Last week, I got to address 24 inductees into the Psi Chi International Honor Society at a local college. This society was founded to encourage members to maintain excellence in scholarship in psychology and to advance the field (Mission Statement for Psi Chi). This post is written for new professionals establishing themselves as experts in their fields. As an educator, one critical goal is preparing students to conduct exemplary research, to disseminate and apply it in a way that enhances lives and solves problems. Many people obtain PhD’s because of a desire to be not only an expert in a disciple but to make a larger difference by empowering others through education. From this context, I shared seven principles observed in role models – scholars and practitioners – who influenced me at the beginning of my career.
Dream Big, but set small daily goals. Abstract thinking is great for dreaming and setting a vision of who you will be and how you will make a difference in the world. However, self-determination theory tell us that intrinsic motivation is the key to transforming big dreams into daily goals. Creating and mastering daily goals is the real key to building a set of habits that last after the excitement wanes. So the first prinicipel is to balance your big dream with your daily routines. Daily shifts in behavior add up quickly to big gains over time. Try to identify the minimum amounts of effort needed every day to create your Big Dream. When set a that new habit in motion.
Be Smart. Be Humble. While it would be great to know everything, we don’t. No one does. Today’s achievement is worth celebrating (These students were in the top 10% of their class). Set a goal to learn something new every day for the rest of your life. Being smart may come naturally for you, and it will take you far. However humility plus smarts will take you further. Character is hard to teach. Even when we think we KNOW, it’s okay to let it pass without comment. In fact, sharing unsolicited knowledge is irritating and rob others of their own meaningful learning experience. Just as important is to have the courage to admit what you don’t know. Honesty and humility are underrated the professional world, but your success are not tied to perfection. Show up with an insatiable desire for knowledge and service, and people will go further to help you learn.
Make learning a habit. I am not going to explain why lifelong learning is important to this crowd of overachievers (J). But I will say that it gets harder as you go further as you move up the ladder. It’s also MORE important as you progress. Creating a habit is easiest when we expand on our current routines. When our planning is built around “triggers” that let us know that it’s time to act, our newer habits will be stronger than intentions. Select a part of your schedule with deep roots, and just add another “link in the chain” with your new habit. When I was working on my dissertation, I wanted to expand my reading beyond my topic. It was nearly impossible to think how I could possible add one more thing to my schedule. Studies confirm this to be a successful method to rely on contextual cues over willpower to create new habits. One routine has been entrenched for years is my morning coffee while writing in a great journal. So I made a list of books that I could read in chunks (15 min. a day) and put them by my journal in my bedroom. I have applied this technique to cleaning my house, learning Spanish, and many other areas over the years. Next time you commit to “read more,” instead try “When I go to eat lunch, I will take my book and for 10 minutes between my salad and my dessert.”
Be grateful. Many people have supported you up to this point, and they will likely continue to support you through the next stage as well: grad school, a book, job relocation, big promotion, conference, or dissertation ahead. Find small ways to say thank you as often as you can to your key supporters. Most of us is only as strong as our social support team. My grad program was known for encouraging graduates hand write thank you notes on the engraved stationery. Be the one in ten job applicants that remembers to acknowledge the people. Everyone is just as tired, busy, and stressed as you are. Make the time! This practice will serve you well in the professional circle because it is so rare. An email note of appreciation is free but it’s also priceless.
Be You. What makes this world fun is that we are all different. What makes this world crazy hard is that we are all different. Learn to accept yourself, your strengths and your idiosyncrasies together. You aren’t perfect but you are ALL you’ve got. Be the best version of YOU that you can be by making consistent investments in your own self-care. There are far too many depressed and anxious clinicians, scholars and educators. We need YOU to be healthy in mind, body and spirit.
Watch your back. The principle remind us that people are watching us. Someone is standing behind you waiting for your leadership. Most of us are where we are because someone showed us the ropes. They took the time to say (In love) you are doing it wrong. They noticed we were crashing and burning, and they took the time to help. Be that mentor for someone else. As you progress, you will get even busier, but the people that you mentor will one day be your allies and your colleagues. Treat them well and invest in them the way that someone did for you.
So my last tip or Principle on Excellence is “Write your own tip!” Everyone’s path is different. You don’t know what lies ahead, and if you think you know, I guarantee you 5 minutes after you get comfortable, something unexpected will occur and you will need to re-group. Be willing to take your time and make mistakes. Excellence is not really about getting it right or getting it done first. Excellence is moving beyond complacency and simply NOT giving up. Work “as if” you know you’ll make it. And one day, you will realize it’s true: the Big Dream is here.
What would you try if you absolutely KNEW you could not fail? – author unknown
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