Why Not You?

Facebookgoogle_pluslinkedinmail

My favorite quote from the 2014 Superbowl was, “Why Not You?”

It was a saying attributed to the father of Russell Wilson, quarterback of the 2014 champion Seattle Seahawks.

The quote was referenced by the sports commentators and again by Wilson in a post-game interview. It was something Wilson’s father said to him many years ago when he was debating whether or not to play football -- because he was at the time too short and too small to be a football player.

When he asked his father for his advice, his father said, “Why not you?”

In my opinion, that question is one of THE best questions to ask yourself when you’re contemplating a new challenge.

In fact, it was what my friend Eric (now a partner at LEK) and I asked ourselves when we were 14 years old, debating whether we should try out for the football team. We debated. We hemmed and we hawed. We were too small. We had no experience. We hardly fit the profile of the typical football player.

In the end, I remember thinking to myself, “Why not us?” I mean, seriously... why not?

I have had a lot of self doubt in my life. As many of you know, I have struggled with low self esteem for most of my life. But, one thing I am grateful for is that despite this, I didn’t let these thoughts stop me from taking action.

And the one (rhetorical) question I’ve often asked myself through the years was, “Why not me?”

I said that to myself before I started to learn to play football (4 years later I would become co-captain of my high school (American) football team and my team would win the California state championship for our division).

When I applied to consulting firms in college, I was absurdly intimidated. I mean, who was I to think that as a 21-year-old kid, I could advise Fortune 500 executives? I mean... really, come on. But, I did say, “Why not me?” (ha... though I didn’t quite fully believe it! I did believe it enough to at least put in the effort, which is the key point here.)

Then low and behold, I actually did get consulting job offers. Then I was mortified. Gulp, now I actually had to go to work and see real clients. I mean who am I to be capable enough to do that?

I remember looking at those recruiting brochures (by they way, they are designed to impress / intimidate you and the average MBB consultant is often not as impressive as the ones cherry-picked for the brochures... but I didn’t know that at the time).

I was thinking, "Geez, there are consultants with a Harvard undergrad, a Harvard MBA, and a Harvard MD --- oh crap, that is impressive. I mean I’m not an MBA. I’m not an MD. How in the world am I supposed to keep up?"

Again, I did whisper to myself (extremely faintly this time), “Why not me?”

I believed it even less this time, but enough to show up for work and to do the work required to do the job well.

Then I was extremely intimidated by the clients. One of them was a billionaire who had a movie made about him. I thought, "Who am I to advise this client? I’m not a billionaire. They don’t make movies about me."

But I eventually got over this.

(Hint -- clients are first and foremost human beings. Human beings are more similar than dissimilar to other human beings. Human beings have several common traits -- a lot of them worry about stuff, many have insecurities, and we all just want to belong. When you realize this, you realize a billionaire human being vs. a non-billionaire human being are still both... well, human beings.)

Later in my career as I moved to working for myself, it became important to work on my credibility as an expert. Interestingly, being ex-McKinsey wasn’t enough alone to get clients. So I started to work on my media profile and began doing live national television interviews.

That really freaked me out.

I mean who am I to be an expert on live national television?

(Side Note: I can deliver a 3-hour talk with 3 minutes of preparation, but to deliver a 3-minute interview on live national TV took me 3 hours of preparation and practice in front of a mirror.)

You can see one of my live national TV interviews for Fox here: Fox Business TV Clip

As I’ve looked back on this interesting dynamic in my own life, my clients' and friends' lives, and through the many emails from CIBs informing me of their MBB offers (By the way, the vast majority of the people who get MBB offers are surprised they got it. Many did not think they could do it. But they followed my guidance, and practiced a lot and got it), I’ve learned a HUGE lesson from it all.

This lesson has been one of THE defining insights of my career (as in insight applied to my own career as opposed to insights for a client).

It is an insight that I think applies to 99% of people.

Here it is:

What you are actually capable of is GREATER than what you PERCEIVE yourself to be capable of.

Here’s how to visualize this point:

Imagine a piece of paper with a small photo of yourself in the middle of the page.

At the edge of the paper, draw a thick black rectangular line with a marker. Label this box “actual limit.”

This is the actual limit of your capabilities as a human being. Your capability in your lifetime will never exceed this limit.

Now somewhere in the middle between this outer black box and the center of the page where your picture resides, draw another box -- this time using a dashed line. Label this line “perceived limit.”

For nearly everyone I know, there is big gap of white space between those two boxes -- the box illustrating your perceived limits vs. the one for your actual limits.

The reason this discrepancy exists is due to a phenomenon that I call:

THE SELF-LIMITING BELIEF

This false belief holds back more people (myself included) than any other factor in a career.

Here’s why.

If you think a particular opportunity exceeds your actual limits as a human being, the logical decision is to not bother trying. It is the optimal decision because it conserves time and mental energy resources for a non-achievable outcome.

The problem with this line of thinking is most people perceive the limits of their own capabilities incorrectly. (Ha, I’ve been doing this my entire life!)

Despite all my self doubts, I’ve very often had a tiny part of me -- sometimes as little as 5% of me -- that said to myself, “Why not me?”

And despite 95% of me thinking that I was in way over my head, I fortunately listened to that 5% and actually made the effort needed to find out for myself whether something was really out of my reach or not.

Looking back, it turns out this tendency was profoundly impactful on my career.

It was not my natural talent that has led to my success, it was my willingness to put in the effort. The wonderful thing about this is it is a CHOICE available to any human being.

Because talent without effort, still does not get you anywhere.

Nobody is born ready to be a management consultant, a Superbowl champion quarterback, or in any other career.

We are all born human... and human beings are often much more capable than they realize.

What are you capable of that you don’t even realize?

Facebookgoogle_pluslinkedinmail
51 comments… add one
  • Margaret Bransford Feb 4, 2014, 2:05 pm

    Fantastic inspiration for anyone who is holding themselves back because they are afraid they can’t do it. Thank you for sharing your words.

    Margaret Bransford
    Undergraduate Career Services
    Indiana University Kelley School of Business

  • Kgosi Feb 4, 2014, 2:29 pm

    Thanks for this Victor, it could not have come at a better time for me especially due to the current restructuring taking place at my company and the interviews I have been going to. After reading your article, I feel its okay to punch above my weight(within reason) because then again “Why Not Me?”!

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:30 pm

      Kgosi,

      Go for it! The worst thing that can happen is you will learn a lot.

      Victor

  • Ligia Garcia Feb 4, 2014, 2:35 pm

    Truly one of your best writings I have seen.
    An inspiration for the everyday challenges in life (not only at a job interview, before a championship game, or so).
    Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

    Cheers from Brazil!

    Ligia Borin Garcia
    KPMG Global Strategy Group

  • Opinder preet Singh Feb 4, 2014, 2:47 pm

    Your words play a magic role to encourage me always and thereby help me succeed!! Thanks for your precious words Sir!!

  • Jag Feb 4, 2014, 3:04 pm

    When Wilson mentioned in his interview, those are the words I took to bed last Sunday after the Superbowl. Very nicely captured and written, Victor ! Simply loved it.

  • Nandini Nag Feb 4, 2014, 3:11 pm

    Hi Victor,

    Love reading your articles. This one is specially meaningful since self doubt almost prevented me from applying to Wharton.

    Growing up I always wanted to go to an Ivy League school – but always felt that it was out of reach. So the 95% of me did doubt but then the 5% said ” Why the hell not? Whats the worse that can happen? So I will get rejected . ”
    It was the certainty that I will get rejected that made me work hard on my application.
    And guess what – I got in . Going to Wharton was the best academic experience I had and I am so glad that I listened to my 5% and not my 95%.

    Warm Regards
    Nandini

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:34 pm

      Nandini,

      Great job!

      Victor

  • Anon Feb 4, 2014, 3:13 pm

    I just want to say that I feel this is something I struggle with in my life and reading that someone like yourself also struggled with it does give me a renewed sense of worth. Thank you for addressing it and making it relatable to the hundreds of people who follow your readings.

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:36 pm

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. You, as with all people, have inherent worth. My hope is my article reminded you of your own inherent worth.

      Victor

  • Bettina Feb 4, 2014, 3:14 pm

    Hi, thank you for that article. It made a lot of sense and is something I can use on a daily basis. Funny, I never would have thought that you had those thoughts also, being so successful. I was nice that you shared that.

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:37 pm

      Bettina,

      Ha! I have a LOT of those thoughts all the time!

      I’ve gotten a similar reaction from other people and have decided to write more about them because it’s more real.

      Victor

  • Altaf Feb 4, 2014, 3:36 pm

    Hi Victor, Highly inspiring article .. I was wondering if I will ever do something like this article, where I will be courageous enough to share my insecurities and yet be able to freely inspire people to realize their undiscovered potential.. and it reminded me of your “Why Not Me” ..

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:41 pm

      Altaf,

      I found your comment thought provoking. Honestly, half the reason I write is for me. For work, I’ve had to deliberately create an image that is as credible and impressive as possible. But, that image often implies certain traits (favorable ones) that aren’t really true (e.g., I have a lot of insecurities, I’ve failed a lot, etc…).

      So I often share the rest because that’s the real me and it takes an awful lot of energy to pretend to be someone I’m not (even if that perception is a often a favorable one).

      That said, I’m glad you and others find it useful too.

      Victor

      • Harinath Feb 9, 2015, 11:41 am

        Hi Victor
        This is what I love most about you. Your style has this subtle element which reminds the reader – hey, remember I am not all that perfect but here is what my choices made difference.

        This is what on the whole gives the punch and perhaps the reason why you have such trusted and ardent fan following. Perhaps, I won’t be alone in feeling that “you are my most trusted advisor, role model to emulate and yet normal to relate with our own imperfect self”

        I won’t say this about many others that I follow (excepting for Ruchard Branson and Bill Gates).

        Thank you for picking this story as one of the best 2014 and indeed this is my all time favorited article of yours.

        • Victor Cheng Feb 9, 2015, 12:13 pm

          Harinath,

          Thank for your kind words and being so articulate about how you perceive my style. I know my style is different in some ways from others, but I have never been able to articulate what specifically makes it different. Thank you for sharing your view.

          Victor

  • NZ Feb 4, 2014, 5:40 pm

    This seems to contradict some of your earlier advice about focusing on your strengths when choosing a profession and taking on new challenges. Just thought it would be appropriate to temper it a bit – that natural talent does have some limits. You can work twice as hard for less return as the next guy.

    It seems like you’ve managed to succeed every time you’ve asked yourself “why not me”. Were there ever times you failed and how did you recover from that in a way that allowed you to still take on risks?

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:46 pm

      NZ,

      Oh there were many, many times I’ve said why not me and failed. I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeed, though most of the success have been more public and the failures more private.

      I will write about these in a separate article (ha because it is too long to list here!)

      In terms of the apparent contradiction, I wrote about this in the March 2014 issue of the strategic outlier letter http://www.strategicoutlier.com

      The why not me gives one motivational energy. Ones natural strengths gives one a higher probability of success. If you combine the two, that’s the highest odds of success. But I have seen people say why not me to an area that was not their strength. If the motivation is high enough, they end up developing that area into a strength — but it takes longer or requires much more work than going with a strength area.

      This was very true for me. I have a 7 year stretch of my career where I inadvertently focused on my weakness — but I was very passionate about doing so. I was not very successful during that time, but I developed a ton of new strengths.

      So I think the relationship still stands, but like anything there are tradeoffs.

      Victor

  • Teja Feb 4, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Thanks a lot victor. Timing wise its quite perfect.
    I have an interview tomorrow and could not prepare until today.
    I was gonna call it a night and wing it. But your post makes me put in the effort. Will give it a good shot.
    Lets see what happens tomorrow.

  • Nilanjan Feb 4, 2014, 5:56 pm

    Victor,

    What an inspiring article! Truly, one of the best article I have ever read. It is wonderful to know that you being so successful, have questioned yourself about the ability. It does give an immense confidence. Thanks.

  • Julia Feb 4, 2014, 6:41 pm

    Thank you for this, Victor. Very inspirational, and something I’ve been trying to work on lately.

    You might be interested in research by Carol Dweck on how our understanding of whether ability is fixed or malleable shapes our behavior. Here’s are a couple of articles on that topic: http://qz.com/139453/theres-one-key-difference-between-kids-who-excel-at-math-and-those-who-dont/#
    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:47 pm

      Julia,

      Thanks. I’ve been following Dweck’s work for several years now. Thanks for the links,

      Victor

  • Hassan Feb 4, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Hey Victor!

    thought that was a great read.

    I have to say, it does give me encouragement to work and put in the effort to really take a crack at punching above my weight and strive to find meaningful work.

    Recently, I graduated with pretty poor grades and I have hardly any work experience. I’ve been really lazy and lacked direction my entire life. Only recently am I taking responsibility for my actions and trying to make something of my life.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it inspires many others – Certainly inspired me!

    Regards

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:48 pm

      Hassan,

      Good luck!

      Victor

  • Raz Feb 4, 2014, 7:13 pm

    GREAT post!!!

  • Dom Feb 4, 2014, 10:34 pm

    Thanks for the insightful post Victor. Sounds like self-efficacy is what you are getting at, and it is so true! If you are not confident in your ability to perform a task or accomplish something, you are not going to bother trying.

    It applies to so many areas of life, and can be such a problem for some people. For example, I’m helping with research in gen Y’s attitudes and behaviours around blood donations, and self-efficacy is a bit part of donor retention.

    “Why not me?” is such a simple and effective way to overcome those concerns. It is great to know that its had such a profound impact on your life, thanks for sharing!

    Dom

  • Ken Siew Feb 4, 2014, 10:55 pm

    Very true words! I can totally resonate with you Victor. I considered management consulting as a career at one point but I’m now a real estate investor because that’s what I’m passionate about. But I always had the little voice that told me I couldn’t do it, or somebody else had the skills, or it won’t work for me (maybe someone else). At the end of the day, it is that 5% of me that helped me push through the hump and keep going till I succeed. The insecurity is still there, but it’s under tight control now 🙂

    P/S: The more I read your work, the more I could relate to you because you’re just another human being as well!

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:49 pm

      Ken,

      Thanks! I love your point about the insecurity still being there but is managed. That resonates with me. I’m not sure the insecurity ever goes away entirely, but I think my point was to not let it get in the way of something important one wants to do.

      Victor

  • Wenbin Feb 5, 2014, 12:08 am

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks for a great article. your articles are something that I look forward to reading everytime you post a new one.

    This one was extremely inspirational. Simple, and profound in its impact.

  • Jimmy Riscop Feb 5, 2014, 12:29 am

    Victor!

    Amazing as always, love your analogy of the boxes (very ilustrative). Also, your benchmark about how many people feel that gap is unbelievable to me but sadly true.

    And finally let me thank you for making me aware of a new “binomio” (as i like to call this figures) to my collection: Talent-Effort

    Best regards!!!

  • Sally Feb 5, 2014, 12:51 am

    Wow thanks need a booster I have been really working on getting
    inspiration. I am a budding analyst and the work is all new and demanding.

  • Alan Feb 5, 2014, 3:09 am

    Thank you Victor, this message came at just the right time. I’m going into business for myself, and I was heading down the path of being crippled by lack of confidence in what I can do and offer. This question has just rephrased everything.

    Also, regarding the 80/20 application to music writing, I got what you were trying to say and I thought it was genius.

  • Saleem Feb 5, 2014, 3:24 am

    Thanks Victor for this great post.
    Even I have taken decisions in my life by miscaluculating my potential and has put less efforts in achieving few goals.However after having seen my friends who are equally competent with me achieved the same goals, I have realised that having a self doubt will cost you alot rather than by keeping right amount of efforts in accomplishing the goals.

    After reading this article, I completely believe that I Should ask myself “Why not me” each time,when I have insecurities or low self confidence in pursuing my goals.

    Keepup this great work.

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:52 pm

      Saleem,

      Yes, yes, yes.

      I’ve noticed that pattern in your first paragraph. Sometimes we see others we consider to be be peers achieve things we didn’t think possible for them or for us.

      BUT, they did consider it possible and actually TRIED. It is impossible to succeed if one doesn’t at least try.

      I’ve seen that a few times in my life and it has also served as a reminder of they why not me guideline,

      Victor

  • Rajasree Feb 5, 2014, 9:14 am

    This post struck a chord with me.

    Until a year ago, I listened to my 95% even though I quite knew that the other 5% was right, I did not trust it. It took a lot of self-encouragement and change in thinking that I finally started trusting that inner voice saying, “Why not you?. You certainly have it to make it as an IT consultant at a leading consulting firm.” By the end of the year, I had a job offer from the very firm I got rejected by 3-4 times earlier.

    I hope others can take inspiration from this post and listen to the tiny voice in their head going “You can do it.”

    • Victor Cheng Feb 5, 2014, 12:55 pm

      Rajasree,

      Glad things worked out. A good point that your comment reminded me of is this. When something does not work out, be sure to learn for it.

      My guess is the first few attempts you made to get into your target firm provided some lessons that eventually helped you get in.

      When you say, “why not me?”, one of two things happen:

      1) you either succeed
      Or
      2) you learn a lot

      Victor

  • Francisco Feb 5, 2014, 6:58 pm

    Dear Victor,
    could you also share on your website the story of you and your friend Eric?

    That was a very inspiring story of success as well.

    Kindly regards

    Francisco

  • Kunda Neill Feb 7, 2014, 3:58 am

    Thanks for this Victor, very timely in the face of rising doubt. Time to get back on it.

  • Dennis Feb 7, 2014, 1:01 pm

    As a biased Hawks fan this is my favorite thing you’ve ever written. Don’t forget to combine it with another Russell saying, “the separation’s in the preparation.” Back to studying.

  • William Feb 11, 2014, 4:15 am

    Hi Victor,

    This is an invaluable piece of information. I have never quite passed PST’s in some of the reputable companies in my country. Soon I am going to have McKinsey’s series of interviews and the 95% tells me I wont make it through the PST yet I think I will be good for the case interviews. At least I now know I got to listen to my 5% and thats it. Sky is the limit!!

    Thanks,
    William

  • Emanuel Feb 11, 2014, 7:21 pm

    Ok, I feel bad because I used your knowledge to twit and I didn’t had enough space to cite you. So, I will try to pay back exploring the following:
    “What are you capable of that you don’t even realize?”
    I believe the answer to this might be hidden in our imagination. That that we catch ourselves dreaming of, that indicates what we could be doing right in this life…

    Thank you for planting this thought, among many others.

  • Andrey Feb 24, 2014, 5:20 pm

    If I’d to vote, for me, this is the best writings I have seen. Thanks for the words. I’m usually unable to keep reading for so long but at this time, you got me.
    Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

    Best regards,

    Andrey Cunha
    Brazil!

  • Vincent Jul 1, 2014, 7:54 pm

    Hi Victor, thanks for sharing your thoughts and life experiences.

    I am 25, ended a double education both in life sciences and business at very good/top unis and I have a constant flaw of questions in my head concerning life and career choices since several weeks now.

    You are speaking of your current experience of becoming a recognised expert in your field. What do you think is best in life on the long term? Becoming a management consultant but staying generalist for many years before, maybe, get recognized and toughtful about what you do ? Or going straight to a PhD and becoming an expert right away, even if not internationally recognized at the beginning?

    I really struggle to decide with path is best for me, as I love deeply biology as well as business.

    Thanks !

    • Victor Cheng Jul 2, 2014, 5:23 am

      Vincent,

      Your question has an implied premise that one of the two options is inherently better on an absolute basis. I encourage you to think less in terms of good vs bad opportunity or better vs best opportunity. Instead think in terms of “fit”. Which opportunity “fits” what you want our of life better?

      To answer your question, I would need to know what is important to you (your values) and your goal. If you can’t decide between two career options in means one of two things.

      1) you don’t know enough about each opportunity
      2) your decision making criteria has not been defined in advance (your values and goals)

      If you do your homework, know your values, know your goal, the right choice is usually obvious.

      Victor

  • Sullivan Oct 21, 2014, 5:27 am

    Wonderful article. I used the “why not me” rhetorical question when I underwent 2 failed neck surgeries and lost my job. Believe it or not, it helped me realize that life doesn’t discriminate and helped me power through. The question “why not me”? Is amazing in that is that it makes you realize some things are out of our control, but not all.

  • Mohak Mehta Feb 10, 2015, 4:13 am

    Dear Victor,

    Let me introduce myself as your biggest fan. I have been following you for over 2 years now and I relate so much to how you think (& reflect) and what you write. A lot of people like to say that one should always look forward in life, but what I love about your articles is that you look backwards to find really interesting clues about your own self which help you to understand and thereby help you operate more efficient in the yet to come life.

    I am currently a final year under-grad at IIT Bombay (India) and have been accepted for the associate program at Boston Consulting Program and will be joining this August.

    Lastly I wanted to ask if it would be possible to intern under you or work as your personal assistant this summer (Starting May). ( This is my dream internship and it would mean the world to me if this can work out! )

    Anticipating a response from you.

    Thanks,
    Mohak Mehta

    • Victor Cheng Feb 10, 2015, 5:05 am

      Mohak,

      We’d be happy to consider you for an internship. I will have a colleague contact you directly.

      -Victor

  • Pierre Feb 10, 2015, 4:43 am

    Excellent article! Thanks.
    However I disagree on one point:

    “What you are actually capable of is GREATER than what you PERCEIVE yourself to be capable of.”

    I believe that is true for people who tends to underestimates themselves.

    For people who are overestimating themselves (Like I do for exemple, unfortunately…) I would say that:

    “What you are actually capable of is LESS than what you PERCEIVE yourself to be capable of.”

    Victor, don’t you agree?

    • Victor Cheng Feb 10, 2015, 5:02 am

      Pierre,

      I don’t know you or your situation well enough to agree or disagreed. Although I am curious as to why you came to the conclusion that in your case the statement isn’t true? Is it because you didn’t achieve something you wanted to achieve? If so, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are not inherently capable of achieving it. It simply means you did not achieve it using one particular approach. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

      -Victor
      -Victor

  • Vlad Feb 10, 2015, 8:51 am

    I asked myself that same question when I was 22. I was still in college and although I had no experience, no money and very few technical skills, I had a dream of starting my own business. I started my entrepreneurial journey with an old computer that I had received as a high-school graduation gift and $300 that I had borrowed from my father and now, ten years later, I own and manage a successful (at least by Eastern European standards) import and distribution business, I will be starting my MBA this fall at one of the best schools in America, and I am considering transitioning to a management consultancy career. And yes, I know that I will be competing with the best, I know that I will face many cultural, professional, and personal challenges, and I know that I will have to constantly push myself in order to succeed. But then again: Why Not Me?

    Thanks Victor for writing this great article, your words are always an inspiration!

    • Victor Cheng Feb 10, 2015, 11:42 am

      Vlad,

      Good luck! The wonderful thing about considering Why Not Me? is it biases one to take action. And even if you do not succeed, the act of taking action opens up new insights and opportunities that often aren’t visible from the observation deck of life.

      Maybe one “fails” but meets a new contact, learns a new skill, discovers a new insight abut oneself, uncovers an even better opportunity to pursue, receive feedback on how to improve, and much more.

      I’ve ound taking action always yields better results than thinking about taking action. Taking action is also usually much more uncomfortable than merely thinking about taking action. That discomfort is what I call “growing pains”. It’s nearly impossible to grow without “growing pains”.

      I think your life story is a testament to the power of thinkng “Why Not Me?” and taking action based on that premise. I have a feeling the rest of your life will continue to be a testament to this principle.

      Good luck!
      Victor

Leave a Comment