Learning to leverage insecurity

Can we talk about insecurity for a second?

What's the secret to your success?

When I was speaking at the Double Your Freelancing Conference, I had lunch and dinner with several great freelancers. One of them, over the course of the meal, asked what my secret to success was.

Now to be clear, I consider myself successful because I convinced my wife to marry me – and anyone who has met her knows I married up.

But it was clear in the context of the conversation that they were talking about my professional career and so I responded with a single word: insecurity.

[tweet “Everyone has some level of insecurity. Will you let it fuel you to achieve or will you freeze?”]

I'm positive that wasn't what they were expecting and the look on their face confirmed my suspicion. But the reality, as I've shared before, is that I constantly battle with a bit of impostor syndrome. It surprises people because I can easily get on stage and present to hundreds or thousands of people without an issue (which is often something they're terrified of).

Yet, an email, a phone call, or a question can easily trigger that wash of insecurity that freezes me and makes me look for a quick exit.

Here's the truth: everyone has some level of insecurity. That's not a shock. The question is what you do with it. Will you let it fuel you to achieve something? Or will you let it freeze you?

Five truths that help me leverage insecurity

Everyone experiences it at some level.

Here's what I have to hold on to – the feeling of insecurity is a feeling that isn't unique to me. Other people feel it. And that makes me normal and human. I don't have to stress that I'm some sort of strange creature that feels insecure.

The first thing I tell myself is that this is a normal feeling—just like being scared in a movie. The second thing I tell myself, like when I'm scared in a movie, is that it will pass.

No one else knows it's happening.

The second truth I hold on to is that no one else knows it's happening inside me. It took me a while to figure out that my default first words out of my mouth were actually not very helpful. When you get on stage to speak to people and you're nervous, you know what will turn them off and make things worse? Telling them that you're nervous!

My nervousness, which doesn't just happen on stage but happens on calls or meetings or right before them, is in my head. No one else knows it. And I can manage my internals just like I can when I can't stop thinking about ice cream, pizza rolls, or getting that Tesla upgrade that will make my car even faster.

There are people who think I'm amazing and will tell me so.

If you don't have a group of friends who know you—even the stuff you wished no one knows—you should work on that right away. For me, there are several people, and I'm constantly trying to grow that group, who I can count on for a pick me up. Just a quick conversation and when I'm done, I have received all sorts of positive affirmation.

The other crazy thing is when I call up folks who I can help. For me, helping is easy and fun. It's when I'm done and what cost me little has meant so much for someone else. As they share how helpful I've been, my insecurities shrink. I think, “see, there are some things you actually are good at!”

There are people who will understand why I freaked out and will have empathy.

Some of the same group of people who are encouragers are also empathetic. But not all, and that's ok. Honestly, I've discovered there are some people who are just great at walking the road with you. They hear your fear and smile. They giggle even. Because from their side of things, they can't imagine that you're nervous at all. But that doesn't matter to them. They understand and can come alongside you to say, “I get it. But here's why I don't think it's the big deal you think it is.” Those folks are awesome!

Remember that almost everything I've learned or achieved scared me at some point.

My final truth that I regularly embrace is that almost everything I've ever learned or accomplished was something that freaked me out at some other earlier point. And the courage to take the next step – not a level of courage that would allow me to do everything, I'm just talking about a step – was what kept me in the game.

Three challenges for you

I explained, over a meal, that I'd learned to use insecurity to fuel my desire to learn and to achieve. And that insecurity had really helped me—over and over again. And that today I challenge people to face their fears and insecurities in a way that lets them push forward rather than getting frozen in place.

My challenge to you is three-fold.

  • Will you push past your own insecurities to step into places you never thought possible?
  • Will you be one of those people who is supporting others who feel insecure?
  • Will you share, with me or anyone else around you, how you've dealt with insecurity?

The more we talk about it, the better it is for everyone. Right?