Entrepreneurs, professionals, students, graduates, you name it — so many of us limit our own success simply through the words that we use.
How we introduce ourselves to others determines that person’s first impression of us, and sets the tone for the rest of our relationship with them. When we make a good first impression, our new encounter is more likely to assume that our other personality traits (which remain unknown to them) are also positive; they’re more likely to think we’re smart, kind, successful…it’s a cognitive bias called the halo effect.
But it’s not just about the impression we’re giving to others; it’s deeper than that. The words we choose to use subconsciously affect how we feel, and in turn, how we behave, how we perform, and whether or not we succeed.
Why Words Matter
To perform at our best and achieve success, we need to adopt a success-driven mentality. This starts when we begin recognizing the power that our words have over our emotions and our mental state.
Simon Sinek explains this brilliantly, using Olympic athletes as an example. These individuals are trained for optimal performance; they’re the few hand-picked people at the peak of their sport — they’re the best of the best. The one thing they all have in common? A success-driven mentality.
Simon describes how athletes responded to the question “Are you nervous” with — “No, I’m excited.”
The physiological effects on the body are the same in both instances; when you’re nervous, your palms get sweaty, you visualize the future and your heart starts racing. It’s the same when you’re excited.
Athletes are trained to interpret these physiological stimuli as excitement rather than nerves. They know that their success is dependent on their mentality, and their mentality is directly influenced by the words they use. Making themselves believe they’re excited rids them of distractions and worry. They visualize a positive outcome rather than a negative one. They set themselves up to win.
Time for Introductions
The power of adopting a success-driven mentality applies to everyone, and the “I am” introduction provides the best way to articulate this mindset from the very beginning of any social interaction.
I was introduced to the power of “I am” by Laura Pinnow Sheehan, an award-winning career coach and strategist, founder of the Empowering Perspectives (EP) Community, and inspiring public speaker. I reached out to Laura after watching her powerful TED Talk, which resonated with me massively.
During our first conversation, I shared my story; during the second, she shared hers — and it’s definitely one worth sharing…
Laura the Lawyer
Laura is a US-qualified lawyer and for a long time, that was her ‘professional identity’. Like most of us, she aspired to develop a successful career, and, given her qualifications, success to her meant eventually reaching the pinnacle of the legal profession; becoming the best version of “Laura the Lawyer” that she could be.
When she married a diplomat, her life changed. Traveling the world meant having to start-up in every new destination; necessarily, her career took a back seat.
Yet, when asked “what do you do?”, she felt the need to clarify that she was a lawyer, albeit, unable to practice given her family’s situation. Like many of us, she sought to reinforce her credibility, not by articulating her intentions for the future, but by holding on to her past accomplishments.
There came a point, however, that Laura could no longer ignore this source of pain; having to move frequently meant that she hadn’t progressed as she had hoped in the field of law.
So, by holding on to her outdated title of “Laura the Lawyer”, she was holding herself back; she was focusing on those things she hadn’t done rather than all the things she could do.
The Breakthrough: The Power of “I am”
A pivotal conversation with another ‘trailing spouse’ changed everything. She asked Laura, “If you could do anything, what would it be?”
After years of introducing herself as “Hi, I’m John’s wife”, the question came as a shock; to be perceived by another as someone powerful that could “do anything”. It provided a confidence boost, and importantly, a reality check — a realization that she was being her biggest barrier.
Others did already perceive her as competent and powerful; she was the one holding herself to her own standards, to her own expectation of who she was supposed to become.
From this moment, Laura reassessed her focus and became her own motivator. She proudly began to introduce herself as “Hi, I am Laura. I am a career strategist”. By introducing herself in reference to who she wanted to be, rather than what she used to do, she was taking ownership over her future path. She granted herself the freedom to pursue what she wanted to do, and make room for a new role.
“Our self-image, strongly held, essentially determines what we become” — Maxwell Martz.
Laura co-founded the EP Community, a group designed to empower women to reclaim their sense of self. She noticed how most women in the group showed the same tendency to introduce themselves as an attachment of someone else, or to a previous role.
This is where the power of “I am” was introduced. Every participant was asked to introduce themselves as who they are now, in themselves — no mentioning anyone else. Whilst participants were initially timid and reserved, their energy and their physical presence visibly changed following the “I am” introductions.
This simple phrase induced them to self-reflect; to think — who am I? They were forced to stop relying on outdated explanations of who they were, and it’s this self-reflection that provided the cornerstone for self-development.
“Reflection is one of the most underused, yet powerful tools for success” — Richard Carlson.
Set Your Mind Up For Success
I’ve seen this tendency to justify our career choices in other contexts. In entrepreneurs for example; when asked about their idea or what they do, they sometimes explain what their background is in first, just to clarify that they are, in fact, educated and competent individuals; not just some idealist gone rogue on a quest to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.
I’ve heard it from post-graduates who didn’t manage to secure their ideal job straight out of university — “I studied Chemical Engineering, this is just a stepping-stone; I’m getting experience”.
By doing this, we’re reinforcing an outdated CV-culture that focuses on past accomplishments. Well, newsflash — recruiters only spend approximately 5–7 seconds reading each CV. What they care about is whether the candidate will be a good ‘fit’ for their company and whether they’re someone with a positive outlook, who can adapt to change. They’re looking for people with a future-oriented perspective; a success-driven mindset.
So, ironically by defining ourselves as what we were in the past, in an attempt to appear credible and important, we’re doing ourselves a disfavor and limiting our chances of success. We’re reinforcing our old identity and inhibiting our mentality in such a way that we stifle our capacity to proactively take steps forward.
The “I am” introduction invites us to look at who we are today; what our aspirations are. It’s designed to free us from our past so that we can take focus on creating success in our future.
So introduce yourself as you; who you are now and what you’re going to do. Unapologetically own your journey — own your success.