this post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
I met a dynamic entrepreneur recently at a networking event. He was there showcasing his new product, something intended to “change people’s lives,” as he boldly put it. He told me his life story – over twenty years of experience, he had founded multiple companies – and didn’t intend to start another one but felt drawn to this product idea. He made a confident and compelling self-presentation that instantly raised my interest in his product and where he was going to take it.
I was convinced I knew this guy from somewhere. Was it graduate school? Did I see him make a TED talk? Was it an industry conference? I started going through my mental rolodex but scratched my head and walked away. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Driving away from the event it suddenly came to me – I knew that man because he taught classes at my gym. So he might be an inspired entrepreneur, but at the moment he’s also making a living teaching yoga. Which is fine, it’s fantastic in fact. What I saw in him was the way he chose to present himself to the world: how he chooses to see himself. The product that was going to “change people’s lives,” by the way? A snack food.
A few days later I met a woman at a social event who said she was a jewelry designer. She really just did it for fun, she told me. She said she was having trouble increasing her distribution. I said I thought it sounded like a great creative outlet as a hobby, and didn't give it another thought.
The NEXT DAY I complimented a friend on her ring and she mentioned the name of the designer: of course, it was the woman I had met the night before. I actually recognized the design of the ring – I had seen it everywhere, including a national magazine. How had I gotten the story so wrong? I had NO IDEA from our conversation that this designer had a large and profitable business – all she talked to me about were the challenges she was facing.
Of course, not every man is the first story and not every woman is the second. But it is true that women tend to struggle more with “who do you think you are” – downplaying their accomplishments or painting a smaller vision of who they are in the world – than men do. It reminds me of the Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” It’s the same with how you tell your story – how people see you has a lot to do with the story you tell them about yourself.
So who do you think you are? Because that’s what you are putting out there in the world. So think big, go big – and your confidence will carry everyone along with you.