Over the years, I’ve talked to dozens of people who either run their own businesses or who wish they could.
Some of these people are incredibly talented.
Some of them are exceptional communicators.
A few of them are so singularly driven that I can’t imagine anything could stop them from succeeding if they put their minds to it.
By and large, most of them toil away in day jobs they’re afraid to quit, earning less than they’re worth, and putting off what they’d rather be doing until some majestic unknown time called “later.”
Because we all suffer the same delusion, and some of us let it paralyze us for life.
Everyone Has the Same Tragic Flaw
Self-doubt is the number one killer of dreams. And yet, we’re all subscribers.
So many talented people I know have the exact same problem: with rare exception, we have extreme difficulty in explaining what we do well and why it matters.
In fact, our self-doubt is so prevalent across the species, we have visceral reactions to people who seem confident. Depending on their style (and your perception), they either seem like paragons of inspiration or artificial phonies who must have something to hide. In either case, they seem slightly unreal.
Ironically, we have no trouble praising and pep-talking our friends. We’re objective enough to see what they do well, and we don’t understand why they can’t see that about themselves.
But when we look in the mirror, it’s like we all see the same illusion of incompetence.
This is why people pay for self-help, coaching, common sense and the like. Even though we all know that our doubt is completely in our heads, we outsource our validation because we need another human being to tell us what we won’t allow ourselves to believe inherently. Maybe that’s humility. Maybe that’s insanity. Either way, it’s holding us back.
If you can recognize that in yourself, you owe it to yourself to realize that it’s not real. Don’t let it run you. Because if you do, you know who’s going to win at your expense?
A Note About the Bliss of Ignorance
See, there is one huge outlier when it comes to our crisis of confidence:
Some of the most confident people I meet are only marginally talented.
This should be a paradox, right? Why should they feel so confident?
Because they don’t recognize that they shouldn’t.
It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and it’s the reason why many people overestimate their own skills and prowess. Either they underestimate what everyone else knows (which means they think they’re above average) or they have no idea what they don’t know (which means they’re incapable of understanding where they are in the hierarchy from low to high performance).
And the more oblivious you are to your own flaws, the less likely you are to let them hold you back. This means the self-aware among us can see people we think of as being “undeserving” still somehow succeeding, and we find it to be further disheartening. Why should someone else be “allowed” to succeed when you’re clearly so much “better” than they are?
Because they’re not waiting for someone to let them try.
Does Being Creative Hold Us Back?
The more I think about this, the stranger it seems.
Shouldn’t people who think differently be more likely to succeed because they’re innovative? If so, why do so many of them get stalled while “lesser” talents pass them by?
Here’s my hunch:
I think a lot of intelligent and creative people want to build something new, but precisely because they’re so observant, they’re far more aware of their own (seeming) inadequacies than someone who’s ignorantly oblivious would be.
So these people keep deferring their dreams until they trust themselves enough to believe they can take a risk and survive it. Their ability to see the big picture works against them. Because they can envision 100 ways something could go wrong, they’re afraid to jump in until they have an answer for all 100 potential problems.
Meanwhile, the Dunning-Kruger crowd just blunders headlong into a new opportunity because they don’t realize how difficult it will be, and they’re more likely to succeed simply because they’re the only ones who are doing it.
To put this another way: the guy who needs a meal is going to pay for the meal that’s available, regardless of whether or not it’s made by a world-class chef. And that means while the chef is waiting until her restaurant is “just right” before she finally opens it to the public, the greasy spoon diner next door is making serious money.
What I’m really saying here is: open your fucking restaurant already.
The more risks you take and the more stumbles you recover from, the less worried you are about trying new things and the more capably you can present yourself to others. So, paradoxically, waiting until you’re ready to do something almost guarantees that you won’t be.
So jump in. Fuck up. Learn. Fix it. Teach others. Find a new challenge.
And then repeat that process until you actually believe in yourself the way everyone else who knows you already does.