I started my career in corporate at a young age, and I must say that at that moment, I didn’t have a clue about what it really takes to be successful and climb the corporate ladder. As a Latina, born in Colombia, I grew up believing that being “perfect” was an expectation for success. This pressure made me work harder at my job, spend less time with my family, and sacrifice my health to achieve an unrealistic version of myself.
Being a perfectionist and trying to be a superwoman was evidenced in my everyday habits at work. I set extraordinarily high goals for myself and constantly worried about measuring up to those goals. I hardly ever enjoyed my successes and always believed that I could have done a better job. It was difficult for me to delegate, and I had a tremendous tendency to be a micromanager. I stayed later than the rest of the team, and I assumed that having hobbies and downtime was wasteful, so I never prioritized these things.
If you ask me now, I will tell you that I was very successful—at least, if we go by the definition that society usually associates with success. I had an executive job at a Fortune 500 company, traveled the world, and made good money. But the reality was that I was exhausted and drained: I felt empty and stuck. I was dealing with many health issues, tremendous pressure to get results, and was still trying my best to keep my teams engaged. I was recognized as a high achiever, but at the same time, I was feeling burned out.
That’s when I decided that I had to make a bold move and do something different. I reached out to an executive coach. During the strategy call, she explained what her services were, and immediately afterward I started looking for excuses to not engage with her. She calmly responded with, “Only when you lose that scarcity mindset will you be able to move forward.”
It was shocking for me to hear that. Scarcity mindset? What was that all about? Little did I know that her comment was going to be the catalyst for my most important career shifts a few years later.
But why? Why did she tell me that I had a scarcity mindset? I later discovered that she saw that I had a tremendous fear of not having enough, which in turn made me a prisoner of my career as it was. I wasn’t taking many risks and was allowing myself to be comfortable with my status quo because I was afraid of getting out of my comfort zone and losing everything that I had built. I could lose my job, and the job market wasn’t at its best at that moment—I was paralyzed with thoughts about the possibility of failing. Becoming an entrepreneur and doing what I loved was not even a possibility for me to consider.
I started researching and reading about mindset and neuroscience, and it was fascinating. As an engineer, I found it liberating to discover the root cause of most of the things that were happening in my life and my career, even more so when I discovered that I had the ability to make a change and live a life more aligned with my vision and values.
I was able to understand that doing more of what I was already doing was not going to lead me to my next level of success. In fact, the very habits that had led me to where I was were holding me back from attaining the level of accomplishment and fulfillment that I wanted to achieve—because, as I discovered, one of the most important qualities that propels high achievers forward is their mindset.
But what is mindset? In a nutshell, mindset is the underlying igniter of success, and our beliefs fuel our mindset.
A growth mindset is a concept coined by Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist. It assumes that everyone has the ability to grow and improve themselves through experience, practice, and even failure. In contrast, an individual with a fixed mindset supposes that their own basic abilities, creative skill, and intelligence are fixed traits. The “I am who I am” phrase is often linked to someone with a fixed mindset. We’ve probably all been guilty of thinking this way, at times, but that does not mean we cannot change our mindset.
Another important concept I learned about is the application of the law of cause and effect to mindset, which says that our results are nothing more than the quality of our thinking.
Let’s pose a simple example: Someone is interested in applying for a job that is their dream job based on the description, but they believe that they are not good enough, and thus, they think, “Why would I apply for that job if I don’t have a chance? I don’t meet all its requirements!”
Then they start procrastinating and finding excuses to convince themselves that not applying to the job is the best thing to do. That person feels stuck and anxious, but they don’t take action because they let their inner voice take control. As a result, they stay at their job, even if it is not fulfilling. Sadly, the consequence of that kind of thinking is that many of us often lose out on good opportunities, and therefore end up not advancing or moving up the executive ladder.
Do you recognize that scenario? Let me give you another example. You hear that to advance in your career, you need to talk about your achievements. You believe that you shouldn’t talk about what you accomplish because it could be perceived as bragging; you think that people should notice you for your hard work. Nothing could be more wrong than that assumption. To advance in your career, you need to build a personal brand and let your network know what makes you unique and what your valuable contributions are. That’s how the next big opportunity will come.
I have coached women who come to me because they feel that their time management skills and prioritization need improvement. When we do the time assessment exercise and pinpoint their time wasters, we usually find that their belief that they have to be perfect and do everything on their own is impacting how quickly they deliver. They keep reviewing things multiple times, which limits their time to do other things.
When I connected the dots and became aware of how my beliefs were holding me back from having the success I wanted, I made a significant shift in managing my career.
So, how do you build a winning mindset to finally experience the success you want in your life and in your career? Here are some ways to begin:
Learn to listen to your inner voice and the feelings you are having. Is that voice getting you pumped up, making you feel creative and energized? Or is it making you feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed? Are you procrastinating or taking action?
Journal, reflect, and ask yourself: What’s the belief about yourself or the environment that’s triggering your inner voice?
Usually, the beliefs that lead us to a state of suffering are not true. Find a way to reframe the belief and think about what your experience has shown you to be true. For example, the phrase “I am not an early morning person” can be reframed to “When I have something that motivates me, I can easily get up early.”
Visualize Your Ideal
Think about the person you want to become, the career you want to have, or the life you want to live. Whether this means becoming more assertive in a corporate environment or wanting to become more physically active, imagining the ideal version of yourself will allow you to get in the right direction.
Don’t Let Your Beliefs Get in the Way
If you use statements such as “I’m not creative” or “I usually procrastinate,” then you are unintentionally setting yourself up for failure. Instead of listening to these beliefs, replace “I’m not ready” with “I’ll give it a try.” James Clear, a New York Times bestselling author, wrote, “The biggest difference I’ve noticed between successful people and unsuccessful people isn’t intelligence or opportunity or resources. It’s the belief that they can make their goals happen.”
And remember, you don’t need to be perfect—just be courageous, even if you feel fear, and take action to go after your goals.
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The original version of this interview appeared in Hispanic Executive