Edited from Lifestorming by Marshall Goldsmith and Alan Weiss.
In our eagerness to succeed—perhaps the most intense type of social pressure in American society—sometimes, instead of living our real values, we adopt the values we think we’re supposed to have. For instance, when we hear that charismatic people are successful, we try to seem charismatic (even if that’s an awkward fit for our personality). Some of us try to hang onto our authenticity by describing ourselves how we want to be seen. These methods don’t work! Your belief system needs to be adjusted to what is and who you are, so that you can make decisions and take actions in the present that reflect the real you and what you’re actually doing—authentically – and that will lead you to success.
I was lucky enough to be with one of the most respected consultants in organizational change, Richard Beckhard, a couple of days before he died. Dick was a great coach and mentor to me, as well as an inspiration for many people in our field. When I last visited him, Dick knew that his life was almost over. His doctor respected him enough to let him know that he was not going to recover, and he needed to say his last farewells.
As I watched Dick answer a series of phone calls, I found him not only saying good-bye. He was continuing to help other people. I was amazed at the excitement and enthusiasm he was able to convey. He was working with people in the same caring and effective way he always had.
My first thought was, “Dick, why don’t you just let it go and take care of yourself? You’ve done enough.” Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut. Dick was still smiling, still able to laugh, still filled with passion. He knew that he wasn’t going to be around to collect the consulting fees for his final assignments. It didn’t really matter. He was still doing a great job—even from his deathbed. In that instant, I made a decision. I decided that I wanted to be like Dick Beckhard when I grew up.
I like recalling that moment, because it’s a relatively rare example of when one of my beliefs changed. People often change their beliefs about critical issues if they’re willing to listen to opposing views, even on controversial topics (yes, it can happen, even though it’s far too rare in our political discourse). Many have obviously changed their beliefs about drinking while driving, or cigarettes, or what does and does not constitute a medical disorder. But most of us hold to our beliefs even though they limit our ability to contribute, grow, and succeed.
Here’s a quick test to challenge and evaluate your beliefs:
- What are your basic beliefs about yourself; e.g., what you are great at (teaching), what you just can’t do (play an instrument), how you respond (impatient), and so forth?
- What merits reconsideration and/or change (you could take piano lessons, learn to swim better, leave your corporate job and start your own business)?
- What actions and behaviors should be modified, created, abandoned, in light of those changes (resign from a group, confront a poor relationship, make different investments)?
You probably don’t do this too often, if at all. Yet without a conscious evaluation of our beliefs, they can become sclerotic. We assume they’re true and shouldn’t change. We act, therefore, as if they are continually valid in determining our lives. But none of us is the person we were a year ago, let alone five years ago, or whenever these beliefs were inscribed in our cerebellum. In fact, one of my lines that draws the greatest acknowledgements in audiences is, “I’m constantly surprised by how stupid I was two weeks ago.”
Maybe it’s time to change our attitudes!