Are You a Winner or a Contributor?

How reframing can power your mission, calm your thoughts

Last week, I noted the danger of elevating our concern for what others think above our concern for what we want to accomplish-- our goals. The context was women’s frequent ambivalence toward ambition:  if I achieve too much will people still like me? And if I talk about my achievements, will people think I’m all-about-me?

I know men who share this ambivalence as well.

I believe it’s the wrong question to be asking. By focusing on our fear of not being thought of as wonderful by others, we dilute the strong sense of purpose we need to pull off any ambitious task. That’s a high price to pay.

The fact is, when we split our attention between what we want to achieve and the impression we’re making on others, we drain ourselves of energy and conviction. And both are needed to win the pitch, design the experiment, produce the event, secure the network, resolve the case. 

For women this can be especially tricky, since it has been shown that both sexes harbor a slight bias against ambitious women, seeing them as being out for themselves, insensitive, even cut-throat–– behaviors that, in a man, might be viewed simply as competitive or tough.

That presents one hell of a steep mountain to climb in terms of perception management! 

So how do we do it? 

By turning the mountain into a mole-hill. Enter: reframing. 

Reframing is the act of telling yourself a different story than the one you default to.

For example, instead of thinking, “Maybe people thought I was being too assertive when I asked to take this project on,”  you can tweak your narrative: ”I’m glad I found the courage to step up and take responsibility for developing this plan. I’ll learn a lot by doing it.”

Reframing allows us to acclimate ourselves to an idea before we act on it, which gives us a chance to experience the positive emotions that will sustain us as we move forward. 

Let me explain. 

Say you don’t feel comfortable thinking of yourself as ambitious. It doesn’t matter whether you're a woman or a man--the point here is that there is no need to change your outward behavior. Instead, change your inward behavior--find a different way to describe ambition to yourself. For example, you might choose to reframe it as making a contribution that can be of value to other people.

In fact, many people feel more comfortable thinking in terms of making a contribution than in terms of winning, achieving or scoring a goal. By reframing what you’re doing as a contribution, you can help yourself feel more at ease-- and help others sidestep their biases. Since when is making a contribution cut-throat?

We know that feelings flow from thoughts, so it follows that if we think about an idea that lies outside our comfort zone, like ambition, we are likely to experience doubt, discomfort or fear, especially if the idea involves unfamiliar or even mildly taboo behaviors. 

Reframing helps us to shift that calculus. 

Reframing ambition as contribution gives us access to the powerful and positive emotions that flow from this idea. Pride, conviction and confidence replace fear, discomfort and doubt.

This is powerful stuff.

There’s another benefit as well. Reframing gives us a way to stop worrying about being likable. Does anyone dislike someone who is a contributor, a true team player? Not likely.

By choosing to reframe, you act from your comfort zone. Therefore your energy is no longer wasted by second-guessing.  Your focus remains clear.  And you just might find that your conviction is contagious.