Paul Bloom recently wrote a cool article for The Atlantic titled “Stop Being So Self-Conscious: It may make you happier”. He used social psychology research to argue that other people don’t pay as much attention to you as you think. And that can be liberating.
What does that have to do with your career? If you’re frustrated in your current role, and you’re seeking a new one, you might think you’re stuck because you somehow messed something up. You almost certainly haven’t.
Everyone has their own stuff going on. Whenever anything happens to anyone, at any time, their first thought is, “What does this mean for me?” We’re the stars of our own movie. It’s unavoidable.
Bloom writes that people become self-conscious, because they think other people pay attention to, and remember, their screw-ups. And that pretty much doesn’t happen. Life goes on, and people remain consumed by their own issues.
Sure, it’s awesome to not screw up. It’s awesome to feel like you’re knocking it out of the park all day, every day. That’s not going to happen.
If you’re really afraid of screw-ups, the best you can do is shut up. Stay silent. Stay invisible. It’s hard to mess up when you’re barely there. But know that you’re mortgaging your future career advancement for a trivial amount of peace in the present.
Imagine the other extreme. What if no one ever pays attention to you? What if their own issues keep them from noticing you, even when you’re doing good work? Shouldn’t you be worried about that possibility?
I don’t think so. I think you’re getting the best of both worlds. For those times where you weren’t at your best…leave it behind. No one else is going to remember it. And if they do remember it, it won’t be the existential failure that you’ve internalized.
But if you’re having crazy success, you can get other people’s attention. The way you get attention is through story. Communicate why what you’re doing makes their lives better. Communicate why what you’re doing solves a frustrating problem.
Telling a story might require a bit of production. You might have to stand up in a meeting, or in an executive’s office, or in the break room. But you’re in control. For the most part, you decide what you share, and when you share it.
Sharing the good things is something you can manage. Sharing the bad things doesn’t have to happen. People will forget those, including you, if you can get out of your own head. But the successes…it’s up to you to frame those and pitch them in a way that suits you best.
You’re not the center of attention…unless you want to be. Pick those times when getting attention is most helpful to you. Use those times to your advantage.
The rest of the time? Enjoy the fact that everyone is distracted with their own concerns.