Recently my wife and I came to grips with the fact that neither of us has an eye for interior design. Our house is a random mishmash of patterns, designs, fabrics, and styles.
So we got a recommendation from a friend for a local interior designer.
Our process for vetting the designer was telling. First, my wife logged onto Facebook and looked her up. "She looks cute," she said, "and she's got style."
"Oh! That's good!" I said, hovering over her shoulder.
Next, we logged onto her website and looked through her portfolio, which had four samples.
"Seems legit," I said.
"Yeah, I like her designs," my wife said.
Finally, we looked at her "About" section on her website, where she proclaimed herself "a well-rounded student of Art History and Interior Design." (Note: she proclaimed herself.)
"Great! Let's give her a call and set up an appointment to learn more!" I said.
Now, this may say more about us and our superficial vetting process than it does about her, but I don't think so. In reality, I don't actually care if she's got the degree, a long track record, or a beefy portfolio.
I care that she came recommended from a friend, she's done it before, and she doesn't look or seem crazy.
Think about it: when you hired a mechanic, did you ask for their degree? Track record? Probably not. You probably looked at their testimonials.
How about your dentist? Did you ask how many patients they've served in the past 5 years? Did you ask to see before and after shots of past work? Probably not.
Legitimacy is an interesting thing. It's actually relatively easy to establish. Serve a customer, get a testimonial, show a passion for what you do, and publicize that passion. Don't be crazy, serve people to the best of your ability, and offer an outstanding product at a great price.
You don't have to have a degree, a long track record, and a published book to be credible.
See, credibility is more about you than it is about us.
We -- the people you serve -- don't need it as much as you think we do.
Credibility is the reason people will pursue additional degrees, certifications, etc. Every MBA I've ever coached is really getting their MBA for credibility, not for the interesting content.
Interestingly, we pursue these things more to convince OURSELVES that we're legit than to convince others...as usual, we are our own worst enemies...
To be clear, I'm not antagonistic against furthering your education or getting certified, but I think it's more for you than for us. That's ok. Do whatever you need to in order to feel legit, but don't delay offering what you have to the world until you feel legit.
Paradoxically, legitimacy comes from offering what you have to the world in spite of feeling like you lack credibility. Your offering makes you credible, not your dossier.
Two years ago my close friend came to me to figure out his career path.
“What do you really want to do?” I asked.
“I want to be the trusted advisor that helps people make good financial decisions,” he said.
We brainstormed some ways to do that, including networking with people, launching a few projects, and building a client base.
Over the past two years I’ve watched him chip away at this plan from different angles…a lunch meeting here, a project pitch there. Nothing seemed to be gaining traction.
Then, last week he told me that he was gaining significant traction and things were about ready to take off. I was thrilled for him, and he was ecstatic that it was happening.
During a pause in the conversation, I asked him what had changed. “What shifted to make this happen? What did you do to go from ‘stuck’ to ‘all in’ and making it happen?”
I fully expected him to say something like “it just took the right deal coming along” or “it’s all about patience” but he caught me off guard.
“It was a fear thing,” he said.
“Fear? Fear of what?!” I asked.
He said he had to overcome this internal resistance — this fear — that he lacked credibility, that no one would listen because he didn’t have a long track record, and that he wasn’t a legitimate contender in his space.
"Really? That’s what was holding you back?” I asked.
“Yep. Do I really know enough? Am I going to lose people’s money? Do I belong?"
He’s an interesting case study because his experience is like almost every other entrepreneur I coach. When you launch out on your own, your knowledge, skills, and content don’t seem all that unique. Sometimes this is because you developed your expertise alongside many others who have the same or better knowledge, skills, or content. But when you take what you know and do well to the people, you eventually learn the old maxim is true, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” When you were among other one-eyed men, you weren’t so unique. But what you have to offer the blind is what makes all the difference.
So how do you break through this type of fear, this credibility trap?
In talking with my friend, the secret was small wins. Small victories that built his confidence and helped him feel like he belonged. I can relate. When I started Proof, a small contract here and a gig there gave me hope that this business could work out. I did anything I could to legitimize myself as a contender. Even publishing RESET was a way to show that I belonged, to build credibility, and to build my brand.
If you feel stuck or find yourself asking “who am I to do this?” then find a way to build your momentum and confidence through a series of small wins — a conversation here, a project there. Do anything you can to establish a track record and catalyze opportunity.
And remember: you don’t have to know it all. You simply need to know more than the audience you aim to serve.
In fact, the ones who make it seem to take upon themselves a mantle of credibility that is mostly self-created.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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