I heard him yell my name from his big office — “Brian, do you have a minute?” “I guess I do now,” I thought as I crawled out of my cube and strolled down the hall. “Yes?” I asked Patrick (name changed). “What can I help you with?”
This is how it started — a major test of mental toughness for me, a young marketing manager at the time.
I was not prepared for what came next. I am not sure anyone would have been, because I had just been instructed to do the opposite the week before. But that did not stop him.
“I am not going to speak with that stupid journalist!” he grumbled. “Why not?” I asked. “Because no good can come out of speaking with the media!” he replied. I stood there motionless. He had asked me the week before to contact the media announcing our recent CEO change. He was the new CEO.
There are times in every job when the irrational or unfair slaps you. For many people, this is a weekly occurrence. If it happens often enough, you can start to go numb — arguing with irrational people often sucks the life out of you. But this survival tactic has its own consequences — once you start to tune out at work, your motivation often suffers.
Even in the greatest job with the world’s most supportive boss, there will be days that beat you up. Life is work and work is life; any well lived life has its complications. So how do you know if you have mental toughness?
The one sign that you have incredible mental toughness is that you take responsibility.
Taking responsibility is not about blaming yourself for everything that happens. But it does involve acknowledging that how you respond to stress matters. Taking responsibility creates a calming space for you to be your best, even when challenges occur. It helps you:
Avoid victim status
When you find yourself in an unfair situation, it’s easy to feel like the victim. When you do this, you actually convince yourself that you are in a position of weakness. This is where those with mental toughness distinguish themselves — they cast blame aside and keep moving forward with focused action.
Learn from experience
When you claim responsibility, you feel immersed in what has happened. This helps you learn from the experience and develop skills that will serve you in the future. It also allows you to feel empathy when you find yourself in Patrick’s shoes. When you remember how it feels to be mistreated, you are far less likely to mimic bad behavior with others.
People with mental toughness are also incredibly resilient. Resilience lets you see the world — and your life — in a balanced way. It fosters a sense of gratitude for what is going right. Do not focus on the stress of your current situation. Remind yourself that a new day is coming and there is much to be thankful for.
Mental toughness involves having inner strength to respond to adversity in a resilient, dignified way.
Being mentally tough is the result of having a long-term purpose and the grit to get there. No matter where you are in your career, mental toughness will help you thrive. If you choose to take responsibility and spend time with like-minded peers, you will be rewarded. And as for Patrick? He did the media interview after all.
How have you developed your own mental toughness?