Sunday, June 8, 2008

Focusing on the Next Step

Today's New York Times covered Ana Ivanovic's French Open win yesterday. Last year, Ivanovic made it to the finals where she was soundly defeated by Justine Henin - and her own mental state. Her nerves undid her, as they did also this year in her Australian Open final loss to Maria Sharapova. She says:

I had a few sleepless nights after that, honestly. Part of me was already thinking about possibly holding the trophy, you know.

Then she talks about what was different for her at the French Open.

So this time, I really tried to change that and don't think about that at all and just focus on my game. There were some moments where this thought would still come up, but I managed to control it much better.

What a powerful statement of self-awareness and focus! it's a fantastic illustration of how critical it is for us to focus only on the next step in a process instead of on the result. When Ivanovic thought about the future, she was unable to be fully in the present, to keep her focus on the crucial step of playing her best game.

Fortunately for her, Ivanovic was capable of and willing to examine her losses and learn from them. Her example underscores the value of examining one's thoughts, actions and results to determine how they are all related. Ivanovic clearly identified the key thought that caused her problems, and then worked to quiet it. While she doesn't describe how she controlled her focus on holding the trophy, my guess is she refocused on being in the now and on the next action - her serve, her return, her strategy for the next shot, observing her opponent, and watching the ball's movement.

When I talk to people who hope to change jobs, I counsel them to focus on getting interviews rather than on getting a job. The interview is the next step in the process, after you identify your ideal job and crafts a resume that markets you to get such a job.

Getting the interview gives you a chance to see whether the job is actually a "right fit" for you. Too often, people dismiss a job at first glance because they don't like the job title, or they had a negative experience with a similar organization, or they assume the salary is too low - any number of reasons. However, if there was anything in the job that attracted them and nothing that specifically contradicts several of your "must have" list, I suggest that the person apply and see if s/he gets the interview. If nothing else, you can never have too many interviews. And what a great thing it is to be able to practice your interview skills for jobs you may not want or care about!

Ideally, the interview is the place to find out more about a particular job, to gather the information needed to see whether you want to continue pursuing the opportunity. Yes, the interviewers also are evaluating you and they may decide you aren't right for the job. In that case, be glad that you know now rather than continuing through a process even further. If the interviewers do want to see you again, also be glad for the chance to learn even more about the job and to further explore whether the job is a right fit.

In my experience, titles are usually negotiable, salary ranges often depend on the candidate's qualifications and can be stretched for the right person, and every organization is different with a different culture.

One person almost didn't apply for a job with an international organization because she had a disappointing experience with another one with a similar mission and name. The previous organization offered her less money than she needed and wanted, was inflexible on the title, and had a culture that was less than welcoming to her as an African-American woman.

Fortunately, she focused on simply getting an interview with the second organization. During the interview process, she got more and more excited by the position and the organization. Its culture was significantly different, its staff much more diverse, the title exactly what she wanted, and the money very close to her minimum needs. The job was a "right fit" for her, after all, and the organization felt the same about her.

When last I saw her for lunch, she was glowing. She loves her job, the people she works with, the organizational mission and culture, and her future possibilities.

She is a perfect example of how great results can happen when one focuses on the next step instead of on the possible outcome. It's incredibly powerful to stay in the now rather than dream about the future.

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