Being who you want to be…

There is a saying that goes something like this: If you want to be a particular person — say, a pianist or a racing driver or perhaps even a writer — you will increase your chances of achieving your ambition if you conduct yourself as if you were already that person. A pithier version might be: Act like the person you want to be.

It therefore stands to reason that if you have a burning desire to play New York’s Carnegie Hall, and you also subscribe to this maxim, you should probably continue with those 10,000 hours of practice. Indeed, it might be advisable if you simply went about your piano playing as if you had already made the booking.

Alternatively, if you want to be a leading barrister, it might not be a good idea to turn up to the interview in your Prodigy-Firestarter outfit brandishing face-tattoos and sweatily fingering the dog accessories with which you are embellishing the whole ensemble. It’s deeply unfair and discriminatory, I know, but it’s not the look, trust me, to make them say, ‘Hmm, yes, that’s just the chap for us.’

So, if you are inclined to accept the advice, conduct your life in a manner as close to the real thing as possible; at the very least people are more likely to think you are serious about whatever it is you are doing. And this philosophy (if that’s not over-dignifying the approach too much), by my reckoning, plays out in three broad ways:

First, it builds your confidence. The greatest inhibitor of success is not talent (although a moderate level of talent is of course desirable); no, the thing most likely to stop you from achieving your goals is self-doubt. If you can’t even look in the mirror and tell yourself you are a pianist capable of playing pieces of music to a halfway decent standard, then you are probably going to find it quite difficult not only to tell others about your piano-playing abilities but also to enquire if they might let you play a gig. It works in almost every circumstance, whether your ambition is to be a pianist, doctor, physicist or even simply to land a job at your local burger joint. Sort of.

Second, it enables you to develop the necessary talent and experience. To network your way to an interview and then make a good impression with a well-timed joke about three employees chatting at the water cooler is one thing; to demonstrate you are up to the job is quite another. But the unfortunate truth is you will never develop the experience and skill for something unless you take that something seriously, and in many instances that means going about your business with the discipline, enthusiasm and confidence you would expect from those who have already made the grade.

Third, and perhaps most important, it sends a strong signal to other people that you are worth their time. We are told sometimes that things have progressed beyond the level of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know.’ But this is not so, and it will never be so because it’s not a case of one or the other. Yes, you need the skill, but you also need other people to open doors for you, which means you need the personality to get those people onside if they are not already helping you because of kith and kin relationships. Some people refer to this as ‘people skills.’ I prefer to call it gumption. There are other words for it: bluff, front, posture, deceit; but it all comes down to the same thing: The quiet, nervous, bashful kid is going to find it harder to get on in life than the kid with gumption. ’Twas ever thus.

But while it is easy enough to understand the principle of acting like the person you want to be, it is not so easy to put it into practice. There’s the 10,000 hours, for starters, which to any normal human being seems too daunting to even begin let alone complete. Only the child who has played the piano since they were three years old can make it to Carnegie, so why should anyone else bother trying?

Maybe this is not the right way of looking at it? Maybe I’m thinking too much about the high-end performers: the superstar concert pianists, the Formula One racing drivers and the Olympic champions? Maybe we should distil the principle down even further, to something like: Just make an effort and steal yourself a while.

In the end it comes back to that main inhibitor again: a lack of confidence and a reticence to put yourself out there. If you can get over this, so the theory goes, people are more likely to believe you are what you purport to be. After all, they’re probably wracked by the same insecurities as you; they are probably just as likely to be wondering if this ace person (you) standing before them, giving it large about how they can do this and that, is making the exact same judgements about them as you think they are making about you. (Unless, that is, they happen to be the Chief Executive or the Editor-in-Chief or the Professor, in which case they might not regard you with quite the same awe; but at least you’ll have landed a meeting with the top cat, so give yourself some credit.)

Who, then, is the person I would like to be? I’m afraid I can’t tell you that right now, because I’m still standing just around the corner from that mirror I mentioned earlier, wondering if the only thing I’m going to hear when I approach are the cutting words: ‘Yeah, right!’

But what about you? Still at the mirror stage? If so, what would you say about the person you want to be?


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