurship journey. It could be getting citizenship of the country you are craving to settle in. Even finding a life partner can sometimes take so much longer than you ever thought it would.
Most of us will have such a phase which is defined by struggling towards that one thing which always seems to be just out of reach. In due course of time, we either get to what we are aiming for or we make our peace with not getting to it. But during the journey when uncertainty is a big factor, it is a test of mental strength and just keeping your sanity in place. The very human need for closure seems to occupy all our mind space.
So, I thought I would write about some of the tricks that have helped me. While I hope you find some use for it, a selfish reason to jot it down is also for it to serve as a reminder when I might find myself in that zone, again.
1. It’s about the shots you take
Some of those things may or may not work out. But, at the end of it all, you should have the satisfaction that you tried everything possible. So, if it is a job hunt, make sure you knock at all possible doors without an ounce of hesitation.
In this regard, I am highly inspired by my friend who got married a few months back. She had been looking for the right match for years. Despite a lot of misfits and even some heartbreaks enroute, she persevered. She kept trying different platforms, keeping herself open to people and the possibility.
In all of this, your controllable remains the actions you can take. Think out-of-the-box if you have to, but do not leave a chance for regret wondering if you should have tried one thing or the other. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
2. Embrace the uncontrollable
You might find it ironic that I am following the earlier point with the acknowledgement that all such situations come with a hint of an uncontrollable aspect. You can be the most qualified candidate and have given the best interview possible. But, the company could consider you overqualified, overpaid, or even decide to promote someone internally. What do you do?
Point is that taking action and accepting the result after go hand-in-hand. My parents have often asked me after an exam, was this your best effort? If my answer is yes, then the result is easily accepted by everyone. But, if it is my controllable that could have been improved then I know I need to and more importantly, can work on it. Beyond that, you need to learn how to let go fretting about the uncontrollable and let life take it’s course.
3. Defensive pessimism vs dispositional optimism
If you have read the earlier post about optimism, then you have a fairly comprehensive idea about this mindset trait. Dispositional optimism in essence refers to a broad based mindset with the expectation that things will turn out in the right direction. Sometimes, in that pursuit, we often end up recalling junctures or forks in the journey so far and how inevitably they turned out for the better even if we had no clue of it at the time.
On the other hand, defensive pessimism is more of a tactical strategy. It is a mindset where you think of a way forward in case of a negative result for your said action. At times, it can sit for a short time on a bed of optimism as well for it comes with the hope that the same goal can be reached through different means.
What do I mean by that? For instance, when I wanted to make a shift from marketing to investment advisory I tried everything. I cold emailed a lot of wealth management firms ending up even interviewing with a few. I spoke to the team internally despite knowing that I had no experience to back myself up. When I did not get an instant positive response, I decided that I wouldn’t get an organisational switch and had started planning to give advice in a freelance manner through this blog.
4. Separate your self-worth from the outcome
When we hit against the wall of failure multiple times in pursuit of a singular goal, it is easy to blur that with our own sense of identity. Sometimes it tends to lead us questioning ourselves, am I good enough?
This tendency starts feeling so much worse when we mix it with social comparison or seldom expressed expectations. Social media doesn’t make any of it easier. While earlier it was only adept at making you feel bad about your personal goals, Linkedin fits right in to ensure your professional self doesn’t feel left out.
So, if you are in a phase where you are working towards a major goal consciously try to remember that you are a sum of many parts. One part of your life that may be taking some time to unravel takes nothing away from your awesomeness. Okay, I might just have gotten carried away and started writing to myself here. But, if this spiel works for you as well, feel free to copy it somewhere and read it out to yourself when you realise that you started blurring those boundaries.
5. Occupy your mind
This is one of those things that totally works for me. Although boredom has it’s place in triggering creativity, sometimes you need to be in a certain mindset for it. For most other times, the saying of idle mind being the devil’s workshop holds true.
A lot of the anxiety about uncertain outcomes creeps in when there is a vacuum in our mind. Fill it up with things that bring you joy and light up different parts of your brain and you will feel better. More importantly, the time where you might have otherwise spent only in the wait ends up becoming fruitful and possibly something you fondly look back on.
6. Be kind to yourself
Know that life is not a straight line. If you think you are having a bad patch, then you are bound to have better times soon enough. But, also that, such times would be taking somewhat of a toll on you.
So, be responsible to yourself to call it a time out for short breaks from the constant wheel of worry. Indulge in things you like. For some, it could be a massage which could also help relax your high-strung body that’s coping as well as it can with your mind sprinting the way it is. For some, it could be a change of scene with a holiday.
Know what works for you, and occasionally splurge as a sign to take a break from the perpetual uphill climb that you might have been hacking on.
You might think that since I blog so often I have a disposition to writing making this suggestion very selective. Although that may have a grain of truth to it, personally I have used journaling for far longer than I have written on a public forum.
I started journaling at the peak of my teens. The hand written diaries that are still stashed in some corner of my house bear witness to my use of atrocious abbreviations like u, 2, c, mayb (as if saving on one letter I was being uber cool). But, whenever I have felt a turmoil in my head I have turned to journaling for myself.
There are a few things journaling can help you with. One, it works like a purge for your head. Imagine your brain with all the negative thoughts sloshing around like a stormy sea. When you write it all out, they sort of drain out from your head atleast for some time. I often compare it to a pensieve like the one found in Harry Potter. Two, if you have some level of optimism, then you can use the journal to remind yourself that things aren’t that bad and mostly they have worked for you earlier in life. Basically, this can be your moment to be your own self-help Guru or a self-Freud if you will. Three, over time when you do tide over there will be moments in life that you will value recording those feelings. In life, it’s all relative. When you feel stuck and look back, there will be a day when you think to yourself that you have seen worse making that future scenario far more easily managed.
At the end of it all, remember everything operates in cycles. Howard Marks said it for markets.
While Lord Krishna said it in a deeper, more macro level with this quote from Bhagvad Gita – waqt achha ho ya bura, badalta zaroor hai which essentially translates to Whether you are having a good or a bad time, it’s not static.
So, whatever be your judgement of how life is treating you at any moment, remember to keep taking action, smell the roses and let go of fretting about the uncontrollable. Things will fall into place as best as they can and life will go on.
Has there been a time when there has seemed to be a long time between effort and result? How did you make it better for yourself? Let me know in the comments below.