Sometimes, my friends will see an interesting job on LinkedIn and ask me if they should apply for it.
When I ask, “Why not?” They’ll say, “Because the JD asks for 5 years of experience, and I only have 3 years”, or “I think I’m not confident enough to take on a management role”, etc. Then they’ll sigh, close the window, and go back to the same old jobs that they hate.
How many of us do this? I call this The Curse of Believing In Yourself.
“Believing in yourself” is usually associated with life-coachey advice, like “You just have to believe in yourself and you can achieve anything you want!!!” This usually leads to people getting delusional and aiming for ridiculous goals that they can never achieve.
But “believing in yourself” can also mean believing that critical voice in your head saying “You’re not qualified for that job”, “That girl will laugh at you if you talk to her”, or “You’ll embarrass yourself”. In my opinion, this type of self-belief is the one that plagues us the most.
There’s also no point in saying “Oh, you just have to be realistic”. Our brains are notoriously bad at being realistic. The entire field of behavioural science has proven that.
When we’re faced with a challenge, like applying for a job or taking on a moonshot project or meeting a CEO, how do we overcome our crippling fears and limiting self-doubts?
Recap: We’re doing a series about extracting some practical wisdom from the Bible. As one of the oldest collections of wisdom in the world, the Bible can offer some concrete, practical lessons – even if you don’t believe in God.
Today, we’ll turn to the enigmatic figure of Moses. He’s the guy to whom God gave the Ten Commandments, the dude you rooted for in The Prince of Egypt, and the man who parted the Red Sea (Cue lame Moses joke: He was the first one to use the Control Sea shortcut).
But before he did these incredible things, Moses was a lost, insecure person plagued by negative self-doubts.
How Moses Undervalued Himself
Here’s the quick rundown on Moses’ life: He’s born in Egypt, where the Hebrews are taken as slaves by the Egyptians. As a means of population control, Pharaoh orders that all male Hebrew babies should be killed. Moses’ mother, hoping to save his life, puts him in a basket and floats him down the Nile. By a stroke of amazing providence, he’s rescued by Pharoah’s daughter who raises him as her own.
As a young man, Moses sees an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew. Filled with righteous anger for his own people, Moses kills the Egyptian. But when he realises his crime, he flees to Midian (in modern day Saudi Arabia). He meets his wife Zipporah, and spends the next forty years living a humble shepherd’s life with his new family.
One day, while shepherding his father-in-law’s flock on Mount Horeb, he sees a bush on fire yet is not consumed. God speaks to Moses from the bush, calling him to a new mission:
“The cry of the Israelites has now come to me… So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:9-10)
Now, if you were Moses, you’re probably pretty apprehensive about this. 40 years ago, you committed a crime and fled from the wrath of Pharaoh. Now, God is asking you to march right back into Egypt and make demands on behalf of Israel!
Understandably, Moses starts haggling with God. First, he asks “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” In other words, “I’m just a nobody. Send someone else!” He also objects,
“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent… I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Ex 4:10)
You can see how Moses has the same fallacy as we do in the 21st century: He undervalues himself. Whenever we disqualify ourselves from a job, whenever we shy away from talking to someone, whenever we think we’re not good enough, we make the same mistake as Moses did.
What If I Were Perfect?
So how do we overcome this fallacy? Check out how God responds to Moses’ whiny objections:
“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-11)
God doesn’t mince words. He’s basically saying, “Duuuude (God sometimes talks to me like a surfer bro), I made you. I know exactly what you’re capable of and what you’re not. So when I tell you to do something, you better believe that I’m giving you what you need to accomplish it.”
If you read this from an atheist’s perspective, God’s response can be translated to being inspired by a higher ideal. People do this all the time: We look at our heroes, and we ask ourselves, “What would Barak Obama / Sheryl Sandberg / my father do in this situation?”
Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich has a technique called the What If I Were Perfect? Technique. When you’re faced with a challenge, you simply ask, “How would the best version of myself handle this situation? How would I handle this if I were competent and confident?” I’ve used this hundreds of times during interviews and at work, and it’s worked wonders for me.
Note that this isn’t the same as deluding yourself. You could be brutally honest with your shortcomings, yet still be able to tackle the challenge as a confident, competent person. Let’s say you’re asked in an interview, “What do you think about the economy?”. There are two types of responses:
- Crappy Self-Belief Response: “Oh, hmm, I don’t really know much because I didn’t study economics… let me check… sorry…”
- “What If I Were Perfect” Response: “To be honest, I didn’t study economics in school, but here’s what I DO know: Everything depends on demand and supply. That’s the framework I would use to think about the economy. For example…”
Our heroes and the What If I Were Perfect Technique represent a higher ideal. It’s way better to act according to these higher ideals than to rely on our own self-limiting beliefs.
A Better Strategy: Rely On Perfection Itself
Acting according to a higher ideal works great most of the time. But sometimes, it’s not enough. Your heroes aren’t you, and even the best version of yourself isn’t perfect.
As a shepherd living in an ulu desert, Moses didn’t really have a Barak Obama to aspire towards. But he did have God – the creator of the entire universe – who empowered him to do amazing things: Summon plagues, part the Red Sea, give the Israelites their Law, and lead them to the Promised Land.
I look up to heroes and use the What If I Were Perfect Technique all the time. But as a believer, I also know there’s something higher than these: Perfection itself, aka God. So above all, I put my faith in God. The God who who knows me better than I know myself. The God who loves me and accepts my shortcomings, yet also challenges me to become greater.
Perhaps you think this is just clever self-deception. I’m usually a rational thinker (I majored in finance and economics, and my wife once said that I have about the same emotional capacity as a shoe), but I’ve also seen too many miracles to attribute them simply to the power of the human mind.
Don’t believe in yourself – Self-belief only works up to a point. Your true self is often fickle, biased, flighty, distracted, and self-critical.
If you’re an atheist, believe in higher ideal – your heroes, or the best version of yourself
But if you’re a believer, believe in Perfection itself – the Perfect One who empowers you, overwhelms you, and challenges you to become more than you could ever imagine.
Image credit: gerhardy.id.au