“You can’t do it.” “You’re crazy.” “You aren’t smart enough.” “You’re different and you don’t belong.” “It will never happen.” “Why do you want to do that?”
Those are just a few of the discouraging things that have been said to me on my journey as a change leader and barrier breaker. It’s likely some of those things — maybe even worse — have been said to you.
Take comfort in knowing that you must be onto something big if people are dishing discouraging, um, “stuff” at you. Why? Because the status quo always puts people into a box. That’s how people in control maintain their control.
When you start thinking bigger than that box, they will do things to keep you in it. Sometimes, even well-intentioned people can say discouraging things, partly because they’re afraid they’ll be left behind as you pursue your big ideas.
Some discouragement may be subtler. For example, someone may say he didn’t “think you would be interested” in a new opportunity, when it’s clear that you would be. Or, the person may claim “I don't really understand what you're saying” when it’s obvious that he does.
These are all roundabout ways of saying, “You are different and you are crazy.” Interestingly, these same people will jump on the bandwagon once you become successful and may even try to claim some of the credit.
Out of the blue
Sometimes negative comments come when you least expect them. While you may be caught off guard, you still can regain some control by trying to figure out what’s behind the words of discouragement or criticism.
For example, people may discourage you because they are jealous of your ambition or don’t want you to pass them by. It’s not that you can’t do it — it’s just that they can’t put aside their own pettiness or insecurities to root for you. When I told people I wanted to run a business — when almost all of my career had been spent in IT — people laughed because they thought I was kidding.
When they realized I was serious, many said discouraging things. Was it difficult? Yes. But things worked out for me and I wound up running a couple billion-dollar businesses.
That’s why I’d like to share four tips, based on my experiences, for handling negative comments directed your way.
Be courageous. You may not always be aware you’re impressing others with your dreams and ideas, but you are. Perhaps they were once in your shoes or they simply support your reasons for change. Change leaders need to be courageous and that begins with dreaming and speaking big when people are criticizing you. Remember: Change leaders will always be criticized before they are congratulated.
Stay focused. If you focus on the negative things being said, you take your eyes off your goals. Learn to brush off hurtful words by taking the mindset of “I don’t mind, because you don’t matter.”
Take control. There will be times when it’s necessary to change your environment and leave discouraging people behind to pursue your goals. Consider the saying, “If you want to see where you’re going, all you have to do is look at who you are hanging around.” This means you have to take control of your life and career. Don’t turn it over to others to manage. If you know that people in your current environment won’t change their mindset, then change your environment.
Be tenacious. In one instance, I went back to a person in power five times before I got what I wanted. Once he saw that I wasn’t going away, he started working with me. The key is that I was never belligerent, just persistent.
The quickest way you can tell you are onto something big is that people will say stuff to you. They do it because you are stepping out of their comfort zone, as well as your own. It takes focus and courage not to let the discouraging words stop you. Take comfort in knowing that if you are persistent and resilient, you will have a breakthrough because there are people out there who are willing to sponsor and support you.
Let’s continue breaking barriers and making a difference in the organizations we work for and in the lives of others.
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.