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Are Your Assumptions Holding You Back?

When you see someone who has already achieved some degree of success – perhaps they’ve written a book, or appeared on stage, or have a highly profitable business – what goes through your mind?

Do you think – Hey, I could do that! Or do you think that person possesses some qualities or abilities that elude you?

I recently attended a week-long personal branding/speaking/media training program co-led by my friend Suzanne Evans and New York Times best-selling author, speaker and frequent Fox commentator Larry Winget.

Scott Pasmore co-anchor of the KTVKs popular television show Good Morning Phoenix was brought in to give us the inside scoop on how to get on the local news shows. I must have taken five pages of notes.

Suddenly I heard my name called. Turns out I and four other attendees were selected to take part in a series of mock television interviews with Scott and Larry.

One was a parenting expert who was asked for her opinion on gun control. Three financial experts were on a panel to discuss various aspects of money. Then it was my turn to take the stage.

What question did they put to me?

“What did I think about the Supreme Court’s recent reversal of an earlier ruling in favor of the SPCAs case that the handling of elephants by Ringling Brothers Circus’s constituted cruelty to animals?”


This would be a great question for an attorney or the owner of an animal-related business. But I’m neither.

I have two areas of expertise. One of course is career change specifically for people who want to be self-employed. The other is the impostor syndrome – an all too common feeling perhaps best explained by Mike Myers’ quip that he’s still waiting for the no-talent police to show up and arrest him.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of, “Well, as a confidence expert what I see are two opposing parties who had the confidence of their convictions to go all the way to the Supreme court…”

Basically I just kept trying to change the conversation from animal cruelty to human self-confidence with lines like…”We can argue the merits of this particular case all day long… but the real issue here is that far too many people feel confident enough to…” You get the idea.

In the end I got a big round of applause. A number of people told me how impressed they were at my ability to keep my cool and think on my feet.

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

What the other participants didn’t know is that all five of us were given advance notice of our respective line of questioning. For me that meant thirty minutes of freak out time trying to wrap my way too tired brain around what to do with a subject that was so out of left-field.

I knew I’d been singled out for this curve ball because Larry and Suzanne thought I could handle it. So while I was flattered, I was by no means confident. If I’d been hit with that circus elephant question cold, my jaw would have been on the floor. And if this had been live television it would have been a disaster.

I want you to know this because too many people never go after their dreams because they make false assumptions. They assume people who are where you want to be are smarter, or more talented, or more confident, or faster on their feet.

So they give up too soon. Or worse, they never even try.

They rarely take into account the countless hours that all successful people invest in their craft in order to make it “look” easy. Or in my case, how those thirty minutes made the difference between rising to the occasion and falling flat on my face.

What assumptions are you making about people who you see as successful or confident? How are these assumptions keeping you from stretching yourself? What if you knew that some of the most successful and talented people on the planet are racked with doubt – but they keep going anyway?


There are 9 comments. Add yours.

  1. Francoise Zorge

    Dear Valerie,
    I’am a psychologist and a dog behavioral therapist. If I see Cesar Millan on television I think, that he has such expertise and convidence, I can never reach that. I always think that some people are born with their convidence. For us ‘normal’ people that is not reachable.

  2. I was in the audience at that event watching you on stage and thinking “Val is so impressive and confident – it comes naturally to her – if only I could do that!” When I encounter successful confident individuals whom I admire, my assumption is they’ve achieved a certain degree of “perfection”. This always holds me back because although I am constantly learning and growing, I know I can never achieve perfection.

  3. Barbara and Francoise — Thank you for joining the conversation. These kinds of assumptions are the reason why I wanted to expose the reality behind the scenes.

    For years Joan Baez had to leave the stage and vomit because of her performance anxiety. And she is certainly not alone in her stage fright.

    Years ago my faculty adviser told me that when he went out to do workshops for corporate clients that it was his job to “make it look easy.” What he meant was — people never see the hours, months, years it takes to get to a point where your performance looks effortless.

    Confidence comes from acting despite our fears.



  4. Carole

    Valerie- Thanks so much for going behind the curtain and sharing your experience. Most people myself included most likely would not have risen to the occasion as you graciously did. It is a wonderful reminder that “Things (life) is not always as it appears”
    Marti- I encourage you to entertain becoming a mediator. That instructor is one of the many types of people that are in the world. You bring compassion and light to your profession and you get to choose not to let him dampen that light.

  5. Savina

    Valerie, I enjoyed reading this post. To respond to your question, when I see someone whos’ successful, especially doing what I want to do, I have two thoughts/feelings: 1. I could be doing just that, I would love to be doing that. 2. I still don’t have the education and expetise to make it happen.
    It is true, I do see others who seem successful as knowing it all and being so ahead of the game, that I feel envious and always wishing to be there too.

  6. Marti

    I’m a stay at home mom who while raising my daughter (who’s now freshman in college) battled stage 4 breast cancer, in remission for 10 yrs. found myself wanting to be a mediator. I took an online course (6 month) went to my local court house to get state credentials, took classes for that and got my “state credentials”.
    While attending there classes I came across an instructor who was vastly experienced and knowledge about everything. There really wasn’t any topic he couldn’t discuss elaborately.

    Part of our training included mock mediations that we had to conduct. When my turn came, he gave me a real estate deal that had gone wrong and I had to mediate it . I know absolutely nothing about related estate and this. mock mediation was in front of my class and instructor who had to critique it. I was miserable at best but I honestly believe that. my instructor chose to give me a topic that he knew I had very little knowledge of.

    Luckily I had very high scores in both my certification classes and my written work and exams in my credentials class that I did get my state credentials but my instructor made me feel HE didn’t believe I was cut out to be a descent mediator. He knew my intentions were to make a living at this and felt I just didn’t cut the mustard.
    This of course demoralized me and so I decided not to keep pursuing my dream of becoming a mediator.

  7. Marti,

    First, I’m sorry that your first experience out the gate was not a positive one. That had to be hard.

    BUT you can not let one experience define you. If that were the case than every team who ever lost their first game would have turned in their uniforms and dropped out.

    You will never be as good on your first attempt at anything as you will on the second, the 10th, the hundredth.

    No one leaves this world without making mistakes. We all fall flat on our face from time to time. All perform worse than we’d like.

    Unfortunately, far too many women especially drop out after one disappointing grade or experience. One of the people who went through my career coach training did a practice session with a client who, from the coaches perspective, didn’t sound very excited.

    So the coach stopped altogether and never worked with another client. Turns out, more than a year later the practice client contacted her to thank her for changing her life. All that time wasted over a false assumption.

    But let’s say for the sake of argument that the first session was just “okay.” So what?! Aren’t we all entitled to be growing and improving?

    The key is not to try to do everything perfectly and to never fail. Instead its to ask what can I learn from that “failure” so you can fail forward.

    There are people out there this very moment who deserve to benefit from your training and simply who you are. For their sake — and to be a strong role-model for your children — I urge you to get back on the proverbial horse and allow yourself to get better with time.

    You and your dream are worth it.


  8. Valerie – I too was in the audience witnessing your magnificent calm under pressure in response to a ridiculous line of questioning – which powerfully demonstrated for all of us a couple of things –

    1) Know what YOU are here to speak about – and be so incredibly focused on your message that you are able to bring the attention to your message even when you have been given a completely out of left field curve ball

    2) No matter how prepared you are – you never know what to expect when you walk into a situation where you are going to be questioned about your point of view – they could have set this up in another way – where your point of view was virulently opposed by someone on the other end of the pole from where you are.

    3) Fully Embody your Point of View – You actually had the opportunity to EMBODY your message – which is confidence – and when we embody what we stand for we can hold our power and be effective and make an impact on those members of our audience who we are meant to touch (which in this case was ALL of us – it was a stunning display of confidence you put on lovely lady!)

  9. Thanks Amethyst! Yes the course is incredibly useful for getting really clear on ones point of view!

    I think I would be better prepared for scenario #2 vs. scenario from outer space — e.g. circus animals and the Supreme Court.

    Hopefully my point was clear that we often assume things about other people and thus hold ourselves back and that having the advantage of 30 minutes to reflect made all the difference in that situation


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