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Is Your Imagination Short-Circuiting Your Career Confidence

assumptions career career change confidence imagination

A little girl cries. The teacher fails her drawing assignment with a red cross through her treasured landscape. 

She trembles, ‘why?’

‘Silly girl, you know the sky is not orange, it is blue. Grass is green, not yellow. Clouds are white, not purple,’ insists her teacher.

‘But sunset is my favourite time,’ she responds. Another wall goes up on the boundaries of her imagination.

When our imagination leaves us around 4th grade as studies indicate, what happens to it? It sits there waiting for an opportunity. It’s there, alive and well, but it has changed teams. It’s no longer for us, it’s against us.

Legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant started me thinking this. Last week I didn’t know who he was. I don’t follow any game with an offside rule. I just don’t get it. Last week I was listening to a podcast called Big Questions with Cal Fussman and I was introduced to Kobe Bryant who told this story.

Image: Shutterstock

At 4 years old, his mother enrols young Kobe in karate. He’s a white belt. He shows promise. They pair him up to fight an 8-year-old brown belt. Terrified he falls to the mat sobbing. His mum said ‘boy you better get out there’. He did. The older kid won. 

Let’s pick up the story in Kobe’s words, coming home in the car….

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. At that age, imagination gets the best of you and your imagination actually creates greater fear than any man or anything can. Because if you lose control of your imagination it will allow you to think of all the worst things that can possibly happen. You wind up losing before you even start.”

That’s it I thought. That’s the missing part of the equation. For many years I’ve been dispelling the conventional wisdom that working on your confidence as a pathway to success is plain bad advice.

You hear it all the time. 

‘Just need to work on improving my confidence then I'm more likely to be successful.’

My experience has always been that

Confidence does not create success. Success creates confidence. 

Small success comes from a willingness to fail. It’s a numbers game. Ask Thomas Edison. You gain experience from trying and failing and sometimes succeeding. This experience banks itself as knowledge. This knowledge gives you the confidence to try again. This is the virtuous circle of success. 

If you don't take this path of acquiring knowledge as the path to confidence, there remains one alternative to fill the space of experience. As much as nature abhors a vacuum, we abhor a gap in our knowledge. Imagination - low cost and no effort - rushes in to fill the void … and that is very dangerous. 

Imagination has a way of getting out of control. The longer we hang onto unfounded fears, the greater those fears become. As Kobe Bryant said, ‘you wind up losing before you even start.’

This model below shoes it nicely. Beware your imagination as it will quickly short-circuit your career success.

The quickest way to see this in action is to stop and think what assumptions you have been making. Assumptions aka. mental shortcuts. Your imagination is like oxygen for assumptions. You haven’t experienced what you are assuming, therefore you have no real lived knowledge, so you can only imagine how it must be.

I used to make so many assumptions about my career options. I’m not educated enough, I’m connected enough, the timing is wrong, I should be earning more by now. When I challenged these assumptions they all crumbled.  When they crumbled I moved forward. So much so that I set out to banish assumptions. It has become one of the three central pillars of my career strategy that I teach others. 

One of the worst ways we self-sabotage ourselves with our imagination is by comparing ourselves to other people. Because we don’t the full story, in fact, we can’t know because we don’t have crystal balls to see into the future, we fill in the gaps in this story we concoct about how someone else is better, fitter, stronger, smarter, richer, luckier than us, we fill in the gaps with our imagination and as Kobe Bryant said, we end up losing before we even start.

So the upside of listening to Kobe Bryant’s story is that you probably have way more imagination than you think. The downside is it is out to get you. 

So ask yourself, am I making assumptions that are self-sabotaging my career, my relationships, my opportunities? Being unhappy at work is not a life sentence. Have you or members of your team got a career strategy? 



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