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Dealing Yourself the Best Cards in Life and Work: Attitude

The authors of "It's Your Move: Dealing Yourself the Best Cards in Life and Work" provide some tips on how attitude can affect your success and happiness.
This chapter is from the book


SUCCESS CARD 6: Shine Through

Frances was a single woman in her early forties, a large woman with a giggle that children loved. Although she lived at home with her parents, she maintained a large, active network of former business school friends and their families, whom she visited often. When their children would ask her why she wasn't married, Frances would laugh and say that the right man hadn't come along. Visits from Frances were greatly anticipated. She always brought small toys, her own hand-crafted items and, best of all, pastry samples from the Lucky Boy Bakery where she worked as a secretary. On summer visits, she found time to make sand pancakes with the kids in the sandbox, infecting everyone with her humor and positive attitude about life. During Frances' visits, busy mothers relaxed, sat down, conversed, and laughed more too. To her friends, Frances was an angel of sorts—a giver of laughter and love.

Then one day, Frances announced that she had met someone, a bachelor sheep farmer named Richard, whom she immediately dubbed "Dickie Lee" because in her world, everyone had a nickname. A new chapter of Frances' life began, and, although the farm was small and poor, her attitude prevailed. She named each newborn lamb and cried over any that died. Her letters to friends were filled with lists of newborn lambs by name. During those years, Frances and Dick invited the friends' children to visit and help with the lambs; the children loved their visits because of the attention they received and the grown-up responsibilities of farm chores.

They were married only ten years when Dick died of cancer. Alone on the farm, Frances faced invading raccoons, weather tragedies, and a changing market for the sheep. Finally, after many years of adversity, she moved back to town and painted ceramics to earn extra income. Many of the grown-up children who visited her during that time observed that, even as an old woman, she still had a "shine": the same great giggle and the attitude that infected them years ago. What was it? Frances' shine was a sincere, unstoppable positive approach to life.

If you had met Frances, you would not have had to guess about her life philosophy. It was evident in simple, observable ways. There was just no doubt that she lived life with a positive spin. To play the attitude hand successfully—to communicate a positive, confident attitude clearly through your behavior so that it is immediately evident—is also your goal. Others will see it. You will gain momentum from it. Day in and day out, you will shine through, no matter how cloudy the weather.

Linda's Move Energized by her decision to start her own recruiting business, Linda called a former co-worker who still worked at the agency where Linda had worked fifteen years ago. Expecting her friend to be happy and supportive, Linda was surprised when, instead, her friend cautioned her against it. The economy was awful, business was down, and hiring was also down. Linda had hoped her former employer would be her first client, but now her hopes were dashed. As the day continued, she called other old contacts; many said they were afraid for their own jobs and remarked how brave she was to be starting out on her own. Between each call, she would take a deep breath, drum up a smile in her voice, and proceed. After all, this was her dream, her goal! Finally, around 4:30 P.M., after several forwarding numbers, she contacted Joe, an engineer she had placed years ago on a development project. Joe had been busy. He now owned his own engineering firm, and yes, he would love to talk to her about recruiting because he didn't have anyone who could devote enough time to it. Thrilled, Linda set the appointment to meet with Joe the next week.

Like Linda, you too, could have faced a day when nothing seems to go right. These days often start at home. You forget to set your alarm. You spill jelly on your shirt. Your child needs three permission slips signed immediately. You get all the red lights on the way to work. You arrive to find you're late for the early bird meeting. Later, on voice mail, your internist's nurse has called to say that the doctor would like to schedule more tests. Then your supervisor steps in to say, "Due to cutbacks, we'd like you to take on Donald's workload this week until we figure something else out." Or worse, "I'm sorry, but due to cutbacks, we're not going to be able to keep you."

How, you could be wondering, can I possibly have a positive attitude at the end of a day like that? Or maybe you're remembering a day that was much like it. Actually, it's not as difficult as it seems to adjust your attitude if you can get in the habit of taking specific mental, physical, and even verbal actions throughout the day. To shine through all your days, no matter how tough they are, try these simple steps:

  1. Pause and take a deep breath while counting to ten. This brings oxygen to your brain so that you can think; counting helps control your emotions.

  2. List either mentally or out loud all of the things you're thankful for in your life. Begin with the most immediate and keep going as long as you can.

  3. Stand up and walk or stretch. Physical activity distracts you from mental trauma.

  4. Do something positive for yourself. Call a friend, hug a child, write a quick note, look at a cherished photo—anything immediately easy to do.

  5. Begin again. This step is perhaps the most important for successful attitude adjustment. You've got to consciously begin again, or feelings of self-pity will reemerge. It's like trying to hold a beach ball under water; you have to keep applying pressure or it bounces back.

This five-step process helps you put your situation into perspective with what's really important to you in life. Putting things in perspective gives you a more realistic sense of comparison. It helps you adjust your attitude.

"I appreciated clutter."

The other evening I caught myself. I came home from a long day and paused in the entryway—not because I wanted to but because I could barely get into my house. There were two skateboards, ten pairs of shoes, three scooters, five types of balls, three backpacks, a lunch bag, a coat, and three T-shirts. Now, I have only two children. I was just about ready to yell when an older neighbor's words went through my mind. "They grow up so fast," she said, as she reviewed their college choices with me. She even went as far as saying she missed the Lego blocks of their childhood lying around. So even though my entry was more like an "enter-at-risk" way, I paused, exhaled, moved a skateboard, and called out, "I'm home!"

Sarah, public relations executive

Frances, Linda, and Sarah each adjusted their attitude so that their behavior reflected their most important values. Deceptively simple everyday activities—attending to others' children, making one more phone call, or pausing in a doorway—allowed them to shine through life's difficulties. You, too, can adjust your thoughts and behaviors to make your life more positive every day.

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