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While interning at a psychiatric clinic in Germany, I was tasked with teaching a class on recognizing symptoms of depression. This kind of nip-it-in-the-bud, knowledge-is-power prevention education is right up my alley, and I was stoked. Except for one thing.
It being Germany and all, I had to teach the class – surprise! – IN GERMAN.
I love German. But it’s one thing to shoot the breeze over schnitzel, and quite another to hold people’s attention for an hour. I. Was. Terrified.
The day of the class came, and I told my nerves to take a hike (they ignored me). There was nothing to do but get up there and start teaching. As I did, I noticed a middle-aged man in the front row starting to lean forward, inclining his ear toward me and squinting. Whooooop, whooooop, my “FAILURE!!” alarm starts going off. He can’t understand a word I’m saying! I knew I should have paid more attention in grammar class when we learned the subjunctive! Rattled, but still talking, I went on with the lesson. Meanwhile, the man was inching forward in his seat, still straining to understand me. Flustered, I bumbled through the rest and sat down to scattered applause.
My coworker leaned over – “Nice job,” he whispered. “Yeah right!” I said, “the guy in the front row couldn’t understand a word I was saying! My German is terrible.” The coworker looked confused for a second, then grinned. “Oh, Mr. X? Nah, he is just hard of hearing, and you were speaking quietly.”
Friends, this is what we might call a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Because I was convinced my German wasn’t up to the task, I interpreted everything the audience did as further evidence that my German wasn’t good enough. This decreased my confidence, causing me to talk more softly, causing Mr. X to keep leaning forward, causing me to become more convinced I wasn’t doing well, and it all spiraled downward from there. I fulfilled my own expectation.
Now, imagine: What if I had gone in feeling confident that I would excel, believing that this presentation would really help people? I would have spoken up and commanded more attention, as confidence always does. Mr. X wouldn’t have had so much trouble hearing me, and I would have focused on the task instead of what everyone was thinking. I would have breezed by mistakes instead of tripping over them. The presentation would have been smoother, stronger, and just as inspiring as I’d hoped it would be. Again, I would have fulfilled my own expectation.
This post is not about German. It’s about business.
And in business, self-fulfilling prophesies don’t just bruise your pride, they can break your bank. Consider:
If you think “I am not good at marketing,”
Then you’ll be less enthusiastic to launch marketing campaigns. The fewer you launch, the less practice you have, so the less you learn about it. Less practice and less enthusiasm directly impact the quality of what you do. You’ll push your campaign more timidly because you won’t be sure that it’s good, and you don’t want people to see your incompetence. You’ll HIDE it as much as you push it out there. Fewer people will see it, even fewer clients will come in, and the campaign will find less success.
What’s worse, you’ll chalk the whole thing up as another reason you’re not good at marketing. When really, it all started with a thought.
It is no different with sales, off-camera lighting, handling difficult clients, or anything else you’re trying to master.
I’m not suggesting that we become arrogant and pump ourselves up with a lot of false bravado. That’s as dangerous as negative thinking. But as you wade into the many areas of running a photography business, your confidence will be shaky at times. The best way to fight the uncertainty and difficulty is to change your thoughts.
Take a second to compare these pairs of thoughts. What would the outcome of each one be?
“I’m not good at marketing” –>
“I’m learning to market my business!”
“I hate sales and asking people for money” –>
“I’m excited to show people how they can use these images in their homes!”
“My pictures using off-camera flash are awful.” –>
“I am going to get out my flash today and practice so I can do better than I did yesterday.”
“Designing a website terrifies me” –>
“What a cool chance to show people how much I can do for them!”
“I’ll never get any clients” –>
“I give myself permission to take some time to find the right clients in the right places, and not cheapen my work in the meantime.”
“My calendar is dead, and it’s going to stay that way.” –>
“It’s early February. People are still recovering financially from the holidays, plus it’s cold outside. I’m going to use this time to revamp my client approach and put together some hot marketing for March!”
Same situations. Different interpretations. Different results.
This year, do your business a favor. When the negative thoughts start swarming, write them down, just like I did here. Then see what else you can change them into.
Changing thoughts will eventually change your outcomes.
It’s the best return on a business investment you’ll ever get.