A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Forty Plus Club, here in Washington D.C., an organization founded in the 1930s as a support group and training site for workers forty and over who found themselves without jobs or job prospects. I spoke about the importance of ignoring so-called “factual” information that was de-motivating. I will elaborate on this topic here.
First of all, “facts” are often not accurate. Despite the dictionary definition of a fact as: “Something that actually exists; reality; truth”, there are many examples of “facts” that evidence or circumstances have later proven to be completely false. If you think about what once was assumed to be factually true and is now proven not to be, you will uncover many examples, ranging from the earth is flat to the number of planets in the solar system to margarine is better for your health than butter to undersea drilling for oil is a low-risk proposition to the very definition of time itself.
Of even more significance, the meaning we give to facts can vary tremendously. For example, does the fact that the unemployment rate increased in April from 9.7% to 9.9% mean that it is getting harder to find a job? No, the rate increased because job prospects appeared brighter and many people who had given up looking for work decided to re-enter the job market. The essential perspective to maintain in contemplating “factual information” is to first examine the fact carefully, and not simply accept it at face value, second to find an interpretation of the fact that works as positively as possible for you, and third place relatively little emphasis on facts that are de-motivating, and greater emphasis on facts that support you in your move forward, whether on a career path or in a prospective or actual relationship.
Let’s take an example. If you read that there are 10 applicants for every available job opening, step one is to examine the fact carefully: perhaps that’s a national, rather than a local, figure, a figure which might include millions of people with less education or experience than you. Step two, find an interpretation of the fact that works for you rather than against you. In this example, you could conclude that you will have to apply for ten jobs in order to land one – not such a bad prospect. Step three, rather than dwelling on the intense competition that exists for jobs, you could focus on researching what characteristics the successful job applicants shared. This process can be applied just as easily to relationships. For example, if the odds of marrying after age forty are low, what might you be able to discover about those who successfully partnered? Remember that any fact relating to the odds of something happening is constructed from a pattern in the shape of a bell curve, and that all bell curves have outliers that contradict the basic premise – if the odds of marrying after 40 are one in ten, that means that there had to be some people who married at 41, 42, 43, etc.
Don’t allow facts to discourage you. They are merely pieces of information. Instead, find ways to use the information that the fact provides to your advantage. Remember, they may not mean what they seem to say.