It’s 2020. A whole new year and a whole new decade.
If I could give you one piece of advice for a joyful decade, here it is: stop trying to convince people that you’re good enough.
In the whole vast universe of things to communicate, why on earth would you choose that?
You could talk about your love of fancy socks. You could talk about the sparkle in the stars or in your lover’s eyes. You could talk about how moving it is to breathe in and breathe out every day and call yourself alive.
So why start with the premise that you’re no good?
Because that’s what you’re doing when you try to convince someone of your worth, which is what most of us are doing every time we talk about ourselves at work – in job interviews, in networking conversations, in negotiations, during performance reviews, and whenever else we fear we might be judged in any way.
Have you ever delivered an “Elevator Pitch?” You were trying to prove your worth.
I did a little debate in high school – not much because I found the whole process of arguing to be a complete waste of my personal gray matter. But what debate teaches you is that the whole world can be reduced to a binary argument – for and against. You start with a premise. And it’s someone’s job to prove that premise and the other person’s job to disprove it.
You set up a dichotomy between two mutually exclusive ideas and then you have to convince someone that your end of the dichotomy is right.
But the world isn’t actually binary. It’s not black and white, as they say. It’s four dimensional. It’s colored. It’s vast in every conceivable direction. Why limit yourself to a straight line?
What we don’t realize when we’re trying to prove that we’re good enough is that we can only make that argument against its opposite. “You’re not good enough.” Force requires counter force.
You’re standing there, wearing a fresh pressed suit of not good enough, trying to get everyone to believe the opposite of that.
But that’s your choice. You could have worn a ball gown instead. You’re the one who put on that suit.
And you put it on the moment you approached any professional objective with the intent of proving yourself.
Let me show you what I mean using the example of an MBA application essay.
We work with exceptional people here at Career Protocol, but they’re still all human. So they still all sometimes wonder: wait, am I good enough? It’s natural to have those thoughts.
When those thoughts become a problem, though, is when they infiltrate your communication.
Here are some symptoms that you’re doing that:
- You have a big preamble to that essay that sets forth a thesis that amounts to something along the lines of: “here is why I am a good and interesting person and you should accept me” – even if you never state that outright.
- You use sentences that include “I am,” or “I was.”
- You use sentences that include “you” or “one.” For example: “Challenges make you realize that…” or “If one really wants to get ahead in life….” Just note the grammar of these sentences: it’s the grammar of trying to prove something
- You’re showing your essays to multiple alumni friends, submitting your work for their judgment, hoping they will have a secret formula that will get you in.
- You’re delineating your opinions about the school: “Booth has the best offerings in Entrepreneurship,” or “The resources at Stanford are unparalleled.”
- This thought crossed your mind: “Am I good enough? Am I showing that I am good enough?” and then you sat down and wrote or edited your essay with that objective in mind.
This last one is so transparent when it happens. When a client sends me an essay – usually late in the editing process – 4 or 5 drafts in – with a lot of little edits on the margin, word choice changes, an added thesis sentence here or there, more “leaderly words.” It’s often been the guidance of an alum friend or family member. And it always destroys the story, so we have to reverse the changes.
Because your audience, the reader, and all the other human beings on this planet have one and only one reaction to you trying to prove that you’re good enough. They will believe the opposite.
This is law. Because…
Force must meet counter force.
If you’re trying to convince me that you’re good enough, I will (most probably unconsciously) immediately and automatically believe that you are not. Your only option then is to try to prove your end of this entirely false dichotomy right.
I say it’s a false dichotomy because there is no “not” in nature. Nature doesn’t say no to anything. “No” is an intellectual construct we humans invented for the sake of argument. Which is why being “not” good enough is ontologically impossible. But it’s automatically invoked when you attempt to prove that you are good enough.
And even if you manage to do so successfully, you will have failed to touch and move me. You will have failed to inspire me. You will have failed to make me want to give you one of the few precious seats in my MBA program (assuming “me” here is a member of the admissions committee.)
So I recommend that you stop trying to prove you’re good enough.
Take this poem excerpt to heart:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
The remedy for nonsensical debate about your worth is love.
But “love yourself” is obtuse and impractical advice. If you don’t know how to do that already, then me telling you to do it ain’t gonna get you there.
Instead, just start by loving what you do love.
What do you love about your work?
What do you love about the choices you’ve made so far in life?
Take a moment and look at your resume (or reflect on your career to date if your resume is a mess, like most pre-MBA resumes are) and ask yourself: why did I make the choices I made? Out of love for what did I take risks, chart an unconventional course, make an effort beyond what anyone paid me to do and produce results that meant something?
When you look at your life through this lens, a feeling of pride will start to well up in you. You will start to connect with your deepest values, with your innate character, and with your unique sense of purpose.
When you look at the achievements, choices, failures, and setbacks of your life, you will notice that beneath those surface details, there is an undercurrent of longing and of commitment that drives you forward. That longing and that commitment show you what you love.
And there is no counter force to love.
When you talk about what you love in your life and in your career, no one can argue with that.
When you share what you love, you touch and uplift others because you are sharing yourself.
“Generosity is the willingness to share your life with others. It’s a gift to people to allow them to love you.”
– David R. Hawkins.
Sharing who you are is generous.
Trying to prove yourself is soul crushing.
So just stop doing that.
Share yourself instead.
Here are some steps you can take to make this advice more real in your life right now:
- Instead of wondering: “What does the school want to hear?” start with “What do I really want to share?”
- Take some time to contemplate what you are most proud of about your life. Keep in mind that accomplishments are not the answer, because accomplishments are always subject to judgment and comparison. What’s beyond compare are the values and commitments that drove you towards those accomplishments. The whys behind your choices. They ways you wanted to be of service that compelled you to get those results. Connect with those values first.
- Then tell stories. All the work we do at Career Protocol involves storytelling, because storytelling is how we share our lives generously with others.
If you want to learn more about how we help our clients share their greatness through stories and stay true to their values even in seemingly competitive professional situations, sign up for a free consultation with one of our incredible Senior Instructors and Storytellers.