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How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

Mentally strong people don’t let others determine their career paths. Instead, they take charge of their own lives and go where there want to go. I was lucky to realize that at the stage where I was making my own career decision, and I want to share my story with you.

I planned to become a medical doctor.

Back when I was in high school and through the first couple of years in college, I had a clear career goal. Why? Looking back at it, my career goal was a result of the encouragement and expectations from my family and friends.

My family emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 10, and we spent the next few years living in poverty. I remember my parents’ early jobs in America, my dad driving a bread delivery truck and my mom cleaning other people’s houses. We couldn’t afford nice things. I felt so ashamed in front of other kids for not being able to get that latest cool backpack or wear cool clothes – always on the margins, never fitting in. My parents encouraged me to become a medical doctor. They gave up successful professional careers when they moved to the US, and they worked long and hard to regain financial stability. It’s no wonder that they wanted me to have a career that guaranteed a high income, stability, and prestige.

My friends also encouraged me to go into medicine. This was especially so with my best friend in high school, who also wanted to become a medical doctor. He wanted to have a prestigious job and make lots of money, which sounded like a good goal to have and reinforced my parents’ advice. In addition, friendly competition was a big part of what my best friend and I did – whether arguing with each other about life questions or playing poker into the wee hours of the morning. Putting in long hours to ace the biochemistry exam and get a high score on the standardized test to get into medical school was just another way for us to show each other who was top dog. I still remember the thrill of finding out that I got the higher score on the standardized test. I had won!

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As you can see, it was very easy for me to go along with what my friends and family encouraged me to do.

I was in my last year of college, working through the complicated and expensive process of applying to medical schools, when I came across an essay question that stopped in me in my tracks:

“Why do you want to be a medical doctor?”

The question stopped me in my tracks. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? Well, it’s what everyone around me wanted me to do. It was what my family wanted me to do. It was what my friends encouraged me to do. It would mean getting a lot of money. It would be a very safe career. It would be prestigious. So it was the right thing for me to do. Wasn’t it?

Well, maybe it wasn’t.

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I realized that I never really stopped and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. My career is how I would spend much of my time every week for many, many years, but I never considered what kind of work I would actually want to do, not to mention whether I would want to do the work that’s involved in being a medical doctor. As a medical doctor, I would work long and sleepless hours, spend my time around the sick and dying, and hold people’s lives in my hands. Is that what I wanted to do?

There I was, sitting at the keyboard, staring at the blank Word document with that essay question at the top. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

My mind was racing, my thoughts were jumbled. What should I do? I decided to talk to someone I could trust, so I called my girlfriend to help me deal with my mini-life crisis. She was very supportive, as I thought she would be. She told me I shouldn’t do what others thought I should do, but think about what would make me happy. More important than making money, she said, is having a lifestyle you enjoy, and that lifestyle can be had for much less than I might think.

Her words provided a valuable outside perspective for me. By the end of our conversation, I realized that I had no interest in doing the job of a medical doctor. And that if I continued down the path I was on, I would be miserable in my career, doing it just for the money and prestige. I realized that I was on the medical school track because others I trusted – my parents and my friends – told me it was a good idea so many times that I believed it was true, regardless of whether it was actually a good thing for me to do.

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Why did this happen?

I later learned that I found myself in this situation in part because of a common thinking error which scientists call the mere-exposure effect. This term refer to our brain’s tendency to believe something is true and good just because we are familiar with it, regardless of whether that something is actually true and good.

Since I learned about the mere-exposure effect, I am much more suspicious of any beliefs I have that are frequently repeated by others around me, and go the extra mile to evaluate whether they are true and good for me. This means I can gain agency and intentionally take actions that help me toward my long-term goals.

So what happened next?

After my big realization about medical school and the conversation with my girlfriend, I took some time to think about my actual long-term goals. What did I – not someone else – want to do with my life? What kind of a career did I want to have? Where did I want to go?

I was always passionate about history. In grade school I got in trouble for reading history books under my desk when the teacher talked about math. As a teenager, I stayed up until 3am reading books about World War II. Even when I was on the medical school track in college I double-majored in history and biology, with history my love and joy. However, I never seriously considered going into history professionally. It’s not a field where one can make much money or have great job security.

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After considering my options and preferences, I decided that money and security mattered less than a profession that would be genuinely satisfying and meaningful. What’s the point of making a million bucks if I’m miserable doing it, I thought to myself. I chose a long-term goal that I thought would make me happy, as opposed to simply being in line with the expectations of my parents and friends. So I decided to become a history professor.

My decision led to some big challenges with those close to me. My parents were very upset to learn that I no longer wanted to go to medical school. They really tore into me, telling me I would never be well off or have job security. Also, it wasn’t easy to tell my friends that I decided to become a history professor instead of a medical doctor. My best friend even jokingly asked if I was willing to trade grades on the standardized medical school exam, since I wasn’t going to use my score. Not to mention how painful it was to accept that I wasted so much time and effort to prepare for medical school only to realize that it was not the right choice for me. I really I wish this was something I realized earlier, not in my last year of college.

3 steps to prevent this from happening to you:

If you want to avoid finding yourself in a situation like this, here are 3 steps you can take:

  1. Stop and think about your life purpose and your long-term goals. Write these down on a piece of paper.
  2. Now review your thoughts, and see whether you may be excessively influenced by messages you get from your family, friends, or the media. If so, pay special attention and make sure that these goals are also aligned with what you want for yourself. Answer the following question: if you did not have any of those influences, what would you put down for your own life purpose and long-term goals? Recognize that your life is yours, not theirs, and you should live whatever life you choose for yourself. This approach is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors such as the mere-exposure effect.
  3. Review your answers and revise them as needed every 3 months. Avoid being attached to your previous goals. Remember, you change throughout your life, and your goals and preferences change with you. Don’t be afraid to let go of the past, and welcome the current you with arms wide open.

Featured photo credit: Smiling via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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