Focus on strengths and achievements: I Encourage you to make a list of your strengths and achievements, no matter how small they may seem. By focusing on what you have accomplished and what you are good at, you can start to build your confidence and belief in yourself.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing James Spitler.
Founder, owner, and creative entrepreneur James Spitler helps small to medium-sized businesses grow and thrive. Beginning in Virginia real estate and eventually expanding his efforts, he now leads the charge at Aktoh-Group, a full-service private equity firm, and its key component PLAY Creative Design, a boutique advertising and marketing agency. Never content with mediocrity, James is constantly searching for ways to accomplish his penultimate career goal, to help others achieve their full potential.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I have so many eclectic/eccentric people in my family tree. From grandfathers who were pranksters, codebreakers, and entrepreneurs to grandmothers who were arrested for selling fireworks during a sting operation. She had siblings that drove a Model A on a frozen river. While most have passed on, the elder generation always came together, no matter how different they were, to support the younger generation. That was the precedent my grandparents set for my parents. My mother is a teacher, and my father worked as a facility maintenance manager at our church. Between all of those mentioned, I had awesome role models to emulate myself after and few friends to stir up trouble with too.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was on track to be in the medical field, my aspiration was to be a trauma surgeon by day with a subspecialty in endocrinology for research.
The Who of how I became inspired points to my younger cousin, who at the age of eleven, had her home life shattered. Numerous family members had seething malice towards one another which led to attempts to weaponize the kid to hurt the adults, she was bullied frequently, major health issues in her caretakers, adults demonstrating a blatant disinterest in her wellbeing, and even with being invited to attend a summer program at Duke was being told that she would never amount to anything and she felt like she even shouldn’t try. My cousin was told should stick to a woman’s job and never even consider speaking back to men.
In a breath, I got into business to accomplish 2 things: First, be a role model for her and Second, provide her the opportunity to choose her own path. The initial actualization of this was to create a college fund so whatever path she chooses she’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Since then I’ve found a calling I really enjoy, which stems from a single notion: I want to be a resource for others that I wish I had when I was starting out.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oof, I totally failed my first corporate interview. This poor woman had to listen to me ramble on about whatever nervous tangents I got on thinking I was making sense. From what I remember, I went double over the allotted time, talked about waterslides, and snack time at a vacation bible school I volunteered at. I followed up eight different times and never got a response.
Lesson Learned: I expected things to go exactly right if I just copied what others did rather than understanding the why of it and then turning what made them great into a version that’s applicable to me.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
By nature of what I do, I work with businesses of all kinds, which makes this tough to narrow down, so I’ll stay within my personal projects to protect confidentiality.
- OCS Test — Think of a pregnancy test that instead tests for indicators of ovarian cancer strains. I think it can help people catch and address health problems earlier.
- Modular Thorium Reactor — I think this will help by laying the foundation needed for countries to grow into abundance.
- Fire Recognition — Software that recognizes different sources of smoke and fire, quantifies it, and can tell the landowner/park ranger / whoever to check out the fire. It’s more effective to position a video feed system in a national park with a direct response team than it is to have people mo
- DRV Proxy — A cyber security countermeasure to protect businesses of all sizes from cyber threats and provide the opportunity to scare ne’er-do-wells.
- Marketing Software — Protects people while enabling businesses to act on the intent of the target audience. Designed to tackle malvertising.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
We all understand the value of selling through social proof. I firmly believe it’s one of the top ways to grow. Many forget that social proof starts with you; it’s the knowledge you demonstrate, the presence you bring, and the relationships you build. So much of the information humans take in is entirely non-verbal.
Put frankly, if you don’t like yourself, why would anyone else? Being negative about yourself doesn’t affect only you. Those around you notice it. We just pretend they don’t.
Think of a few times when you had good news and others weren’t excited for you. When this happens, we almost instinctively drop the desire to share the news with those people. In the same way, it’s harder for others to be excited about you when you aren’t even excited about yourself.
I’ll give the example of being with your doctor. If your health and well-being are on the line and your doctor is sheepish and uncertain about how to help you feel better. Wouldn’t that lessen your faith in their abilities? Wouldn’t it give you pause to keep something so valuable like your health in their hands?
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Believing in yourself means more than shouting affirmations in the mirror. It’s having a stack of undeniable proof that you are who you say you are. Outwork your self-doubt.
The questions about believing can be fundamentally broken down into two parts: First, can I succeed to a level I’m proud of? And Second, can I succeed to that level even though I lack the innate talent for my passion? Yes, you absolutely will become great because when you understand a problem then you can overcome it. The experiences you’ve faced until this point have given you a superpower no one else has. A unique worldview. While you can learn from others, you already possess the skills and brainpower to improve. What’s left is for you to quantify the way you measure yourself. Implement this, and you’ll see what I mean.
I think the greats are something to be admired and aspired after, but emulation of them is often misunderstood and misguided. There’s a culture that “you’ll be successful if you follow the habits of these successful people.” It’s like, no, not exactly. You need to understand the decision-making process of successful people and input that formula into your own life. Success to you is inherently different from what theirs is, let alone the difference between what motivates each of you. The greats achieved their status by accomplishing one of two things: Being better than everyone else at something or Creating something no one else had done successfully / at scale.
You can be great at your passion if you learn to observe the pinch points that those before us have circumvented. Having a great product by itself isn’t enough. You need a distribution channel to push that product into the world and actualize that success.
Putting this into another form here, as an artist, you will control what you create and how you create it. But it’s a safe assumption that you aren’t going so far as to create and mix your own paints from ancient Mesopotamian recipes and stringing brushes from horse hair in your free time. You trust that brand (read partner) to play a part and fulfill a role in your process. You believe in the company you purchase supplies from to deliver what you need to create something great.
The same idea is applied here within you. You pull from your personality, your sense of humor, your knowledge base, experiences, and so much more to create something that only you can. No one sees the world as you do. Imagine each of these “supplies” as a different color of paint, and the actions you take are the brushstrokes. When you highlight what makes you who you are, what sort of greatness do you suppose starts to shine through?
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
A particularly difficult time was dealing with my autoimmune diagnosis. I didn’t believe people would look at me for me. Like I somehow had an asterisk by my name that told me people would minimize the achievement by trying to celebrate the wrong thing. I didn’t want to be looked at as defective so I had to overcompensate in all aspects of my life so no one would notice I was dealt a different genetic hand than everyone else. I wanted others to have undeniable proof that I could accomplish something great. My belief in myself and my ability to surround myself with the right people was low.
I became rigidly cynical, personally and professionally, which led me to feel like I had to do everything on my own. That strained my free time and my attitude toward others and, in turn, took a lot of effort to rebuild myself and my relationships.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
It became clear to me that I needed to define the type of leader I wanted to become and play to those strengths if I really wanted to enact the changes I sought.
Change comes in many different forms, and these growth accelerators often come in bursts. Consistent output generates opportunities you never knew existed.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Focus on strengths and achievements: I Encourage you to make a list of your strengths and achievements, no matter how small they may seem. By focusing on what you have accomplished and what you are good at, you can start to build your confidence and belief in yourself.
Example: Sarah is a high school student who is struggling with self-doubt. Her teacher asks her to write down three things she is proud of achieving in the past month. Sarah writes down that she received a B+ on a difficult math test, made a new friend, and volunteered at a local animal shelter. By focusing on these positive accomplishments, Sarah feels more confident in her abilities and starts to believe in herself.
2 . Challenge negative self-talk: Learn to recognize when you are engaging in negative self-talk, such as “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this.” Encourage yourself to not only reframe these thoughts in a more positive and realistic way. But then, to compliment that, explain why you can’t do it, “I can’t do this because of ___.” I found that talking the problem out rather than just stating the problem helped me choose my next steps. Even if they were small or ended up being the wrong move, I still had a path.
Example: Tom is an athlete who is struggling with self-doubt. His coach notices that he frequently says things like, “I’m not fast enough” and “I’ll never be as good as the other players.” The coach encourages Tom to reframe these thoughts by saying, “I may not be the fastest player on the team, but I have other strengths that can help me contribute to the team’s success.”
3 . Take action: Passionately, I encourage you to take small steps toward your goals, even if you feel unsure or scared. By taking action, you can start to build momentum and confidence in your abilities.
Example: Emily is a writer who dreams of publishing a book but feels overwhelmed by the process. Her friend suggests that she start by writing for 10 minutes each day. Emily follows this advice and finds that she enjoys the process of writing and feels more confident in her ability to complete a book.
4 . Seek support: Encouragement is so important, and I think it carries more value than people realize. When we seek support from friends, family, or a therapist when we are struggling, simply having a supportive network can help all of us feel more confident and validated in our abilities. It also enables us to fail forward- You may not remember it, but as a kid learning how to walk, some part of you understood an adult was there to catch you.
Example: John is a recent college graduate who is struggling to find a job in his field. He feels discouraged and begins to doubt his abilities. His mentor encourages him to seek support from a career counselor and to reach out to his network for job leads. With this support, John feels more confident in his ability to find a job.
5 . Embrace failure: While it stings and we don’t immediately think of it as a good thing, it’s important to develop a process to reframe failure as a learning opportunity rather than a reflection of our worth or abilities. I encourage you to try new things and embrace the possibility of failure as a natural part of the learning process.
Example: Maria is an artist who is afraid to try new techniques because she doesn’t want to make mistakes. Her art teacher encourages her to embrace experimentation and to see mistakes as opportunities for growth. With this mindset, Maria feels more confident in her ability to try new things and learn from her mistakes.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
Believing in yourself is important when starting something new because it gives you the confidence and motivation to pursue your goals and overcome any challenges that may arise along the way. When you believe in yourself, you are more likely to take risks, try new things, and persevere in the face of obstacles.
However, developing self-belief can be a challenge, especially if you have a history of negative experiences or self-doubt. Here are some ways to work on gaining these skills:
1. Identify and challenge negative self-talk: Becoming aware of negative thoughts and actively challenging them can help you develop a more positive outlook.
2. Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend.
3. Set and achieve small goals: Accomplishing small tasks can help you build confidence in your abilities and feel more capable.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people: Having a support system of people who believe in you can help boost your self-confidence.
5. Focus on your strengths: Identifying and focusing on your strengths can help you feel more capable and confident in your abilities.
6. Celebrate your successes: Recognizing and celebrating your successes, no matter how small, can help you feel more confident in yourself and your abilities.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
1. You must be picture-perfect at all times –
I think this is a ludicrous notion. So often we deify others that we believe “have it all”; when you stop to think about it, do you really think the role models in your life never had a hard time focusing or got angry when they shouldn’t have or totally embarrassed themselves in front of a crush?
2. I’ll try this later –
There is no shame in starting out weak. The true shame lies within staying weak and further delaying the gift you bring to the world.
3. I’ve failed, so maybe this isn’t for me –
Sometimes in life, you have to follow the path of a slingshot. It’s okay to step backward and build momentum.
You are not less than because you are human. Compare yourself to who you were and who you are now.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
You’re fresh to the scene so yeah there’s a realistic chance you feel that way. Putting a term to the advice is exposure therapy. Think of the hi-dive at the pool or when you were learning to ride a bike. It seemed daunting but the more you did it the easier it became until it felt like second nature. Success comes at the end. For example, you’ll never see results in your first week of a diet.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Physically — Modular Thorium Reactors. These can become the cornerstone of revitalizing a destitute area, city, and even small country. By providing a unique energy source, they, amongst other benefits like jobs, communities can power pyrolysis machines for local and interstate travel, fuel hydroponic gardens that grow food and medicine, as well as power local homes. We all know the kind of good that occurs when basic needs are able to be in abundance.
They can provide an abundance of power to an area and can be staggered to provide a continuous flow of energy for something large like a hypertrain across the United States. Giving an actionable method to start revitalizing the midwest. Since the United States is one of the top 3 countries most abundant in this resource, it also encourages energy independence.
Sustainable change is achieved through innovation, while partnership is about getting something done faster and together.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
With so many exciting and accomplished readers, I’d prefer to challenge them to set that lunch with me. To elaborate, I think we’d most enjoy that meal when it’s understood that we want to see real change being accomplished, and an integral part of that process is being a resource for others that we wish we had when we were first starting out.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I love it when folks take the time to share their struggle, and it’s such a celebration when they overcome it. The same goes for brainstorming and debating ideas:
My LinkedIn is the best way to contact me and obtain actionable insights and content like the white papers I’ve published.
Our Newsletter is the best way to obtain strategic insights and learn about the companies and change makers we’re supporting and working with.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.