I am not a football fan. But when the story broke in November 2020 that Vanderbilt University student Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 regular-season college football game, I cheered that milestone along with millions of others. Because until recently, society taught us that girls didn’t play football. However, Fuller was determined to reach for more.
Her journey was not easy. Before joining the football team, she had to overcome a broken foot, back injury and stress fracture in her other foot in the process of helping lead Vanderbilt’s soccer team to its first SEC Tournament title since 1994. Fuller’s determination made all of the difference in breaking barriers. “I just want to make it really clear this was never easy, this was never an easy path whatsoever,” she said in this People Magazine interview. “But the fact that I didn’t stop and I didn’t give up, I think it’s huge. I just want to say that literally, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Aiming higher in life, even when circumstances are stark, can change everything. While the circumstances of 2020 knocked tens of millions of people down hard worldwide, it also created an environment that can cause people to reach for more.
“The pandemic has brought both personal and professional challenges to the surface that people weren’t dealing with before to such an extreme degree,” said Christina Villarreal, Ph.D., ACPEC, an Executive Leadership Coach and UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology. “Anytime something is disrupted, even if it was a negative disruption, it helps that person become less attached to their current routine as they are forced to change. People may feel compelled to focus on an outcome that they desire more, even if it requires a risk that they may have felt less comfortable taking before.”
Want to aim for more in our post-pandemic world? Villarreal shares these five ways to get started:
Focus on a desired result and then work backwards to achieve it.
Getting started can be overwhelming. Map out the steps that need to be taken, breaking it down into manageable actions. “Sometimes people feel unstuck because they don’t know how to move forward or like the place that they’re currently in. It can help to think into the future, about an outcome that person would love to experience or change,” she noted. “A big part of getting unstuck is taking one step towards a future outcome that they hope to achieve.”
Look within yourself for an anchor.
As our world has grown more uncertain, people are looking for a reason or rationale about how to plan for a better, yet unknown future. Villarreal encourages people to look within themselves to serve as a grounding force in this sea of change. She recommends making decisions based upon your preferences, moving towards opportunities that play to your strengths.
Develop a more internalized local of control.
In her coursework, Villarreal teaches students about the locus of control, which is an individual’s perception of their ability to influence an outcome on their own behalf. For example, if you believe life happens to you and has been shaped by circumstances like coincidences, opportunities or experiences outside of your influence, you have an externalized locus of control. With an internalized locus of control, a person feels more responsibility for their past experiences and current circumstances, which equips you to create better outcomes moving forward.
“Some people with a more externalized locus of control often had early life experiences like immigration, poverty, or illness, things which they had little ability to shape which can lead to feeling hopeless or less capable,” she explains. Recognizing the things you can achieve based on your effort can shift that belief system. “Learning how to plan, challenge yourself and recognize that a failure is a natural part of the process can help a person build more confidence about impacting their future.”
Equip yourself to work hard.
Developing tenacity and the ability to overcome discomfort is critical. Villarreal notes that in order to reach higher, people need to accept the responsibility that difficult obstacles that are naturally a part of any major change and the process may be uncomfortable. “Some people feel stuck because it’s like they’re trying to climb up this hill but have never quite had enough gas in their tank,” she said. “No one had helped them develop discipline or feel capable of tolerating the discomfort of hard work.”
When you set a goal, think about the positive outcomes while also developing realistic expectations about how much effort is involved and inevitable setbacks in journey. With that mindset, people feel more capable of the sustaining effort to create major change.
Prepare yourself emotionally.
Making major changes can elicit a whole range of emotions. Those feelings of being overwhelmed, fearful, incapable and more are normal as you aim for more in life. Allow yourself to authentically experience the natural emotions that arise, especially dealing with roadblocks.