When the envelope arrived in my mail, I felt my stomach tighten.
I had turned my paper in to my graduate school advisor late, and I thought, “Well, I did the best I could under the circumstances. I probably will have a lot of critical notes.”
It was a tough time for me. I had just divorced my husband. It wasn’t a long marriage (2.5 years), but I felt the impact of the derailment. Suddenly, at 27, I was thrust from a large home with four bedrooms and three full baths into a tiny one-bedroom apartment above a retail strip in the center of a small town. I remember sitting in my little kitchen listening to the refrigerator cycle, feeling more alone than I ever had.
I had to ask my advisor for an extension on my paper because my separation was traumatic and the logistics were time-consuming. At first, he said no, then relented when I told him my situation (and told me that he remembered how painful his own divorce had been). I was grateful. Still, I thought even though he seems to show empathy, my paper was still late, and he will still automatically downgrade it.
I opened the envelope and slid the pages out.
I saw ink, and I averted my eyes. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Here it comes.” My chest was thumping.
But when I looked back, I saw it: A+. And Dr. Kenney had added a note that this was a terrific basis for my master’s thesis.
I could not believe it. I sank on the staircase leading to my apartment and cried with relief.
I did it. I actually did it. It was okay.
This isn’t the only experience I have had like this. And I’m betting right now, you are recalling moments when you underestimated yourself and were delighted when you reached a goal anyway.
It’s not unusual. We often “sell ourselves short.” And I talk to job seekers about it frequently. After feeling battered by their work environments or defeated by layoffs, people tend to feel less hope. They tend to blame themselves. And they tend to believe that they were at fault, that they are somehow less capable, and perhaps were deluded in feeling confident.
It affects their success in marketing themselves. It affects their motivation. It colors their demeanor.
So, I got to thinking: What if we tried something different? What if decided to skip the stress of wondering if we are worthy, and simply assumed we are?
What if, even before the test started, we gave ourselves an A?
I began thinking about this while reading a great book, The Art of Possibility, co-authored by Benjamin Zander, founding conductor of the Boston Philharmonic recipient of the United Nations’ Caring Citizen of the Humanities Award; and Rosamund Stone Zander a family therapist and executive coach (and painter) who is a pioneer in the field of leadership and relationship. The maestro, who also has taught at the New England Conservatory of Music, tells how he transformed the boosted his students’ results and success by telling them that at the beginning of the semester, that they all had an A.
As Zander shares, when you give yourself an “A,” you give yourself permission to dream, take risks, and embrace the potential for growth and learning. You free yourself from the fear of failure and the constraints of self-judgment, allowing yourself to explore new avenues.
You create a positive expectation and a sense of empowerment.
The book is about the lessons gleaned from the transformative power of music and the arts, and this particular point is instructive.
Imagine yourself looking for a job. You probably are nervous about the job market, worried you don’t meet enough of the requirements for roles you are interested in, and feeling judged before you even get to the interview.
You aren’t expecting the best from yourself, and it’s a heavy lift to get motivated.
So, do this:
→ Spend time reviewing your accomplishments and defining the value you bring to the industry.
→ Now, take a breath and say, “I give myself an ‘A.’ I got this. I’m brimming with tools that can help employers, and I’m going to talk to them, learn about them, and offer to help. Because I really know what I’m doing. If one company isn’t ready for my help, another one will be.”
Because—trust me—someone out there needs you.
It’s just a matter of finding the right match.
Job hunting takes resilience, and rejection can feel personal. It can be tough to grade yourself high all the time. But revisiting your value and repeating the steps above can help you reboot each time you approach a new prospective employer.
I use this approach with my clients.
I ask them to take a moment and see themselves as consultants in their field vetting new possible gigs. I encourage them to flip their thoughts from, “Will they like me?” to “I wonder how I might be able to help them,” and operate from a place of service, within the power they know they have, to form new business relationships with their interviewers.
When Ben Zander gave his students an “A,” amazing things happened. Students concentrated fully on their performance skills and explored interpretations and methods in braver ways. Released from worry about their grades, many performed brilliantly.
Their positive perspective grew in them a sense of possibility. I know it can do the same for you.