- Many top achievers – whether they’re athletes or entrepreneurs – project an air of great confidence in themselves. But do you need to have the mindset of a winner to find success?
- Today, Mark Ford explains how you can build a rich life even if you’re a self-doubter.
Do you have a winner’s mindset?
Are you able to look at your career challenges and feel certain you can overcome them?
Do you feel like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan must have felt – that you have greatness in your soul?
If your answer is “no,” don’t worry.
I was listening to an interview with comedy writer Jon Macks, the former lead writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He is clearly a very successful comic writer, one of the best alive. And yet he confessed that he was constantly doubtful of his abilities, even after years of proven success.
I wouldn’t put myself on the same stage as Macks – any public stage – but I’ve had some success in business and wealth building, enough that I sometimes feel I should have great confidence. Yet the truth is, I’m always teetering on the edge of thinking I’m just a lucky fraud.
Even as I write this, a few hours before I’ll be speaking to several hundred people about building wealth, there is a voice in my head saying, “Be honest, Mark. You don’t know anything useful about building wealth. Better cancel the speech and save your dignity.”
That’s why I’m always grateful to people like Macks – successful people who admit to struggling with self-doubt.
A Short History of Self-Doubt
I doubted I could ever write anything meaningful about business when, after two years of teaching at the University of N’Djamena in the Republic of Chad, I got a job writing a newsletter called African Business & Trade.
I remember looking at an issue on my first day and thinking, “What the heck’s the difference between business and trade?” I’m not kidding. And my next thought was “How soon will they realize I know nothing about this and boot me out the door?”
My next business-related position was editorial director for a fledgling publisher in Florida. For the first time, I had a half-dozen freelance writers reporting to me. These guys were older and more experienced. Plus, they were experts in their fields. How could I presume to tell them what to do?
When I decided several years later to create and market my own newsletter, I had plenty of doubts. I doubted my boss would like my idea. I doubted I could create the product. And I doubted I could write a sales letter that would work.
When I first retired at 39 and spent my days writing fiction, I didn’t imagine for a moment that I’d get any of it published.
And when I came out of retirement 18 months later to help Bill Bonner build his business, I secretly feared I had forgotten what little I knew and would be unable to do anything to help him at all.
But what happened was this…
I learned enough about business writing to become the publisher of that little business in less than three years.
I found a way to work with people who were more talented and knowledgeable than I and became a partner in that South Florida business in less than two years.
By accepting the help of my boss and others, I was able to develop and sell that newsletter. It was an instant success and grew into a $50 million franchise that continues today.
I had eight or 10 of my stories published, two of which won prizes.
In 1982, I took a Dale Carnegie course in which I had to identify life goals. The three at the top of my list were to teach, to write and to make a lot of money.
At that time, I was basically broke and was sometimes doubtful I could accomplish even one of those goals. Today, I can say that I’ve accomplished them, in spite of the voice in my head that keeps saying, “You’re a fake. You can’t do this.”
I’m telling you this in case you, too, have ambitions but also doubts about your intelligence or capabilities. I want you to know that you don’t necessarily have to change your attitude to be a winner.
I tried to change. I read the books and studied the tapes. I shouted mantras while driving and yelled at myself in the mirror. I did it all, but it didn’t change the way I felt. If I’d had to wait till my attitude changed, I’d be waiting still.
A Side-Door Strategy for Success
Instead, I found something different. Think of it as a secret path to success for self-doubters. It is a low-key, side-door strategy I believe will work for anyone who has a humble heart and a doubtful mind.
The success I’ve had came from two simple ideas:
- If I didn’t have an abundance of natural talent, I could make up for it by working harder to acquire the skills and knowledge I needed.
- If I didn’t have the natural genius to come up with great ideas, I could find out what rich and successful people were doing and imitate what they did.
When I took that job with African Business & Trade, for example, I spent hours every evening in the national library studying the subjects I was writing about.
I never told my boss I was doing that extra work because I didn’t want him to know how ignorant I was. I simply worked twice as many hours as the other writers. And slowly but surely, I began to know what I was talking about. Eventually, I was as good as any writer on the team.
When I started writing my first sales letter, I hadn’t the faintest notion of how to do it. So I spent several weeknights and weekends reading every successful sales letter I could get my hands on.
Gradually, I learned what I needed to know.
With each small success, my confidence grew. But it was not confidence in myself. It was confidence in the process of working hard and emulating others.
Years later, after I had built many businesses and acquired wealth, people began treating me like a champion. They assumed I had natural-born talents they lacked.
Part of this was my fault. To motivate the people who worked for me, I put on the mask of a champion. I pretended to be undeterred by any problems and happy to take on any challenge.
I Should Have Been Honest…
I now believe I was wrong to do that. In an effort to motivate my employees, I was doing the opposite. I was unwittingly suggesting that, to accomplish what I had accomplished, they had to have my confidence and courage from the beginning.
I should have told them the truth – that the courage and confidence I have today were not achieved by mantras or meditation or self-imaging. That my accomplishments came slowly and painstakingly.
The reality was that I was a natural-born entrepreneurial dimwit. I should have admitted that and explained my success was the result of mule-like hard work and monkey-like imitation.
The point is that I don’t believe you need the mind of a champion to be successful in business. You need to do only two things: work harder than all those who are competing with you and imitate the actions of successful people you admire.
If you do that long enough, you will have the success you yearn for. And as a bonus, you will have acquired courage and confidence too.