At age 30, my wife and I decided we were ready for an adventure, so we moved from Sydney, Australia to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. We entered a fascinating world for which I was completely unprepared. At the time, it was at the height of the construction boom – a third of the world’s cranes were there! Everything and everyone moved faster than I had ever experienced. I knew I would need to hit the ground running.
I didn’t know it then, but the elements I needed to manage myself at the time were aligned to the Mental Toughness model I was later introduced to (Thank you AQR!) and now coach others on, with my business partner Leila Rezaiguia. Mental Toughness is a combination of the 4 C’s – control, commitment, challenge and confidence – that experts agree build resistance in individuals and teams. I quickly discovered the importance of each of these traits for determining not only professional success in Dubai, but happiness and fulfilment.
Control: It was my responsibility to be proactive and get down to business even when things seemed impossible; nobody else was going to take control of my success but me. I learned that to be the driver of my family’s future – and not victim or passenger to circumstance – there could be no excuses. Discipline and self-control had to be practiced every single day. I needed to be in control of my emotions to ensure that no matter what I was feeling on the inside, I was calm and professional on the outside – even if my head was spinning!
Commitment: I made a promise to my family that we could make the transition from Sydney to Dubai work. I take promises seriously, so I was determined to stick it out until we settled comfortably into our new life, and nothing was going to stop me until I delivered on my word. It was at this time that I learned the value of a higher purpose and having something bigger than myself at stake; I was committed to my professional success as it was directly linked to my family’s wellbeing. I worked extensive hours to deliver on our projects, which meant setting regular goals (sometimes daily) to get through each week and month.
Challenge: Maintaining a positive mindset through challenging times was difficult yet necessary. I told myself that every problem presents an opportunity to apply learnings from the past to achieve my vision for our future. I needed to take chances and risk failing in order to feel discomfort as I quickly discovered that being uncomfortable presented the steepest learning curve for me. I began to understand that what got me to where I was, would not be the only things to take me forward.
Confidence: There was a lot for me to master; new cultures, new workplace behaviours, and new ways of operating. I needed to become skilled and knowledgeable enough to develop the confidence to deal with whatever situation was thrown at me. I needed to build confidence in myself to stand up for what I believed in. I needed to speak if I wanted my voice heard and I needed to know when to shut up.
After co-founding Kompass – a consultancy that specialises in Career Management, Leadership Development and Coaching – it struck me that Mental Toughness is not just about how you individually deal with stressors and challenges, but how you find or accept support from others to overcome them. There is something to be said about the preference to lean on others in times of need – personally, and in professional settings – and indeed, being a pillar of strength for others. Being receptive to support, partnerships, feedback or advice is a trait possessed by many of the world’s greatest leaders and innovators. Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft by himself and no great politician impacted their citizens on his or her own. For me, my greatest support was and still is my wife, Abi. When we arrived in Dubai, she focused her energy on our home so that I could do what needed to be done to provide for our family. Mine and Abi’s Mental Toughness was inter-dependent as our fate was intertwined, so we worked collaboratively to reach our goals. Mastering the ability to seek and accept help can make the difference between someone who moves ahead in life and their career, and someone who remains stuck. We all face adversity but we don’t need to always work through it in isolation.
Having facilitated Mental Toughness workshops, these are some stickynote-worthy tips to let you kick ass in life:
- Don’t concentrate too much on what is outside your control. Identify and focus your energy on what can be affected by your actions. Ask yourself, ‘what can I do today to make a positive impact on my future?’
- Learning peaks when you feel discomfort! Set a stretch goal every week that makes you slightly uncomfortable.
- Be receptive to feedback. Ask friends, family and colleagues what you could STOP, START and CONTINUE doing. Tip: assume that there is a 1% truth in everything.
- Plan, but be flexible. Structure your day to reduce feelings of anxiety. But, be prepared for last-minute changes.
- Don’t develop your Mental Toughness in isolation. Surround yourself with people who will support and carry you through difficult times. And don’t forget what a powerful source of support and positive energy you can be for those around you!
We only have one crack at this life – get out there and see what you can do!
About the author: Gaj Ravichandra
Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Kompass Consultancy, Consultant Psychologist, Leadership and Careers Specialist and Keynote Speaker. For almost 20 years, Gaj has worked with organisations to formulate and deliver on talent solutions that enhance individual and organisational capability. He has supported organisations across multiple industries and cultures to identify, select, develop and retain talent.