The question stops you cold.
You cringe when you see it, as if it was written just for you. You feel yourself cower as it echoes through your brain. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
You feel exposed, all your imperfections on display.
How could anyone question your right to do what you’re doing? Don’t they know how many times you’ve asked that of yourself? Don’t they know how hard you’ve worked to get here?
With all that hard work you’ve put in … why do fear and doubt still haunt you?
Here’s the thing: you’re crazy passionate about your work. You’re really good at it. And you want to do it more than anything.
But still, the fact remains … you sometimes question your own ability to pull it off.
Those little doubts, the nagging little questions.
Let’s look at what’s going on here …
How the fear of being seen creeps in
I recently got a late-night email from a coaching client. She was anxious about a project we were working on — the first thing she’d been really excited about in months. She wrote:
Ackkk, I started thinking, who the hell am I to think I could be doing this? I know I’m really good at what I do — my clients have been telling me this for 25 years — but I don’t ‘follow the book,’ and I haven’t read any of the industry literature for years.
I’m afraid of being ‘out there.’ I’m afraid of success. I’m afraid of being SEEN.
I’m afraid we’ll spend all this time on something I won’t actually be able to go through with.
I understand her not wanting to be seen. It’s my story too.
I was extremely self-conscious growing up, because I was much taller than everyone else my age — taller than all the girls, taller than all the boys, and as I kept growing, taller than many of the grownups. Everyone noticed me, and most people, even polite people, thought commenting was okay.
“How’s the air up there, Stretch?”
“If you fall down, you’ll be half way home.”
I wondered if I could remark about how fat or bald they were, but I concentrated on making myself invisible instead.
On not being seen.
But try as I might to get by unnoticed, they saw me. They expected a lot of me because I was so visible. But being tall didn’t mean I could do anything well, or do things the right way — whether it was schoolwork or dunking a basketball.
Who the hell do I think I am?
Today, the things I’m doing have people looking at me again. I never did figure out how to do what I want to do and be invisible at the same time. I had to get comfortable sticking my neck out, and letting people look if they wanted to.
It bothers me sometimes, because, like my fearful client, I don’t do things the right way.
I don’t follow the book. I teach business, but I don’t have an MBA. I’ve never taken a business class and I don’t really know what they teach in business school. I know how to run a small business … through my own experience.
What if people find out I don’t do it “right”?
I never set out to be a business coach. What I did was run a successful, profitable business for a long time, keep excellent, engaged employees for a long time, and keep happy clients who valued our work for a long time. I also took regular vacations, a month off in the summer, and didn’t work weekends.
And other business owners kept asking me how I managed to do all that.
So I decided to stop worrying about who was looking at me (and if I was doing it right) and I started sharing what I’d learned over those 25 years.
Because it was helping people. And they seemed to want to learn it from me.
I imagine people are out there thinking …
Who made her an authority, teaching business to business owners without a business degree? She doesn’t even teach about start-ups and raising venture capital and going public. She’s not an accountant or an attorney, either.
Those kinds of criticisms used to bother me. And truthfully, I still wince a little.
But it turns out that the people who think that way are not the people I want to work with, and they’re not my audience.
That may be what the media portrays as the entrepreneur — the social media platform founder or high tech whiz kid with financial backers in Silicon Valley — but most small business people are not like that.
I’m guessing not. Your business is probably doing something you’re great at just because you love to do it. You don’t raise venture capital; you do it out of your savings and on a shoestring, or you work a second job. You just want to support yourself and your family doing something you love.
You’re the person I want to work with. Not those who ask why I don’t have an MBA.
Who the hell do you think you are?
You’re probably terrific at what you do, too. Even though you might not follow the book, exactly, either.
And now, you may be doing something half way … and having half-way success with it. Or, you could be doing fabulous things in the dark, and not putting yourself out there enough, not letting enough people know about it.
You’re not sure what the “experts” or gurus would think of your method.
You feel more comfortable playing in a smaller space, where not so many people will look. Where you can make mistakes quietly, and no one will know.
I know who you are.
And you need to know some important things.
1. It’s not just you, trying to be invisible
You probably think everyone but you has it together.
So many business owners are teetering on the fence, terrified to put themselves out there, and asking themselves, “What makes me think I know what I’m doing?”
If you step out, find your voice, and do it anyway, your audience will applaud you, not look down on you. Even if you make mistakes (and you will), even if you fall flat on your face (and you will), you’ll show you have the guts to be seen — and the force of character to show what you’re worth.
2. Your distinct voice has a market
If your work is as good as you think it is, there are people out there who need you. Your job is to find them and to help them find you.
Try thinking of it this way: Imagine you’re a lighthouse, and your job is to shine a way through the dark and stormy nights, to help weary travelers safely find their way.
Those who need your light search for it with strained and desperate faces, through discouragement and exhaustion, never taking their eyes off the horizon, trusting you’ll be there to show the way and guide them to safety.
Would you keep your light low with a shade over it, and maybe only turn it on once in awhile — when you know they depend on you this much?
Or would you get the strongest light source with the highest power and the longest reach, and add the loudest siren? And maybe shoot off fireworks and flares every 30 minutes, with searchlights scanning the waters? Would you do everything in your power to let them know “Here I am! I’m here! I’m here! And I can guide the way for you!”?
Your ideal customers need you just as much as those travelers need the lighthouse. Even though it’s scary for you, will you throw off your shade and turn up your light so they can find you in the dark?
3. Not that many people are actually looking at you
Remember this old saying?
We wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of us … if only we knew how seldom they do.
Everyone is too wrapped up in their own stuff to be thinking very much about what you’re doing.
When you finally step out of your comfort zone and start shining a light on what you’re doing, you’ll find that the challenge is finding a wider audience, not being overexposed.
There are some trolls out there, but I don’t believe there are as many naysayers waiting to trip you up as you think there are.
More people are watching for you to succeed than to fail.
4. You can trust your results
What matters is the outcome of your work.
If you help people solve some problem in their lives, that’s what matters. You don’t need any other measuring stick.
What results do you get? What do people tell you? How have you helped them? What value do you add to their lives, their businesses, their situations?
If you don’t know, find out. Ask. Document what you hear. Write case histories. Get testimonials. And while you’re gathering this information, stop for a moment and think about your part in these successes.
5. You can attract the people you most want to work with
When you identify your strengths and find a way of talking about your business that’s honest and valuable, you’ll attract the people you most want to work with.
You’ll find plenty of them and they’ll never ask you who made you an authority — because they already know. They align with you.
And you’ll repel the people you don’t want to work with — which is a good thing.
Smile and let it go.
Over to you …
So the next time you hear, “Who the hell do you think you are?” (including from your own head), or any variation that triggers those old fears inside you, you can smile and let it go — because you know the answer.
You’re someone who helps others. Who gets results. Who honors their audience.
I know you can do this. You know you can do this. So go do it. You’ll be great.
Let us know in the comments just what you’ll be doing in the coming days to prove who the hell you are …