Paula was offered a position as the associate director of a very specialized singing voice research lab in a state university in the US. As a young Portuguese researcher and opera singer who’d gotten her Ph.D. in the UK, she found the opportunity fabulous.
Although she loved Portugal, her ambitious, cross-disciplinary research had no place there. This position in an American university would allow her to investigate the intersection of biology, the singing voice, and culture. She’d have the platform, the resources, and the support. She’d grow as a researcher and an academic.
But she bailed out.
She was flown in, all-expenses paid, from Oporto for a personal interview with the committee. She showed up in jeans and ‘comfy’ mary-janes and during the interview, started listing her fears: she’d be all alone, she didn’t like the town where the school was, she didn’t like American food.
She got the offer a few weeks later, over the phone, while she and I were having dinner in Madrid. The salary had been slashed in $20,000 and instead of the associate director, she’d be the assistant director.
Paula turned down the offer citing the pay cut and the demotion as reasons. But she’d made up her mind way before getting the call. She’d decided she wasn’t ready for the responsibility when she showed up dressed as a college girl to a career-defining interview in academia.
She’d decided not to stretch herself.
We think we’ll be able (and willing) to do whatever it takes to succeed, but then when “whatever it takes” entails things that are uncomfortable, risky, scary, or difficult, we’re tempted to bail out. But we don’t want to admit we’re quitting, so we self-sabotage.
I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.
I’ve shown up late to an important interview because I was scared. I’ve given a sloppy presentation because I was scared. I haven’t dressed the part for a high-stakes meeting because I was scared. The list is long.
What have you done that hurt the odds of getting what you wanted?
Eve Fairbanks explains in this piece on the Washington Post how learning to surf taught her to make choices. “At one point,” she says, “I had to decide to stay upright on my surfboard.” Because there’s no other way you can learn how to surf.
And there’s no way you can grow or become a leader if you avoid stretching yourself into uncomfortable, risky, scary, or difficult things.