what you believe_ feature

In a bizarre twist of events, I found myself in a Cabo San Lucas strip club last Monday night lecturing an unemployed 23-year-old about his pie in the sky dreams of entrepreneurship. As he was upstairs squandering his severance check on his second extended lap dance, my friend who had brought him along said to me, “People who haven’t done it think it’s all about selling their dream. They don’t understand it’s about the work.”

That’s when it hit me. Everybody loves to tell you, “If you believe it, then you can make it come true…” But that’s total bullshit. What you believe is irrelevant, what you can execute is the only thing that matters.

As I thought about it some more, it occurred to me that somewhere along the way we seem to have shifted from being a results-based society to being a belief-based society. No longer is it necessary to accomplish anything, as long as you believe it and have the temerity to proclaim it as the truth. How many “visionaries” have you met who haven’t envisioned anything? Or “thought leaders” who are neither leaders nor have any original thoughts?

The problem is at its worst with “entrepreneurs” who do nothing but dream and print business cards that proclaim their title. Those who have nothing but self-belief have stolen these words from those who have actually executed. The self-believers have rendered such terms so completely meaningless that they’re now often considered code words for being unemployed.

Belief is easy. It requires no effort and it feels good. But our willingness to believe something about ourselves before we have accomplished it makes us less likely to achieve our goals. For example, an obese person who convinces himself that he’s actually thin has no motivation to lose weight. If this example seems implausible, think about how many people you know who have convinced themselves that they are entrepreneurs despite all evidence to the contrary. Their self image as an entrepreneur has already been fulfilled. They believe it’s true and they’ve convinced, or at least they think they’ve convinced, everyone around them that it’s true. Subconsciously they lose the motivation to actually make it happen, because in their mind they have already achieved the goal.

I suspect we as a society became accepting of self delusion as a replacement for actual accomplishment when baby boomer parents decided that self esteem was important. They thought all their children should get ribbons, just so everyone could feel special. Success and failure became irrelevant, because regardless of the outcome everyone was declared a winner. Over time, we became a society where simply believing you were a winner somehow became as important as actually winning.

If we want to return to being a results-based society, the first step is to reject unsubstantiated beliefs and proclamations as automatic truths. It’s time we put the focus back on execution and stop blindly embracing feel good messages that only serve to justify our bloated self image.

What you believe doesn’t matter. Who you think you are doesn’t matter. What you dream about doesn’t matter. What you announce to the world doesn’t matter. Whom you see when you look in the mirror doesn’t matter, and what you print on your business card doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is what you accomplish. Everything else is bullshit.

Back in Cabo, the kid was receptive of my constructive criticism, but unfortunately I don’t think any of it stuck. By the end of the trip, he was still trying to justify himself as an entrepreneur based purely on a self image that he had conjured up in his imagination.

He kept asking me what I thought were the defining characteristics of a good entrepreneur, but all of his ideas about what made an entrepreneur were nothing more than superficial beliefs. He kept saying things like, “I feel like I’m meant for something more than a regular job. Is that what you see in entrepreneurs?”

I told him how he identified himself and what he believed was irrelevant: The only consistent characteristic of successful entrepreneurs is the ability to get things done.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]