The Problem with Certainty

Earlier this year I wrote about the 6 Human Needs. I have been observing how our needs affect our career choices and success, and wanted to share how Certainty, the need to have control and security in our lives, can cause problems for us.

I recently worked with a candidate who had been with his law firm since he graduated from college a decade ago. He came to us because he was below market in pay and wanted to expand his responsibilities. We spoke about how being at a firm for many years can limit growth because the people you work with sometimes pigeon-hole you and see you as the junior person you started as, not the more developed professional you are now. This candidate received an offer to do precisely what he wanted to do next in his career at a market salary that he was very happy with! But he decided to decline this offer and stay where he was. He admitted that staying in an environment he knew well and having security was more important than growth and challenge. Certainty won out!

Another example of how one’s human need for Certainty can limit our growth and success is when we aren’t open to knowing what we don’t know. I was recently working with someone who found it more important sound knowledgeable about things he didn’t really know than to ask questions. Have you ever dealt with people who speak as though they’re experts in an area, but when you probe further you quickly realize that they aren’t? This usually results in our losing confidence in this person’s views or thoughts. It also results in a missed opportunity for that person to actually learn more about the subject. I recently had the opposite experience with a junior candidate who had clearly done her homework on recruiting roles in law firms, but prefaced her insights with “Please correct me if I’m wrong, but based on my research…” Wow! Her openness and realization that she had a lot to learn stood out as much as her preparation, and we are excited to help her find a role. Yes, it’s great to be confident, but when we state things as facts and are wrong or missing a major piece of the puzzle, our Certainty damages our reputation.

We have a human need to feel certainty and security in our lives, such as knowing we have safety and food, but when Certainty becomes the driving force in our life, we limit our growth and success. That’s why most of the things in life we are most proud requires us to step out of our comfort zone and be vulnerable!

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