This has happened to most of us: While sitting in a window seat on an airplane at the gate, the plane at the adjacent gate begins to back out onto the tarmac. For a second, there is a momentary feeling of panic that your plane is slowly rolling forward toward a crash into the terminal building. Our minds take our own position as the frame of reference and the rest happens automatically. The term “relativity” makes us think of Einstein, but the term came into use centuries earlier with another smart guy, Galileo. He described it using the model of a ship: traveling at a constant speed on a smooth sea, any observer doing physical experiments below deck would not be able to tell if the ship were moving or standing still. All the laws of physics would apply in that space, the “inertial reference plane,” the same as on land. This phenomenon applies to areas outside of the physical realm as well.
Moving toward an important goal, such as a search for employment, it is sometimes difficult to know if we are moving or if our environment is changing. Actually, both are usually true. There are several factors that can shift focus toward reality relative to reality.
- Don’t do stupid stuff. Actions on the part of a job seeker that proves focus on self over all else is usually crystal clear to everyone except for the person doing it. I love clueless rants on some of the job seeker “feedback” sites: “I tried wearing a tie to the interview and I tried not wearing a tie. What are these people looking for?” Well for one thing, the tie is the least of your worries if that is your frame of reference. You could probably figure out their needs if you would stop focusing on your own ideas and pay attention.
- Observed behavior of employers is confusing without taking a big picture approach. It is disappointing to hear that someone else got your dream job, but how many others were in the chase? If they interviewed five people for the position, you were obviously not the first choice: you had a 20% probability of success. If there were 100 applicants for the position, you already hit the lottery by getting an interview: you had a 1% chance of being the one chosen. The stakes are high… your life. See the whole framework and stack the deck by improving your odds.
- Setbacks may actually be an indication of forward progress. You know one more thing than you knew before this experience. If you learn from it, you have moved ahead. If not, your framework is out of focus. It may really be someone else’s bias that cheated you, but if you don’t entertain the possibility that you too could have done something differently you are cheating yourself. Blaming yourself is self defeating, but excusing a setback by always blaming others is unrealistic and denying other possible realities.
- Inflation of the appearance of minor successes may actually be a false reality. Sometimes we hear information that reinforces only what we want to hear and not reality. Everybody in an interview gave you positive feedback. Regardless of the outcome, you have prepared well and done a good job. There is reason to be positive, but others may have done well also. Sending a follow-up letter or email thanking the interviewers may have no bearing on the final outcome, but it is one more step to bring everything into true focus.
Pretend for a second that Einstein’s theory that even the yardstick can change length is false. Good old Galileo proved that with an independent frame of reference you can measure relative progress. Make a plan, determine the timing of achieving your goals, and then work that plan to completion. You have no control over outside influences, but you do have the ability to measure yourself as you go and make corrections.
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