“It is not your aptitude, it’s your attitude”. How many times have you heard that phrase? I can’t remember exactly how many times I have heard the phrase repeated but I know it has to be over 500 times. I have heard the phrase proclaimed from the pulpit, broadcasted from TV, shared in the classroom, popularized in books and admonished at home. It was a mantra that most leaders touted to the masses and the mantra promoted on billboards. In the 80s and even in some circles today, it was the “in” phrase, the buzz phrase, used by motivators, teachers, preachers and anybody in authority. And even those who had never been in corporate America or in leadership positions had their own way of sharing the same advice. They would tell us to “watch yourself” and all of us, especially my friends, knew what those 2 words meant. Although our parents and grandparents never worked in Corporate America, they had wisdom; they understood the “system” without ever working in the system. They had gained insight from years of working around the movers and shakers and their advice was always helpful, strategic, and relevant.
I knew having a good attitude was important. When I started my career in corporate America, I was told that my attitude would determine my altitude, my future. I was told, but really warned: if you want to climb the corporate ladder, watch your disposition and monitor your behavior. And since there were few women and even fewer African Americans in the pharmaceutical industry in the 1980s, I was given a few more instructions about having and displaying a good attitude. Due to socially accepted sexism and racism in the 1980’s, there were a few more rules for me to follow, and a few more ways for me to display a “good attitude”. Because of who I was and because of who society thought I was or really convinced I was, I had to do some extra stuff to prove that my attitude was positive. For some reason, it was my responsibility to make sure others felt comfortable being around me even though it was one of me and hundreds of them. Trust me, I felt the pressure.
I must admit that having a good attitude was pretty confusing for a young 22-year old woman entering the corporate world. My entrance was made even harder by the advice I received from my white male mentors who sometimes gave contradictory advice. I was warned to be visible but not too vocal. Of course, I had no idea what “too vocal” meant. I was told to stand out but not too much. Huh? What did that mean? I was told to smile but not to show too many teeth. I practiced smiling hundreds of times but I never understood how wide was too wide. I was taught how to dress and how to look confident but not too cocky around the powerbrokers. I was even admonished to watch my speech patterns and to shy away from any “black talk”, which was their way of me reminding me never to use slang.
You know that last admonition especially got under my skin, and of course, I was deeply offended. I wanted to say “man, I am a recent college graduate but I am not a fool. I am a black woman in America and I have been taught, really drilled, on how to navigate around society’s myopic beliefs since I was born”. I also wanted to ask “do you give the white women the same insulting instructions, or just me?” But I kept quiet; I listened and took notes.
I was given a litany of unofficial “I will deny it if you ever mention it” lists, of do’s and don’ts to ensure that I was perceived by the decision makers as having a “good attitude”. In so many ways and in so many words, I was cautioned, but sometimes I felt as if I was threatened, about my attitude. It was clear that my attitude could be my greatest asset or my Achilles heel; in my case, my attitude was both.
I can’t really say that I heeded all of the advice of my mentors until I reached my late twenties. I was an idealist because my parents raised me to believe that I had unlimited potential and that I should never settle for mediocrity. They taught me to never live my life based on limits established by OTHERS, and so I worked my butt off. I was optimistic, impressionable and determined. I really thought my education and expertise would be enough to move up the corporate ladder. I believed that my proficiency and competency would be recognized and rewarded with big raises, huge bonuses and coveted promotions. Boy, was I wrong! My skills were applauded, but it was my spirit, but really how my spirit was perceived, that limited my ascension. No, it was not my talent that stunted my success, it was my temperament, but really their perception of my temperament, that caused my advancement delays. It was the perceptions of people who didn’t know how to deal with difference and diversity that hindered my career. But that’s another book right?
I tried to have the “right attitude”. I was friendly and I was approachable. I laughed at all of the jokes, attended all of the unofficial, but official, gatherings and played the political games. I tried to fit in even though it was obvious that my gender and color disqualified me from certain conversations and barred me from certain positions. However, I was allowed to exist, albeit marginally, in some corporate circles. But that’s another story too. I will say more about those experiences in my next book.
But over the years, what I learned was that having a “good attitude” was totally subjective; there was not one definition or standard that applied to all organizations. The lack of consistency and the ambiguity made having or portraying a “good attitude” tough or nearly impossible. And most of all, the inconsistency made attempting to convey positivity emotionally draining; it was a struggle. Because really, how could I comply with a definition that was ambiguous, mutable and subject to the whims of observers who didn’t know me or more importantly, who really didn’t know themselves? Hard question, right?
So, how do we know if our attitudes are positive, especially since what is appreciated and acceptable in one organization is a CLIM (career limiting move) in another? How do we navigate corporate cultures and office politics so that we are viewed as receptive, pleasant, collaborative and approachable? How do we present ourselves in the most positive light to potential investors, potential clients and potential business partners?
I wish I knew all of the answers but I don’t. But almost 30 years in corporate America have taught me one important lesson: don’t worry so much about what’s going on around you, be more concerned about what’s going on in you. Yes, monitor your spirit because your spirit is the only thing that you can control. It’s the only thing that you can truly manage and protect– for better or worse. It the only thing that you can shift and adjust to accommodate situations and circumstances. Your spirit and the responsibility of your spirit is yours and yours alone.
So in the midst of inconsistent definitions and subjective standards, how do we make sure we develop and maintain “good attitudes”? How do we project a spirit of positivity and abundance so that we attract wealth, nurture healthy relationships, allow space for love, encourage collaboration and welcome support? In others words, how do we cultivate positive attitudes despite the vicissitudes of life that allow us to soar?
I believe that there are 3 main ways. First, I believe having a positive attitude is a result of knowing who you are as a person; knowing who you really are at your spiritual core. I believe that having a positive attitude comes from a deep-rooted knowing that you are amazing, accomplished and armed for victory, achievement and significance. It comes from a deep knowing in the pit of your stomach that you are destined for greatness, and understanding that your greatness is not predicted nor defined by profits, promotions, positions, possessions and people.
I also believe having a positive attitude comes from knowing that no one determines your greatness; only you do. And that knowing liberates you from changing and contorting your spirit to fit societal norms that are limiting at best, and confining at worse. Trust me, when we truly know our value and when we like ourselves, accept ourselves, and celebrate ourselves, we have an inner joy that is unspeakable, untouchable, and unparalleled. Now how is that for a positive attitude? A positive attitude is a result of YOU knowing YOU!
The second way to ensure that we have a positive attitude is to know our purpose, our divine WHY? When we are clear about our divine WHY, our divine assignment, we feel courageous enough to accept our divine missions; we feel guided. We feel a “drawing” or a pull in our spirits, and if we follow that pull, we feel totally aligned and congruent with God’s plan for our lives. And because we feel focused, directed and engaged, we naturally become more enthusiastic, emboldened and energized about life. We invest in ourselves, we commit to oursevles and most of all, we understand ourselves. We don’t feel as if we are floundering, scattered, mismatched and out of sync with our very souls. We feel relevant, real, relaxed and ready to pursue our God-given agendas with vigor because we know that we are following God’s will for our lives. I truly believe that feeling connected and actively engaged in our divine purpose, our divine WHY, satisfies a deep longing in our souls; that satisfaction is the origin of a positive attitude. A positive attitude comes from knowing and living your divine WHY!
Finally, I believe having a positive attitude emanates from God. Even though we may have or use different names to describe the Spirit, God is the author and creator of everything. To me, God is! And God gave all of us a promise: that we would be the head and never the tail. Knowing and believing that we will be elevated, empowered and positioned for the best of what God has in store for us, if we are willing to accept it, guarantees a positive life, and consequently a positive attitude. (Just for the record, I didn’t say an easy, stress-free life). Knowing that God is in us, with us and goes before us reminds us that we are not alone as we travel on this journey called life. A positive attitude comes from knowing that God IS and from knowing that you are.
Earl Nightingale said it best: “Attitude is not the result of success; success is the result of a great attitude”. So have a great attitude! Know who you are, accept your divine assignment, but most of all, believe in your God-given promise. Go, grow and live your life without the demands, dictates and directions of those who may never appreciate you, applaud you or even acknowledge you. Develop and maintain a positive attitude based on your inner foundation and your own inner knowing of who you are. Believe me, that’s where your joy lies and that inner joy is what generates a positive attitude that is safe from the distractions and definitions of the world.
Have a Positive Attitude! Dare to Soar Higher! Success awaits you.
Join us on Saturday, Sept 19th, when Kim J. King and I will discuss the importance of Purpose, Passion and Power. You can register at the Event Tab.
Blessings to you always!