One of the oddest things about human nature: we know ourselves better than anyone else, but we let others tell us what we’re worth.

-We think we can’t get certain jobs because an HR representative tell us we’re “too inexperienced”

-We can’t start a business because someone told us our idea sucked.

-We think we’re a bad person because someone told us so.


And we carry on like that; waiting to luck out and stumble upon that job opening or opportunity where someone else tells us that we are, in fact, valuable enough to do something.  We let other people tell us what to do, even though we know what we want to do better than they do!

Don’t you think that’s kind of silly; letting someone else define us and what we are good at?

Don’t you know what your are good at?  Don’t you know you’re qualified?  Of course you do.

Rather than letting others define you, you should define yourselves to them.

Your value is what makes you you!  It’s your unique traits; it’s what you’re good at; it’s what you like to do.

You are the one who should define your value, not somebody else.  

The problem is that we go through most of our lives waiting for other people to tell us what we can or can’t do.

For example, when we apply for jobs, we think “gee, I hope I’m good enough to get a job here; I hope they like me” rather than “I hope this job is what I am looking for and something that complements my strengths and interests.  Otherwise, I’m out.”

This was my problem for a long, long time!  I wondered what I could do to start a business or to make money.  I always though I would have to do something in accounting (that wasn’t my passion, but I had majored in it in school).

I didn’t have the confidence to dare try anything other than the most obvious, albeit lease enthralling of paths (accounting).  Then I realized the answer had been in front of me since literally third grade.

I liked to speak, I liked to write, and I liked leadership and business; and I’m actually better at those things than most people.

Now that my focus is on demonstrating to others that I have value in these areas I care about, rather than waiting for an accounting firm to tell me I’m valuable enough to work for them, I have been much happier, and I think will have much more interesting career prospects.

When you think that another person does not see value in you, it’s more likely that your value was simply not relevant to that person, or that you did not do a good job at conveying your value.

The biggest problem with letting other people value you is that they probably don’t know you very well!  

I think back to all of the accounting jobs I was turned down from (this made me feel valueless for a very long time).  But I thought about it more (and my girlfriend really helped me find my way through this one), and realized: these people had only seen my resume, a page synopsis of years’ worth of experience.

They had interviewed with me for only a few hours.  In many scenarios, I was not even impressed with the interviewers themselves.  And thinking about it, a lot of my peers (the ones who got the jobs) truly were more technically qualified (higher grades, more interest) in accounting than I was.

But clearly I was not valueless.  Many of my experience and abilities are things I see scarcely with others.  So the more logical conclusion is that my interviews went poorly because my value was not what they were looking for, or that I did a poor job conveying my value.

I think it was mostly that my value was different, and partly that I did a poor job conveying it.

My more big-picture, management and creativity-related value was not necessary for an entry-level accounting position.  My technical abilities were lacking compared to others, and that was what the firms were looking for.  But, that is not to say that I didn’t have value.

I was probably just barking up the wrong tree!  Now that I have changed my focus (as I mentioned above), I have had a lot more success and a tremendous increase in happiness.

Be able to explain (or otherwise display) your value proposition in a short, concise, and easy-to-relate-to way.

Think about the last time you went to McDonald’s.  What do you notice about it?

In general, you notice that it is the same at each location: the food is the same, the service is quick, and the prices don’t change.  This is because McDonald’s knows exactly what its value is, and displays it clearly.  

McDonald’s stays the same because they know you value a specific outcome (you want cheap, good-tasting burgers that are cooked fast) when you go there.  

Imagine: if every time you went to McDonald’s, the menu was different, the prices were different, and the service was neither consistently fast nor consistently slow.  Would you want to go there anymore?

If McDonald’s was unsure of its value proposition (e.g. how to price its food, its menu, etc.), you would have no way to know if you actually liked or needed to eat at the restaurant, since your experiences there were wholly inconsistent.


The reality is that your situation is really no different than McDonalds’.  You too have to be able to concisely explain or otherwise display your value to others.  This displays confidence and makes it easy for other people to trust you.  I think this is one of those things that we subconsciously notice when other people do, but don’t really know how to do it ourselves.

So think about it:

If you are starting a business and in a meeting with venture capitalists, they will ask what your business does, how it will make money, and how you can prove the market is there.

The right–actually, the only way to succeed is if you can quickly and succinctly (and convincingly) tell them that information; i.e. convey value to them.  If you ramble or opine or sound disconnected, you will get nowhere.

Would you give your money to someone who didn’t seem to know the best way to invest it?

Would you hire someone that didn’t know what they wanted to do or why they were applying to your company?

Convey your value by default, rather than waiting for others’ “permission”.

Most of us are polite, sensitive nice people.  We don’t want to come across as rude, pushy or affronting to other people.  We are afraid of the rebuke of others.

We think, if we let them control the interaction or are sensitive for their input, things will go just fine.

As far as exchanging pleasantries and coming across as socially acceptable to others is concerned, the above protocols sound pretty good (unless your career is offending others, which some of us make millions of dollars doing).

The problem with this mindset is that we take it too far.  We want to show our value to others, but we are worried about offending them or coming across in a way that they would not approve of.  So we wait, and let our interaction be defined by them.

-The interviewer never got to hear about the interesting experience we had working abroad.

-The audience never got to hear about our opinions on an important issue.

Is it really worth having your whole gig shut down because you felt too shy to convey your value?

And probably more importantly, you’re just exaggerating the possible negative affect of coming across strongly.  You’re just uncomfortable doing it.  But if you think about it, does it really bother you when other people do?  If they’re not being rude, probably not.  So my advice:

Practice displaying value by default, and you will naturally become more comfortable doing so!

When I interview, I never come across as meek, or worry about what they might think of me.  But I know exactly what I want the interviewer to think of me, and how I am unique from the ten to twenty other candidates they interviewed.

In some respects, it hasn’t served me well in the short term (like those accounting jobs I didn’t get).  But it worked out in the long run: do you think I would have been happy working there if my values weren’t similar to what they were looking for?  But since I am looking for other things now, it has worked out exceptionally.

So my main point is easy: ultimately it’s up to you

You are the one who gets to define yourself, and you are the one that creates opportunities for yourself.  Don’t wait for other people’s permission to do these things.

Be a go-getter, have a high (but justified) value of yourself, and watch your success and accomplishments take off.

Related Articles:

Building personal credibility

Personal branding (Part 1)

Personal branding (Part 2)

Relentless Networking

Photo Credit: By Pieter Geerts (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons