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The business owner’s worst enemy is between their ears

In both the art and the business worlds, the difference between the amateurs and the professionals is simple: The professionals know they’re winging it. The amateurs pretend they’re not. ~ Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

There’s a voice I hear all too frequently. I might be taking the stage at a speaking gig, walking into a client’s office, or sitting down in front of my computer to write an article, when in the back of my mind, I hear a voice that says, “What do you think you are doing? Do you even know what you are doing? No. You don’t…” It can go on for some time. This voice is critical of my appearance; it talks about how I’m getting my own needs met, how I should have studied more in school…It knows all the buttons to push. After 15 years of working with small business owners, I keep thinking that The Voice will subside, but it doesn’t. It just finds new places to attack!

the business owners worst enemy

It turns out I’m not the only one who hears The Voice. There are many names for it. Steven Pressfield calls it, The Resistance. Amanda Palmer calls it The Fraud Patrol. No matter what you call it, The Voice — that tape that runs in your head that is constantly accusing you of not being good enough — is pretty universal. Anytime I “put myself out there”, any time I take a risk and offer my services, in business, or in life, that voice will be there to meet me.

There are lots of ways I’ve tried to shut The Voice up. Sometimes I think about my kids; they need to eat, so I can’t listen to The Voice; I must barrel ahead. Sometimes I make a list of other times that I went ahead, and it worked out OK. When it gets particularly bad, I phone a friend or a colleague who can tell me I’m OK. Then, I go ahead and do that thing, whatever it is that I’m afraid of doing.

The only way that I know to find out if I can do something is to try to do it. Can I give a presentation about content marketing at a content marketing conference that’s somehow new and relevant? Well, I did it. As it turned out, the talk went well, and the slides have over 100,000 views! Can I work with business partners who are also siblings, or who are married, or who used to be married and now are divorced(?!?)… Each situation has different and unique challenges, but I’ve been in them all. Do I have bumps and bruises to show for it? Sure. But mostly, I have ammunition I can use against The Voice the next time it tries to tell me I can’t do something. I have proof that I can and have done a lot of things.

If I let The Voice stop me from doing anything, then The Voice wins; and I fail by not trying. But if I wrestle with it, argue against it, and keep going, then just maybe I will succeed in all the ways it tells me I will fail! If I keep trying (despite what The Voice says), I might even get better at it. I might even start to think I know what I’m doing.

But even if I do something a lot, even if I think I’m pretty good at that thing… the next time, something is always different. I’m speaking in front of a bigger audience, dealing with new people, new challenges, business changes… I can never get so good that The Voice doesn’t find a window through which it can hurl an onslaught of accusations and attempt to undermine my confidence.

The thing I can’t do — the thing I must not do — when I hear The Voice is playing it safe. I can’t start to shy away from the new stuff or take only the speaking gigs I’ve done before. I can’t look for easy work. I need to go looking for the hard challenges. The projects that scare me (at least a little). When I’m scared, I know I’m learning. The world is changing, and I have to change with it. I don’t like that, but it’s true. Staying relevant, and maintaining my ability to make a difference for clients, means that I keep pushing my boundaries and that I keep learning.

Steve Jobs put it in perfect words (from the farewell message from the Whole Earth Catalog):

Last month I talked about how leading a business exposes all my worst features, all my faults, and shortcomings. The only way I know to deal with that vulnerability is to keep learning and growing. To stay in that place where I’m hungry, to get better at what I do, and stay foolish enough to think I can!

What does your version of The Voice sound like? How do you get past it?

Photo credit: Steve Jobs Quote, RLHyde (Flickr)

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