The Power of Attitude: The Choice is Yours

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This article is part of the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series. Follow the series and join the conversation via #PropelHerAus.

In all honesty, it took me a while to adapt to military life. As a naïve 17-year-old, I had no idea what I had signed up to when I got off the bus on day one at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. My first year at the Academy was marked by injuries and a noticeably poor commitment to military and academic studies. For the first time in my life, I was not naturally good at what I’d chosen to do, and this self-perceived failure led to a pretty poor attitude. I contemplated discharging at the end of my first year but decided to stay for another year – possibly out of stubbornness or curiosity, or both. 

For my second year, I decided to make the most out of what I privately assumed would be my final year at the Academy. The turning point, and the sole reason I am still in the Army 15 years later, is due to feedback from a staff member. He said that I had a great attitude and, if I maintained it, I could have a highly successful career. From then on, whilst sometimes wavering during challenging circumstances, I have always endeavoured to have a positive attitude and I believe it has been a key contributor to my success achieved to date.

There are an abundance of thought-provoking quotes, inspirational articles and books about attitude and how it links to success in life. But the point of this article is not to summarise what has already been written. Instead, it offers an opportunity to reflect on attitudinal choices made through two scenarios. These are everyday workplace situations to highlight how choosing an attitude is like choosing a path, and your choice can lead to significantly different outcomes. 

Scenario 1: Your boss calls you into her office and gives you a menial, time-consuming task. The work is in preparation for an upcoming unit audit and everyone else in the team successfully avoided the task.

  • Choice 1 – You complain bitterly to your colleagues about being allocated the task and try to convince one of them to do it for you. After five days of complaining, the deadline is approaching, so you begrudgingly commence work on it. You hate coming to work due to the task and arrive late one day, resulting in counselling by your supervisor. You complete the task to a low standard and loudly proclaim that it was the worst task you have ever been given. The experience leaves you feeling annoyed and dissatisfied with your job.
  • Choice 2 – You reconcile that the task has to be done by someone, so you embrace the opportunity and start work immediately. You figure that the sooner it is finished, the sooner you can get back to more interesting work. You end up completing the task three days early and submit it to your boss. She appreciates your meticulous effort and the early submission. The experience makes you feel accomplished and appreciated.

Scenario 2: You have just been posted to a new section and now have to work with someone you do not get along with.

  • Choice 1 – You avoid the individual in question and gossip to other people in the section about them. You actively work against them and take any opportunity to point out their mistakes. The workplace becomes quite toxic and results in an investigation into alleged bullying against you. This leaves you feeling frustrated and resentful.
  • Choice 2 – You decide to find common ground and give them the benefit of the doubt. While you know it’s unlikely that you will become best friends, this common ground allows you to work amicably together. You realise that due to your different perspectives, you can learn quite a lot from them. The workplace remains productive, tension-free, and more enjoyable for everyone.

Considering the above fictional scenarios, can you reflect on times during your career where you had a negative or positive attitude? Can you remember what the outcomes were, and do you wish it had turned out differently? 

But how do we maintain a positive attitude, particularly during challenging circumstances? Often a different perspective can be invaluable. This can be achieved through an open and honest conversation with a trusted friend or mentor. I recall a week where I felt I was at capacity, following multiple incidents at work. I called a mentor and talked about how overwhelmed I was. He highlighted that without these incidents, I would not have found out about the issues to now be able to provide the support needed. This was an opportunity – and my mentor was right.

In reality, no one is perfect, and not every choice will be the right one. Many things may be out of your control or beyond your capacity to handle. But you always have the choice to have a good attitude when presented with challenging situations. Every challenge is an opportunity if it is approached in the right way. As articulated through one of my favourite quotes:

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities – JK Rowling.

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About the author

Sarah Bawden is an Ordnance Officer in the Australian Army and is currently a student at the Australian Command and Staff College. She has been fortunate to work in the Diversity and Inclusion Recruitment and Retention realm for the Army over a number of years. Sarah is a passionate advocate of equality for all and, with a positive mindset, looks forward to much progress occurring in the future.