A lack of self-confidence can hold you back
by Kevin Pezzi, MD
It took a long time to figure out what was wrong with me. I'll discuss it because what was (and still is, to some extent) wrong with me may also hold you back: a lack of self-confidence.
I don't know exactly what caused my pathological lack of self-confidence. Perhaps it was because my father abandoned me, or because my acne so was bad I did DIY dermabrasion twice in desperation, or who knows what.
I graduated in the top 1% of my med school class, my residency director said I was the smartest resident they ever had, and one of my former bosses said I was the smartest doctor he ever met, but when I first became an attending physician, I was a danger to patients not because I was an idiot but because I was so paralyzed by my lack of self-confidence that it was difficult to think and act. I eventually overcame that and excelled, especially in treating patients in cardiac arrest, but did I really overcome the lack of self-confidence?
Not completely. My LinkedIn byline (“Inventor with some big ideas that could make my investors richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined”) … well, let me put it this way: even my girlfriend thought I was just a bullshitter full of hot air when she first met me and heard me matter-of-factly mention some of my inventions. She later admitted thinking, “there's no way he does any of those things.”
So if you're skeptical, I don't blame you. You've probably heard pre-release hype before. Remember how the Segway was billed as The Next Big Thing that would change the world? Remember flying cars that never really got off the ground?
Perhaps because I think so little of myself, I've worked overtime to compensate, but decades of inventing produced almost nothing of value—unless laughter is valuable. But then the creativity I'd sought for so long created a flood of ideas: thousands of good ones and a dozen or so big ideas that will make your life better and in some cases make your eyes pop out of your head. I've prototyped them, used them, and seen what they can do, including some things people would deem impossible. I've even made money from dozens of them I presented to a corporation owned by one of the richest and smartest men in the world.
But I still haven't presented the biggest ideas. I keep perfecting them, making them even better, and I'm sure investors would love to see them. They're enormously more valuable than the inventions I've sold so far, but I haven't yet been able to muster enough self-confidence to present them. I know they work so I have confidence in them, but not in myself.
Perhaps you have the same problem: good ideas or talents you conceal or minimize because that's the comfortable option for people lacking self-confidence. It's easy to think of Steve Jobs or Google's Larry Page as being brilliant innovators, but not you or me. We're comfortable with the status quo, not change, so we drag our feet and hide most of our abilities so change either doesn't happen or occurs in such small bite-sized chunks it never overwhelms our small egos.
I've feigned self-confidence on the Internet because I know that is what people want, no matter what they say. (I discussed that topic and interesting research pertaining to it in my other ER site.) I'm slowly building enough courage to reveal the big ideas to investors.
A break, and a breakthrough idea
It often helps to take a break and ponder things. On a long walk in cold, rainy weather, it suddenly hit me: it's not about me, it's about my investors and their customers.
Almost no one knows or cares who invented the products they use. Even I, with inventions at the center of my world, can't name who invented the microwave oven, washing machine, or integrated circuit.
It's ultimately what my inventions can do for customers: improving their health, appearance, and happiness while saving them time, energy, and lots of money and giving everyone a new avenue to having more pleasure than is now possible. And that's from just two ideas, but ones that will likely save more lives than any medical device ever invented.
Thinking deeper about what held me back, I realize some of it was a fear that not every investor will immediately recognize the potential of all of my big ideas. Then I recalled what Einstein said: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Really big ideas—the ones that change the world—always initially seem absurd, but the value of lesser ones is also often not clear from the get-go. History proves that folks often resist clearly beneficial ideas, as evidenced by:
- It took decades for the computer mouse to catch on.
- The first people who brushed their teeth were viewed as oddballs.
- In the 1930s, Americans wondered why anyone would want to use shopping carts—then a new invention—in grocery stores until owners hired people to push them around their stores. Apparently monkey can't do until monkey sees.
CNBC's The Profit illustrates how business owners can be incredibly hardheaded, hidebound, and blind to the waves of the future even if some of them washed over everyone years ago with tsunamis impossible to ignore. Superstar Marcus Lemonis often meets incredible resistance infusing common sense into the heads of those business owners, but the small businesses he rescues are not the only ones who could benefit from Lemonis therapy.
Kodak, Polaroid, Pan Am, Kmart, Sears, Radio Shack, Montgomery Ward, various big-box electronic/appliance retailers, and a long list of other dead or dying companies once thrived then sputtered because they didn't quickly see good ideas that others used to beat them.
Thus if an investor doesn't see the value of one of my breakthroughs, I'll chalk it up to his/her limitations. The most radical one, and the one bound to raise the most eyebrows, is also very easy to demonstrate with thousands of scientific articles proving that the obvious effect is valuable to health. So please excuse me as I get back to work to help you, your loved ones, and everyone else. But before I go, keep in mind the common denominator in the people once going nowhere that I helped become doctors: they all lacked self-confidence, doubting they had The Right Stuff.
I'm not good at building my self-confidence (within a reasonable time frame, anyway), but in real life, I can quickly transform people so self-confidence blossoms as they release abilities they never knew they had. This latent talent is so common I bet YOU have it, too, and can do much more than you ever imagined possible.
UPDATE: Immediately after I wrote this, I turned on The Profit and saw Marcus Lemonis disappointed by a business owner he tasked with generating new product ideas, but he couldn't think of a single one. Part of me wants to say how easy that is, but I once could spend a decade thinking and not invent anything significant. Perhaps my greatest discovery was how to become more creative: a topic I'll later discuss in detail.