It was probably the most unexpected telephone call of my professional life. “Is this Mr. Jeff Renner?” Yes, I answered. “This is the White House. We’d like to invite you to visit us next Tuesday to meet with cabinet officers and advisors, and then for a personal interview with the President in the Rose Garden”.
Now I like to pull practical jokes on friends. I thought this was a friend getting even with me. I was certain it was a prank. Until it became obvious it wasn’t. Was I excited about the invitation? Absolutely! Was I nervous? Of course I was!
We recently celebrated Saint Patrick’s day, and one of the most enduring icons of the holiday (pictured almost as frequently as the great man himself), is the image of a Leprechaun guarding a pot of gold (excuse me, ‘pot o’ gold’) at the end of the rainbow. That treasure is as elusive as the end of the rainbow or the mischievous little bearded men themselves. But what happens when you encounter the proverbial ‘pot o’ gold’ in your professional or personal life? The human tendency is to experience self-doubt, what psychologists call the ‘imposter syndrome’.
According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of us-yes, seventy percent-feel our past successes were flukes, undeserved, an accident…effectively sabotaging our ability to meet a challenge with confidence. Ironically, the more you’ve achieved, the more you challenge yourself, the more likely you are to at least occasionally feel like an imposter. If you belong to this ‘society of self-doubters’, you have plenty of company, including the over-achiever of all time-Leonardo da Vinci. He was known to throw up his hands and exclaim-‘tell me if I ever did a thing’!
How do you handle such self-limiting thoughts? I matched the RSVP I gave to the White House in accepting their invitation to interview then-President Barack Obama with the RSVP techniqueI continue to use to prepare for challenging assignments.
‘R’-Research and Recognize. Research the task as thoroughly as possible, what’s needed to succeed…and also recognize your past successes in accepting challenges similar to the one at hand.
‘S’-Segment the task for Success. Break the task into smaller components. Tackle each one individually. Enlist guidance and support from your circle of trusted friends and advisors. Welcome critiques, but avoid ‘Eeyores’-those people, who like the donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories, tend to see the rain but not the rainbow.
‘V’-Visualize. Visualize in detail each aspect of performing the task and achieving your goal. Visualize success in each detail, no matter how small; and continue until you make it a habit. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
‘P’-Practice. Practice, practice and practice some more…and make it as realistic as possible. Practice doesn’t make perfect…perfect practice makes perfect!
On the days before the interview-on the plane, in my hotel room, just prior to the interview-I worked through each of these steps; repeatedly visualizing mentally or practicing physically.
Was I still a bit nervous when my name was called to meet with the President? Yes, but when I walked from the Palm Room to the Rose Garden, I had a sense of preparation, of readiness, of competency. Neuroscientists confirm that mental practice does transfer to physical performance. I experienced that in my interview with the President.
Thorough research, segmentation of the task, visualization and practice will give you the tools to meet your challenges. And if the unexpected arises, the foundation built by this RSVP approach will allow you to respond with spontaneity and skill. So when an unexpected ‘pot o’ gold’ appears in your life, no mischievous ‘leprechaun’ will be able to block you from claiming it. It will be yours!