If any of you did not grow of age in the 80’s and 90’s watching Saturday Night Live, you may not be familiar with Al Franken’s character Stuart Smalley, a self-help junkie who is addicted to 12-step programs and cheesy affirmations. There were some really funny skits, including one with Michael Jordan, where Stuart tries to transfer his own insecurities on him saying:
"You probably wake up at night saying to yourself ‘I’m not good enough, everybody is better than me, I am not going to score any points!" He encourages Michael to recite the following affirmation:
"Hello Michael. I don’t have to be a great basketball player. I don’t have to dribble fast or throw the ball in the basket. All I have to do is be the best Michael I can be."
Scenes like these had me rolling on the floor, as I was both raised in Marin County, California, home of new-age self-help gurus, and worked in professions like coaching and training where we love to throw around positive, fluff-filled terms like "live your potential," "bring on your inner greatness" and "be the change you want to see in the world."
Like Stuart Smalley, it is easy to make fun of these things, but the reality remains:
Many wannabe entrepreneurs stay perpetually on the sidelines not because they don’t have a good business idea or business plan or opportunity, but because they are deathly afraid of stepping into the spotlight.
I just started teaching a class yesterday with my friend Suzanne Falter-Barns which helps small business owners get over the fear of playing big in the world and building a strong, unique and compelling brand. In the first class, we discussed many things that keep us from stepping out on a bigger stage including:
- Fear of appearing ridiculous since you have no idea what you are doing and it will become evident as soon as you approach your first client or investor.
- Fear of losing your shirt and forcing your family to live on the street because your business failure is so extreme (also known as fear of poverty).
- Fear of appearing arrogant (Who do you think you are, and what gives you the right to call yourself an expert when Joe/Jane/Simone is so much more qualified/better looking/experienced than you are?)
- Fear of being found out when clients and customers suddenly come to the sober realization that you are ignorant, inexperienced and talentless, and besides that, in 5th grade you returned 4 books to the library late and never paid the fees.
We come up with a whole range of excuses for playing small such as:
- I will just take one more class (or get one more degree) and then I will be ready to open my business
- I will work for one more expert and then I will have the experience required to start my own business (keeping you perpetually in the role of enabler and "make others rich and filled with glory" while no one knows who you are)
- I will get to it next week/next year or when the kids go to kindergarten/graduate from college/move in again after their failed first job and marriage/when the grandkids go to kindergarten, etc.
Even after I successfully started my own business, I fell into some of these excuses, feeling somehow that I wasn’t quite ready to play on a bigger stage. My classic pattern was the "I will work for one more expert" where I acted as the Wizard of Oz behind the green curtain of many a successful business owner (most of them were men, feel free to armchair psychoanalyze me on that one!). I helped them make a lot of money and gain real reputation in the marketplace, but somehow I didn’t feel comfortable stepping out front and center myself.
My other favorite negative trap was feeling less than the "helmet heads," my affectionate term for the smart, perfectly coiffed and clothed power females in many business environments. They went to Harvard and Columbia – I went to a granola head school called World College West. They had MBAs – I had an advanced degree from the school of hard knocks. They always had the perfectly researched answer for every question – I scratched my head and pondered many different outcomes, never believing that there was one "Truth."
I finally got to a personal and professional place where instead of asking "Why them?" I asked "Why not me?" ( A reader recently shared the same thing saying "I got tired making so many others rich and finally thought ‘Why not me?") Just as I will never have the hair of Jennifer Anniston, the butt of J Lo or the legs of Tina Turner, I will never have the life experience of a blue-blooded academic. And that is exactly as it should be.
Your target market, also affectionately called "Your People," will want you exactly as you are when you choose the kind of work that you are uniquely capable of doing. A big part of getting emotionally ready to make the leap to working for yourself is to do seemingly cheesy things like:
- Create positive affirmations. These can be things like "I am perfectly equipped to provide great, lasting value to my clients" or "I am the perfect person to front my business" or "I will always have an abundance of money."
- Surround yourself with positive, risk-taking and enthusiastic people. I realize you can’t fire the parent that reminds you every family gathering that you are so much less motivated than your successful siblings, but you can supplement these life-sucking moments with joyful, creative gatherings with people who build up your esteem.
- Create a positive work space that is clean and open with uplifting visuals, be they great family photos, pictures of you doing extremely fun things or powerful shots of nature. If you can stand it, put up a post-it with your favorite affirmation so that you remind yourself of it frequently. (I have a fortune cookie paper taped to my monitor frame which says "You will be a great success – both in business and socially." They said it, I didn’t, and I never mess with the mojo of a great fortune)
So to use one of my favorite Stuart Smalley expressions, "Stop should’ing all over yourself!" Swim past those pesky fears and do something about your business dreams. Time is ‘a wasting!