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 the 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 a 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.
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?