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Attitude Makes All The Difference

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
September 7, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 35

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”—Henry Ford

When confronted with a challenge or problem, do you tackle it, or do you run the other way? Your attitude can go a long way toward determining how successful you are at meeting a challenge. You can choose to avoid it, find ways around it, or dig in and accept it, taking pleasure in accomplishing something difficult—or seemingly impossible.

Credit: Shutterstock
Choose the path to success.
A CGI of a guy in a suit coming to a fork in a road. One route is labeled “SUCCESS” and leads toward the sunset. The other is labeled “FAILURE” and leads toward a lightning storm.
Credit: Shutterstock
Choose the path to success.

Adopt A Growth Mind-set. Some people have a fixed mind-set. They believe that talent and innate ability are set at birth and don’t change. If they fail, it’s because they just aren’t talented enough. And they often retreat from challenges to avoid failure.

Other people have a growth mind-set. They believe that the brain acts like a muscle, growing stronger with use. They are not afraid of challenges or hard work, which they believe will improve their skills and abilities. They often embrace seemingly impossible projects and view them as opportunities to grow, and they believe that, with practice, they can get better at anything.

Start With Success. At the beginning of a project, find a way to achieve a small victory. Is there a piece of the project that you already know how to do or can accomplish quickly? Starting off with a small success will put you in a positive frame of mind and give you the momentum to tackle the entire project.

Tell Yourself You Can. In any project, assume that your objective is possible, and work from there. Define your goal, and work backward to determine what you need to do to achieve it. If you can’t find a clear path forward, you can redefine some of the parameters or challenge some assumptions. As a last resort, you may need to redefine success. What are the crucial aspects of success, what would be nice to have, and what trade-offs are you willing to accept?

Act In A Way That Lends Itself To Growth. Learn to view your efforts as a path to mastery, not failure. Focus on how much you are learning and how much you are improving. Remember that if you don’t try, you will automatically fail, so anything you do is better than doing nothing. Celebrate your efforts and hard work, not your innate abilities. Enjoy and learn from the journey while remaining focused on the final destination.

Learn From Your Setbacks. Sometimes, things don’t turn out as planned. Unexpected consequences shouldn’t be thought of as mistakes but as interesting learning experiences. Figure out what happened, what you didn’t know, or what changed to cause the unexpected results. Then use that knowledge to better define the problem, develop an alternative theory, or determine what you need to learn next in order to continue on your road to a solution.

Remember, the problem is not the problem—it’s your attitude toward the problem.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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