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Choose The Window Seat Next Time You’re Flying High on Success
Find a mirror when it starts to fall apart
When my wife and I take flights, I insist on taking the window seat. I like looking out the window when we hit turbulence. And surveying astonishing landscapes while cloud surfing is freeing. It gives me a sense of space, freedom, and gratitude.
This window-gazing experience is also the type of perspective I’ve learned to adopt when encountering success. I like to look out the window when I’m flying high on success and see all the fortuitous circumstances and people that allowed me to experience success. Like yours, my life is filled with hundreds of people who’ve poured time, energy and love into me. Their efforts have allowed me to experience positive achievements in my life and career.
However, I’m just as guilty as many others in our society at turning that window into a mirror when achieving new heights. It’s tempting to look at all our progress and assume we are the source of our success. But when that success turns into letdowns and failures, we’re prone to finding a window instead of a mirror to see who we can blame. But to be influential leaders, the allure of self-promotion must not seduce us. Effective leaders are window-gazers in times of success and mirror-gazers in times of failure.
Without empirical evidence, you’d agree that our society thrives on self-promotion. Self-promotion is not an inherently bad or “evil” strategy to get ahead in our world. It’s the way our capitalistic society operates. To get ahead, you have to “sell” yourself, whether it’s on a résumé, compelling LinkedIn page, or impressive track record of achievements. Convincing others of your worth is the way to gain opportunities and ultimately profit from whatever you have to offer.
But this self-promotion becomes problematic when we lose the ability to appreciate the people and circumstances that allows us to promote ourselves. The moments we secure achievements and have a moment to reflect on our success should be when we are searching for windows to survey all the people and circumstances that allowed us to be where we are. Success should warrant window-gazing instead of mirror-gazing.
Window-gazing has multiple benefits when achieving new heights, but I’ll give just a couple. The first benefit is that window-gazing helps us to keep the perspective that we didn’t achieve all our success on our own. This humble approach is crucial when we experience a setback (because you will experience a setback at some point). When we constantly believe that our engines of success are powered by encouragement, opportunities, and help from others, we lose the rickety propellers of entitlement that have crashed many “self-made” planes throughout history.
The second benefit of window-gazing when experiencing success is that it provides a 30,000-foot map of where to go if we begin to lose our way or experience turbulence. Considering all the people and circumstances that elevate your performance, there’s no need to panic or lose a sense of self when experiencing setbacks.
The opposite happens when we’re obsessed with the mirror-gazing view during times of outstanding achievements. When our fortunes of success begin to shift and shake, and all we’ve been looking at is ourselves, we might question our identity, abilities, and skills. And when we don’t like what we see, we might begin looking for a window to find other people we can point our fingers at. The blame game is not the characteristic of a growth mindset, and we’ll see ourselves descending—if not in achievements, then certainly in the joy that comes from hard work and perseverance.
Great leaders are those who can confidently say that they are solely responsible for all of their failures and none of their achievements. At times of loss, they look in the mirror and ask: “What could I have done better? How can I improve?” In times of success, they look out the window and praise those who’ve allowed them to experience the happiness of the wins.
Miami Heat’s head basketball coach, Erik Spoelstra, embodies the traits of an influential leader who knows when to look in the mirror or out the window. In a profile piece for The Athletic, they covered the moment his heavily-favored LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh-led team lost the 2011 NBA Finals Championship to the Dallas Mavericks.
“You know what? I’m flawed. We are flawed,” Spoelstra said. “We are not going to let them blame LeBron for this, and we are going to do what is necessary to never feel this way again.” So instead of looking out of his window and blaming his superstars for not performing, Spoelstra looked in his mirror and challenged himself and his staff to be better.
The following two seasons, the Heat were back-to-back NBA Finals Champions.
We all can be better when we adopt a similar window-gazing perspective in times of success and a mirror-gazing evaluation when experiencing failure.
So the only question left to answer this week is: Where will you look when things are going great, and who will you look for when circumstances are unfortunate?
Be a window-gazer in good times. Be a mirror-gazer in unfortunate times.
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