Do you doubt your competence?

Your peers are not your customers.

I’ve posted this statement on the wall in front of me. On notes beside my computer. On my computer screen wallpaper.

I repeat it to myself all the time. Like a chant. A mantra.

And still I forget.

I’m surrounded by brilliant people

My email and Twitter stream and RSS feed are bursting with expertise on small business management and marketing, social media, blogging, writing, consulting, coaching and personal development.

I follow people who are making things happen. People who have published books, built booming businesses (online and off), speak at conferences…and a few rising stars that are heading in that direction. Quickly.

In my online world, everyone blogs. Everyone is on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone is an expert.

I made up a world where everyone is smarter than me

With each subscribe and follow…I’ve chosen to create a world where everyone is “ahead of me/smarter than me/more experienced than me.”

A world comprised of teachers, mentors, role models.

And because I also choose to follow people who write with personality and from the heart…I feel like I know them. They’re not nameless, faceless experts. They’re friends. Peers. Real people.

It feels like we have a relationship (even though most of them have no idea I exist.)

And sometimes they intimidate the hell out of me.

I’m self-reflective. I evaluate by nature. I’m always contrasting where I’m at with where others are at. (Comparing my insides to their outsides.) It’s part of how I’m built.

Most days I’m conscious of what I’m doing, and I think I can rationalize/minimize the impact. Yet, no matter how much I *notice* that this is going on…it happens.

I look at them. I look at me. And I come up short.

I feel like I have nothing to offer. That I’m moving too slowly. That I have no business teaching the things I teach.

I’ve cherry-picked the very best people in the world to follow. The smartest. The funniest. The most successful. (The ones I want to grow up to be like.)

And when I spend too much time in their world…I lose perspective. I start to think that *everybody* is just as accomplished as they are. I discount my own knowledge and experience.

I hold back on my business ideas and plans…and instead focus on running as fast as I can to learn and try to catch up…trapped on the gerbil wheel of “I don’t know enough yet. I’m not good enough yet.”

Welcome to not-so-artificial reality.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been intensely productive.

Not surprisingly, this has coincided with an absence from my digital neighbourhood. I’ve gone quiet on Twitter, on Facebook…and here on the blog.

Instead, I’ve been hanging out in my offline world.

The world I have limited ability to construct. (There’s no button to “unfollow” or “unsubscribe” people who show up at an event or belong to the same group. ;))

And this has given me much needed perspective.

Amazingly enough, most (damned near all) of the people I meet offline do NOT have the same obsession I have with business, marketing and social media.

(“Twitter? What’s that? You’re a logger?”)

Seth Godin who? How do you spell that?

They haven’t heard of the gurus I follow. They haven’t read the same books. They haven’t attended the same workshops and conferences.

Even some people who are *working* in these areas.

I’m often surprised when I hear presentations and I realize that I know more (sometimes a LOT more) than the “expert” on stage.

And as I look around the room, I see note-taking and question-asking and interest. Because the folks in the room know less than the speaker.

Which is exactly as it should be

I have no problem at all advising my clients and my readers that: Yes. You are an expert.

Yet I’ve been resisting that advice myself.

Lately, I’ve been getting clear about my place on the ladder. A few rungs ahead of me are the experts I follow online.

A few rungs behind me are people who don’t have the knowledge and experience that I do.

I’m not helping anyone by waiting until I know everything. (Which, insane as that sounds, is pretty much how I was looking at things.)

Avoiding becoming a “professional student”

I’m a big fan of growing, learning and having role models.

I’m also noticing that it’s dangerous to spend too much time in that world.

It can undermine your confidence.

Or leave you feeling like you’re not ready yet. (Professional student syndrome, anyone?)

Balancing continued growth and development with readiness

Here’s what I’m doing to maintain perspective.

Working on my business projects first. Before reading anything online.

Spending more time in the world of customers and clients. For me, this means offline.

Reminding myself before I enter my online world that I’m about to step into the teacher’s lounge. I’m here to learn, not compare.

Taking a more balanced view of myself. Acknowledging my expertise, my experience and my successes. (Rather than always concentrating on areas where I can grow.)

And I also remind myself of something a (very smart) friend once said to me:

Only the competent doubt their competence.


  1. Erin on June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve gotten much better at acknowledging my expertise – mostly by accumulating the experience of being one and noticing it and believing it – but this: “your peers are not your clients” – I really needed to have that in my brain this concisely – it takes me on all sorts of journeys…that’s a different part of being an expert that is still wiggling around in my life…

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:24 am

      You know, Erin…I think you’ve hit on something here: there is a different dimension to being an expert amongst ones peers. I’ve been mulling the same thing since I wrote this. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Susan on June 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Wow — could have written this post myself! Just a few hours before reading your post, I was unfollowing some people on Twitter. I’m happy for their success — but constantly reading about it was making me feel bad.

    “I’m here to learn, not to compare” is my new mantra!

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

      Susan – I know exactly what you mean. I think in some cases the idea of “making people feel bad” is exactly what they’re trying to do because it works to market their products. (Buy my X program and you too can be wildly successful and happy all the time.) I’m with you on the unfollows. Nice to see you here!

  3. Vicki B on June 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I have been missing you! So GLAD you are back. I learn something every time I read your comments, Patty K. In fact, I look FORWARD to having you pop up in my inbox. In fact, I am GRATEFUL to have found you. You are getting better and better at concisely (thank you, thank you) hitting the nail on the head. Upward and onward! It’s that “life is a journey, not a destination” thing maybe?

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:32 am

      Awww. Thanks, Vicki. It felt a little weird to be away so long, appreciate the warm welcome back. And yes: Life is a Journey, not a Destination is one of my favourite sayings. So true!

  4. Andini Rizky on June 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Patty! You came back! It’s a good post, very timely for me. Btw, I comment only to ask what’s wrong with the Facebook like button? I click it over and over, it keeps turning to 0. Now I will hide again and reading your blog from obscurity.

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:35 am

      Andini! Thank you so much for coming out of hiding to let me know about the facebook button. I believe I have it working again. I appreciate you reading from obscurity (and letting me know that you do) – you are welcome to comment any time you like (or not at all). Have a great day.

  5. Reba on June 29, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Patty! Oh, so happy to see you you!

    This post is full of very many useful reminders for me, who just today was bewailing how I get stuck in the mindset of ‘until I know *everything* how can I possibly teach this?’

    I’ve been playing with this concept that Cairene of Third Hand Works talked about, where the things that trip you up are actually your superpowers gone overdrive. And it made sense when I applied it to this scenario: the essence of needing-to-know-everything-before-I-can-teach is, for me, *care*. Like, really caring that I’m contributing in the best way I can to the people I want to work with.

    But then it goes into overdrive and becomes stuckified ‘I’ll never know enough!’, and ‘Look at these people who know more!’ (Plus there’s like, a million fears of biggification added to the mix.)

    So, reminders of the rungs principle is super-helpful!

    (Also, even though I am happy you are taking care of yourself in an offline way, I also hope you’ll be hanging out here a bit more often too! Life is better with you around 😀 )

    Big love
    Reba x

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:40 am

      Reba! So nice to see you here. 🙂

      Super-powers in overdrive. Wow. Thank you (and Cairene) for that insight. The word that immediately came to my mind was “competence” – being able to deliver on what I promise. Followed quickly by “responsibility” – not wanting to lead people astray. Both, of course, are ways of caring. What a great way to look at this!

      (And thanks so much for the kind words and warm welcome back. I’ve missed this place too.)

  6. iHanna on June 29, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I can totally relate to this, thanks for sharing and writing this post Patty! It’s awesome. I so feel this, and feel like a crazy person sometimes when I try to tell my friends what I do, see, and read online… It’s like another world, and I’m thrilled when I get together with a friend that also has a blog: we can talk about totally other things than I can with friends who does not have an online (secret) life! 🙂 You rock!

    • Patty K on June 29, 2011 at 7:45 am

      Thanks, Hanna! I can completely relate to that experience. Sometimes I struggle to find things to talk about IRL with friends who don’t live online like I do. And it’s such a treat to meet up in person with bloggers I’ve only met online. We instantly have so much to talk about (and we speak the same language and “know” the same people.)

  7. Judy Dunn on June 29, 2011 at 8:44 am


    I so get what you are saying here. Was talking to Danny Brown and some other folks about this on my blog. Last year at BlogWorld in Vegas, there was an unmentionable social media “guru” in the hall with his groupies—I mean, fans. He wore a tee-shirt that said, “I’m kind of a big deal on Twitter.” After I excused myself to go and vomit, I thought, “I’ll bet 99% of the people in this country don’t even know who you are.”

    It’s that mentality that somehow the successful people online and in social media are celebrities. But they are in this tiny bubble, this very small pond. Im my blogging workshops, I used to throw out these names as if everyone knew them and I would get lots of frowns and puzzled looks. Then I started asking who knows who this certain person is. And one, maybe two hands in the whole room would go up.

    So I think when we live in the online world, we get this skewed view of things. And there are a whole lot of successful people with incredible businesses, but no Twitter account. So much important stuff in this post Patty. Thanks for making me think. : )

    • Patty K on June 30, 2011 at 7:59 am

      Great perspective, Judy.

      I agree. Our view is completely skewed. I was in Portland a couple weeks ago at Chris Guillebeau’s conference. It felt like seeing my Twitter stream in real life. Lots of “internet famous” people – but famous only to their followers. I wondered how it felt to them – usually writing alone behind their computer, and now swarmed with “fans” like a celebrity. I’m sure more than a few found the experience unnerving. No doubt they can walk the streets of their own home town without a soul knowing who they are.

      Straddling these two worlds is an interesting place to be.

  8. Sue Mitchell on July 2, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Hi, Patty! So glad you’re back. I have been missing your posts!

    It’s very true about the skewed view you can get when you hang out on social media too much. And so much of what is traded in these venues doesn’t produce anything real. It might be one entrepreneur helping another entrepreneur with their brand so they can better promote their business selling other entrepreneurs a social media strategy. What was really produced in all of that? After a while, it’s just money going in circles with no real benefit to society, as far as I can tell. 🙂

    I love your analogy of the ladder. One thing I have come to realize in the last year is that I don’t have to be everything to my clients. I might be their everything while they are on the rung of the ladder where they need the expertise I offer to get to the next rung. Then they can move on to other people who have the next thing they need. That doesn’t mean I failed–if anything, it means I succeeded in getting them ready for something more advanced.

    As I move up the ladder myself, I may choose to offer my clients the next level too, but even if I stay on the same rung forever because that’s where my interest lies, there is a need for support on that rung, and I can provide it.

  9. Patty K on July 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Hey Sue! Thanks for sticking around and commenting!

    Interesting thought about the self-referencing group. I like to imagine that the circle grows bigger somehow…and that on the fringes (at the bottom of the ladder) are people out there helping other types of businesses. (Including some of the successful, but not yet on Twitter ones that Judy mentioned!)

    You also highlighted the concern I had with using the ladder as an analogy: the belief that “higher up the ladder” = better. That wasn’t my intention – and you summarized it perfectly. Staying on a particular rung – if that’s where you want to make your contribution – is awesome, Like you said, there is a need for support at all levels. You can move up (or down) – your people can follow you (or not) – and all is good.

    The *key* thing is not to hold back because you think you’re not ready yet. We *all* have something to offer.

  10. Stacy S. Jensen on July 6, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Found your post through the Cat’s Eye Writer Blog link. I hate that Judy had a broken limb, but glad she shared this post. Helped me today.

    • Patty K on July 7, 2011 at 11:16 am

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Stacy! So glad I could help. (And Judy is awesome!)

  11. Claire Tompkins on July 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I just re-stumbled upon and re-read this post and it’s just what I need right now. I definitely am always looking up the ladder at the butts of all those people who are farther ahead of me. And completely disregarding the people behind me, who’d appreciate it if I’d turn around and help them so they didn’t have to keep staring at my butt!

    Recalibrating my brain now…

    • Patty K on July 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Great way to put it! It’s far too easy to focus on those “butts” that are ahead of us and never feel good enough or ready enough. The truth is that we can turn around and help others right now…and still continue to learn and grow.

      Good luck with the recalibration!

  12. Jessica on August 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks Patty. I get VERY caught up in looking at the successful solo-preneur women around me and feel like I “am not good enough”. I am reevaluating my attitude and where I am at in my business right now so this helps me look on the brighter side 🙂

    • Patty K on August 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      Hey Jessica,

      Thanks for the comment! It sometimes helps to remember that they didn’t *start* where they are right now. I love hearing stories about how people like Tony Robbins started out speaking to half a dozen people in a room. I remind myself of that when I start to feel discouraged. Good luck with your venture!

  13. Valerie on August 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Yep, I suffer from this too. It’s comforting to know that others do as well.
    I try to remember that someone can be ahead of me in some areas, but behind me in others. What matters is making inter-connections with other people that are positive for both. That way we both come out ahead.
    At least, that’s what I think today.

  14. Grace on March 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Never ever compare yourself to others and keep on telling positive things about yourself. It is very effective and many things will come along your way if you’ll do that. I came across a video that also talks about what to do when you doubt everything even your capabilities. It’s a good video to watch and learn from Marie Forleo.

  15. Randy Dueck on April 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Great post Patty, I have to admit that I can really relate to what you’re saying. I have to admit it can become easy to retreat into our own little world and not get anything significant done, because we sometimes feel like everyone else is better.