It’s that familiar situation: you come across a fantastic job opportunity that has your name written all over it. It’s got the perfect salary, the work seems incredibly rewarding, and the role has the potential to become something even more significant.
But you find yourself holding back. The self-doubt kicks in.
And without realizing, you start to come up with all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t go for it. From ‘everyone will be more qualified than me,’ to ‘it’s such an amazing opportunity, I bet they’ll be swamped with applications… So no biggie if I miss this one’.
Then whoosh! There goes another opportunity.
It’s familiar territory for many of us.
But here’s what I’ve come to realize – and I reckon Woody Allen hit the nail on the head when he said this.
“80% of success is showing up”.
One of the main reasons we back out of potentially great opportunities is due to a lapse in self-confidence.
We’re not sure if we’re talented enough to get the job; we don’t know anyone at that new exercise class, or we don’t think it’ll ever happen to us that we’ll meet someone amazing at that next event.
For me, I’ve missed out on some potentially great opportunities in the past because I had a real habit of hyping up the competition too much in my head.
Here’s an example to illustrate – and I think of it every time I’m tempted to back out of something big.
Last year, when I was living for some time in Sydney, I found myself working as a promotional girl at a large-scale fashion event called Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.
During the day, I got talking to this photographer guy (who was initially just keen to locate the nearest bar!), and he introduced me to one of his friends, called Reena.
After chatting to her briefly, she invited us to an event she was organizing, which casually turned out to be a major beauty pageant called ‘Miss India Australia.’
Sounded pretty glitzy for the hostel-dwelling backpacker that I was at the time, and I thought it could be a lot of fun. So I said yes.
But then something out there happened.
She asked if I also wanted to be a judge at the event.
Er – me?!
I was just a regular promotional model – and my racial background was quite different being Malaysian-Chinese.
I imagined sticking out big time among a dazzling panel of singers, previous beauty queens, and Bollywood actresses.
Well, I guess it turns out they were looking for some diversity on that panel.
All I had to do was apply with a short bio about myself so that they could pass onto the Board, and she would put in the right word for me.
To cut a long story short, I procrastinated – big time. Hours crept into days.
What was happening was I didn’t truly believe that I deserved a place at the table – even though someone was extending the opportunity to me.
Reena hadn’t given a fixed deadline for the bio, as the event was still a few months away, but I knew I would have to send something in soon.
When I finally gathered the courage to throw something together two weeks later, it was too late.
They’d just filled the last spot for the final judge.
So, from this story, my advice for you is: don’t let yourself get paralyzed by comparing yourself overtly to the imagined competition.
The key to breeding opportunity is quieting this rivalry in your head and believing that you can bring unique talent and personality to each situation.
The reality is, you can bring something to the table that no one else does.
For example, in my case, if I’d suspended my self-doubt and had the guts to show up, I could’ve created the space for something truly memorable to occur.
By entering the arena and being open to whatever comes at you, you create the possibility for the magic to happen.
Even for the most intimidating of opportunities, with the biggest prizes, showing up puts you in the race, when others are equally, if not more, tempted to back out due to the fear.
Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur and #1 New York Times best-selling author, illustrates this with a compelling anecdote in his critically-acclaimed The 4 Hour Work Week (check it out if you haven’t checked it out already, it’ll knock your socks off!)
He describes the time he once lectured at Princeton University and offered a particular challenge to the undergraduate students in his ‘High-Tech Entrepreneurship’ class.
The challenge was designed primarily to get students to expand their comfort zones and to become aware of their power to create opportunity, by having as many uncomfortable conversations as possible.
Their task was to contact three seemingly impossible-to-reach people (celebrities; politicians; whoever they could get their hands on) and get at least one to reply to three questions.
The grand prize was incredible – a round-trip ticket anywhere in the world for the person who could deliver the most impressive results.
So, out of the 20 students in that room, drooling at the lure of a potential free trip across the globe, how many completed the challenge?
There were plenty of excuses. From ‘I have a big paper due, and…’ to ‘it’s not that easy to get someone to…’
But the main reason for them not participating, however, which was repeated in different words, was that the challenge was too tricky and that other students would outdo them.
To this Tim says poignantly, ‘Since all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.’
He underlines the idea that a lot of the time it’s easier to achieve something ‘out of your league’ than you think.
It gets lonely at the top. When the prize is greater and seemingly more unattainable, a collective insecurity forms.
You feel the fear – but then so do most other people.
So next time you feel insecure about your chances, you’re not alone: 95% of your competitors are in the same boat.
And that’s when being the one to show up and give it everything you’ve got can lead to something potentially incredible.