Vantage Points

Guiding and expanding your perspective

Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass. — Jonathan Kellerman

I once told my husband I don’t think I’m a naturally happy person: “My mind tends to find something to worry or obsess about.”

His response: “I think you are a naturally happy person. You just allow other things to get in the way of your happiness.”

And there it is.
How does he do that?
With just a few simple words, he quells the drama.
After hours, sometimes days, of piecing together finely crafted arguments in my mind as to why I should be upset or anxious or distressed about this or that, he finds the loophole every time and bursts my neurotic bubble.
Where does he come up with this stuff?

In his book, Before Happiness, Shawn Achor describes a simple experiment he used while training a group of executives that yielded profound results. He asked the group to draw a rough draft of a coffee cup and saucer. When the group submitted a variety of lame, unimaginative drawings, he encouraged them to try again, and this time, to be creative. Sure enough, the second round of drawings were more diverse, vibrant, and detailed. However, Achor noticed an interesting pattern — all the pictures of the coffee cup and saucer were drawn from the side view. Not one of the executives chose to depict how these objects might look from above nor from below. Why?

Because even when we think we’re creating innovative solutions and thinking outside the box, we’re often still viewing an experience from only one perspective. Our familiarity with certain circumstances as well as our personal history can lead us to rely on standard perceptions and responses as our go-to. And there’s nothing wrong with that…until we want more. Until the status quo no longer satisfies us. Until we catch a glimpse of something over there that we want to bring over here. That’s when we’re compelled to think higher.

So how do we elevate our outlook? Achor offers the following advice:

“My research has shown that the simple act of adding vantage points — changing your viewpoint as you evaluate your options — can significantly increase your ability to see new valuable details, which, in turn, broadens your perspective and helps you find a broader range of ideas and solutions.”

(Excerpt From: Achor, Shawn. “Before Happiness.” Crown Business, 2013–09–10.)

A “vantage point” is the angle, or viewpoint, “from which you observe the facts you will use to create your reality” (Achor, Shawn. “Before Happiness.”). Going back to the coffee cup experiment, the executives all chose the same vantage point — the side view — when they created their drawings. They solely relied on a two-dimensional perspective in their depiction of the objects. But to truly capture the essence of any experience, you must become skilled at appreciating its layers. Training your brain to not settle for the obvious but to seek out the most valuable reality is a continual process of engaging your awareness, will, and faith.

Let’s put this skill to work by looking at one of my most memorable disappointments: not making the drill team in high school.

Where shall I begin?
It sucked.

I tried out with a group of my closest friends.
They all made it; I didn’t. It sucked.

My dad tried to cheer me up by telling me the same story I think all black parents tell their kids when they face disappointment — how Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school. (Thanks, Dad.) While I was happy to learn a new fact about MJ, it still sucked.

However, out of the suckiness, something in me shifted, and a bold resolve emerged: I may not have made the drill team this year, but I was going to make it next year. I asked the drill team director what I needed to do to improve, and she suggested taking a dance class as one of my electives next year. I took the course, enhanced my skills, built my confidence, tried out again, and became a Dulles Doll (Go, Vikings!).

Even though I eventually made the team, for a long time I carried the embarrassment of not making it the first time until I took a step back and combed through the layers of my experience:

  • The fact that I tried out not once, but twice, was amazing. I had always been shy when it came to performing, and although I was no stranger to doing so, I was usually forced into it by someone else. The willingness to put myself out there (twice!) was a major point of growth for me.
  • I learned how to overcome rejection. Instead of accepting “no” as the final answer, I figured out what to do to get a “yes.” Sometimes “no” frees you to pursue something else, but other times it shows you just how much you want what you’re after.
  • I gained a greater appreciation for preparation and hard work. Once I became a member of the drill team and experienced the level of rigor involved, I realized I wasn’t ready the first time I auditioned. I also had a greater appreciation for being a member of the team because I knew what it took for me to get there.

There is an internal strength that emerges from conditioning your mind to add vantage points. When you choose to see beyond fear and limitation, you open your mind to explore and embrace new possibilities. You realize that abundance is the rule, not the exception — that goodness, growth, and progress are always available to you. And that the urge you feel to expand and enhance is not only normal, it’s necessary.