Yesterday, my daughter (11) was recounting an experience she had a few years back, when my wife and I were attending Christian parenting classes at a local church with some couples we knew from church and school. After she told me a funny story about what the kids did while we were in class, she asked, “Daddy, why did you and mommy attend those classes?”
“To learn how to be better parents,” was my reply.
She then made her Papa very happy with this: “but Daddy, you and mommy don’t need to get any better. You’re the best parents ever!” Nice that she thinks so, but I had to confess to her and her brother that we had no idea what we were doing when we adopted these two wonderful kids at the age of 3. Her reply to that new knowledge was what got my attention. She said, “Well I couldn’t tell! You act like you know exactly what you’re doing.”
Therein lies the moral to this story: confidence rules. Even though I had no idea how to be a Daddy, I still had to act like I knew how to be a Daddy. That is not an easy task. It’s even harder in the startup world.
So, why, in this world of high-tech startups with exits here and raises there and people all over the place brimming with new ideas and exuberance and energy, would I need to make that statement? Because, as an entrepreneur in the early (pre-launch, customer discovery, product development) stages, sometimes confidence can be a very hard thing to find. On the other hand, there are days, weeks, and months during which you are, as Michael Jordan once said, “in the zone.” The basked looks like a swimming pool, every fairway is 100 yards wide, and you knock every pitch and presentation out of the park. How do you get from one ‘season’ to the next? Keep going. Keep doing it.
To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll tell a story from my college soccer career. My junior year at PC, I didn’t start a single game, despite being named Most Improved Player at the end of my sophomore year and spending the summer touring Russia and Europe playing against some of the best players I’ve ever seen (we got our butts kicked). I got injured in practice early on in my junior year, and the few times I got up off the pine, I had no confidence in my ability, and therefore, pretty much sucked. I even toyed with the idea of not playing college soccer anymore.
Skip to my senior year. I spent the summer in California, where I had little else to do but run, workout, and play soccer when I wasn’t working my summer job. As a result, I entered pre-season camp in very good shape, and was voted Captain by my teammates. Captain…after not starting a single game the previous season, and playing very little. That was a vote of confidence I never expected, but realized I had to fulfill. So, what’d I do? I acted like I owned the place. I acted like I had confidence, despite the fact that most of the time, I had no idea what I was doing. Kind of like parenting newly adopted 3-year-old kids. That year, I led our Conference in assists, and our team finished 15-3, the best record to date for PC Soccer.
What was the difference? Confidence, and the fact that I did not give up. Fast forward to today, and the same thing applies. There are going to be seasons when you just plain suck, and seasons when you cannot fail. In my experience, it is confidence, and the lack thereof, that gets you through the former and to the latter.
Every week in Pitch Practice, I see and listen to people pitch their business. You can see confidence a mile away, and you can smell the lack of it from even further. And that, of course, is the entire reason that Pitch Practice exists: repetition builds confidence. You can visibly see and measure the confidence that comes from practicing your pitch LIVE and in person.
Back to soccer for a minute. When I was 8, someone told me to juggle the soccer ball with my feet. I tried, and failed. But I kept trying. I got up to 8 times, then 16, then 50, then finally broke 100. I juggled that soccer ball until my thighs literally bled. I kid you not. At the age of 30, I set my personal record of 1,500 touches on the ball without letting it hit the ground. Repetition built my confidence in my ability to juggle a soccer ball.
But what if I had given up after hitting 16 or 50 or even 100? 1,500 never would have happened, mainly because I would not have had enough repetitions and I would not have persevered enough to even WANT to get to 1,500.
What do you want to get to? Keep going. Do the things you know you’re supposed to do over and over and over and over, and pretty soon, you’ll develop confidence. Those things – the things that make you successful – will soon become part of who you are, rather than what you do. Then you will exude the confidence that people see, feel, and want to be a part of.