There is one lesson I keep learning over and over again. Every time I forget it, I’m reminded. It’s a good life lesson and you should learn it too. It will change everything about the way you approach your career and job search (and everything else in life) for the better.

Here it is: it’s not about you.

At least, not to anyone but you. You are only the protagonist in your own story. Everyone else is the protagonist in theirs. You aren’t the reason people do things. You aren’t even the reason people do things to YOU. People make choices based on their own needs, desires, wants, problems, and opinions, not yours.

Don’t take anything personally, ever – not in relationships, career, or all of life. Once you understand this, everything will be different.

Now, if you’re someone who takes things personally and makes everything about you, I’m not going to change your fundamental life view with one article. But I can try to explain how understanding that it isn’t about you will get you better jobs. So, let’s do that.

Your resume: When a hiring manager is going through resumes, they don’t want to know what you want. They want to know how you can make their life easier. They want to know that the person they hire will do the job, will be a success, will make them look good, and will be easy to work with. They want to be clearly shown that YOU are the right choice. Approach building your resume with this in mind.

Ask yourself: “How can I convey in writing that I can make this person’s life better?”

The job interview: Make the conversation about what you will bring to the table, not about what you want to get out of the job. When it comes your turn to ask questions, don’t ask about what you get – how much vacation time do I get? Can I work from home? Ask what you can do – How is success in this role evaluated (read: what do I have to do to be successful)?

Ask yourself: “How can I convey in conversation that I can make this person’s life better?”

At work: If someone is impatient with you, if you’re not getting the recognition you think you deserve, if life isn’t fair, remember that everyone else is working within the framework of their own needs. The boss has a boss to answer to and is worried about her own job. The coworker who ignores you or is rude is thinking about something else. When your work is criticized, it’s not a personal slight, it’s an opportunity to learn. We all know people who haven’t learned this yet, who can’t take criticism and who don’t know when to back down, keep their mouths shut, and walk away. I didn’t learn to be gracious in the face of perceived adversity until my mid-late thirties. Learn when you’re young and save yourself a lot of trouble. You’ll go a lot further.

Ask yourself: “What can I do to make the situation better for everyone?”

If you’re fired: Companies rarely let people go when those people are easy to work with, doing a great job, and bringing value to the organization. Sometimes they do – say, when budget cuts or mergers and restructuring force their hands – but not usually. If you’re let go, it’s because you aren’t bringing value, or because someone doesn’t like you.

“But wait…” you’re thinking. “But you said it wasn’t about me!

Yeah, I know. Look at it this way, if someone doesn’t like you, maybe the problem is theirs, and it’s still not about you. There is usually nothing you can do about that. If the problem is yours, and it’s because you’re a jerk, then that’s probably because you haven’t figured out that it isn’t about you yet. Either way, you still have to realize that it’s not about you.

Ask yourself, “What can I do next time to bring value?”

It’s not easy for most of us. That’s why not everyone is successful. But if you view your life of career through the lens of what you can give instead of what you can get, a whole new world of opportunities will open up. And you’ll be happier.

I hope this helps.

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