Perform a random act of kindness. If you ever feel like you can’t do anything right, do some basic act of service, like helping an older person lift something into their car. You will immediately hear how strong, powerful, and incredible you are.
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 Sara Shikhman.
Sara is a healthcare lawyer, an entrepreneur, and the author of MedSpa Confidential, a #1 New Best Seller on Amazon on how to grow an aesthetics business. Sara is the Managing Partner of Lengea Law. She specializes in the healthcare, tech, and beauty industries. Helping people is her passion.
Sara launched and led several multi-million dollar businesses and has helped hundreds of others. As President of an e-commerce company, Sara achieved $13+ million in revenue just 24 months after launch. As General Counsel and Director of Sales of a multi-state medical aesthetics practice, Sara helped to grow the practice from a single room location to 12 locations and over $13M in annual revenue.
Sara practiced corporate law at a top lawfirm in New York and was part of the portfolio management team at Deutsche Asset Management. Sara was also an adjunct professor of Business Law at Pace University. Sara earned her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In college, Sara was the Student Government President, the graduation speaker at Radio City Music Hall, and the recipient of the highest award given to any student.
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 was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Chernobyl was still smoldering, the country was collapsing, and inflation was so out of control that people were getting their salaries in duffel bags. My parents could not see a future for my brother and me there, so they took a huge risk, packed all our belongings into two checked bags per person, and arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in 1992. Even before the plane landed, my parents were already telling me how they had left everything behind just so I could have a good career and a stable life. The pressure and expectations never stopped. Growing up, there were constant reminders that my family had left everything behind to bring me to this promised land so I could live the American dream. Very early on, I developed the mindset that I always had to seize the day, even if the day was rainy, cold, I didn’t have a warm jacket, and I felt sick…I still had to seize the day. Now, I never wait for opportunity to knock on the door — I create the door.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I am a serial entrepreneur who likes creating high-growth, scalable companies. I’ve started e-commerce companies, medical businesses, and currently I am running a technology company for legal services. Huge thank-you to Bill Gates for inspiring me to do it.
Growing up in an immigrant household, I was always being pushed toward stable, well-paying jobs. So, when I went to college and, to honor my parents, I signed up as a pre-law major. I was waiting for the registrar to finish my paperwork, and I started reading an article about how Bill Gates had a heated floor in his house in Washington State. I realized that what I really wanted to know was what major teaches you how to be Bill Gates! In college, I learned that people like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton were called entrepreneurs and had all started their own companies. What they could do and create in one lifetime without family wealth was inspiring to me. I understood that the surest way to the American dream was starting my own business, and I would have to create it from scratch.
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?
I blame Match.com. The year was 2014, and I was burned out from my job as CEO of one of the first ever furniture e-commerce startups. I had taken this company from a twenty grand initial investment to annual revenues of thirteen million in just three years. To decompress from my executive duties, I’d help people polish their online dating profiles — make some tweaks here and there to make sure my clients were attracting #TheOne. One day I received a message from a doctor saying something along the lines of, “I am looking for a woman who is very independent, who doesn’t just want to settle down in the suburbs. I want to meet the love of my life, and I just bought a 20,000-square-foot building in downtown Columbus that I’m renovating by myself at night, trying to start an aesthetics business. Can you help me with my profile?”
I edited the profile, but I also told him: “The person you are describing is me, and we should meet.”
It turned out this doctor wanted to start a med spa in Columbus, Ohio, in the former headquarters of Hustler Magazine. We ended up having a relationship and a business together. I was a graduate of an Ivy League law school, I’d worked at a top-tier law firm, and a month before I was the CEO of a successful online startup. Now, I was sleeping in Larry Flynt’s shag-carpeted old office, on an inflatable mattress, with bullet proof windows and a huge light table. There was a rat infestation, and I was working eighty-hour weeks trying to keep this business afloat. I was so broke, I had to schedule pharmaceutical vendor training sessions every day of the week just because they brought free lunch.
The relationship with the doctor ended, and it all seemed like a huge mistake, but the funny part of it is that I have now made a career out of advising entrepreneurs and helping them avoid the same errors I made.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One of the most important things I’m doing now is providing best-in-class legal services to medical professionals — mostly women — who are starting their very first business. No one gets taught business in medical school or nursing school, so although they have amazing skills and experience, these nurses and doctors feel completely trapped in the traditional medical system. Running a business and taking charge requires a totally different mindset, and my firm helps medical professionals transition to the CEO lifestyle, learn how to negotiate, how to start marketing, and how to keep track of the books.
What’s so exciting about this new venture is that it is literally helping humanity. Many medical professionals face huge rates of burn-out in traditional hospital settings: they are overworked, their mental health deteriorates, and their families suffer. Starting a business and putting in 80 hours a week is like a vacation for medical professionals — they’re used to working 100 hours. I see all these moms who have more time for their kids, time for themselves, and they are blossoming. My company has helped over 500 people get their medical businesses started over the past two years. That means 500 happier families, 500 new medical businesses hiring dozens of new employees. All of this has a huge impact on the world at large: my work has helped tens of thousands of people have greater access to healthcare. And I’m just getting started.
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?
Whatever you are doing — whether you are working for yourself or someone else, whether you’re a secretary or a CEO — the service and product you’re selling is you. So if you are a product in the marketplace, what kind of product are you? Are you a shoddy, cheap knock-off or are you a rare, unique, work of impeccable craftsmanship? The truth is you are exactly what you believe yourself to be, and nothing less. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will believe in you. That’s why it’s your number one job to believe in yourself…it allows you to get up after failure, keep going, pivot, and smile even when you’re afraid. You have to believe you have the capacity to do things right, even if today you got it wrong. Believing in yourself is the key to being happy in your life, the key to success…I don’t know a single person who is happy and successful who doesn’t believe in themselves.
When I wanted to start my law firm, I kept looking for partners to work with. Because I was unsure of myself, nobody wanted to work with me. I got frustrated with the process and decided I had all the necessary skills and abilities to do this on my own. As soon as I went off to start filing the documents, leasing a space, getting a team together, I had potential partners blowing up my phone day and night. That’s the power of believing in yourself.
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 is the fuel that powers your engine to success. Success is not something that happens overnight — it’s not even something you can really measure. I asked a billionaire once if he would call himself successful, and the answer I got was, “Not yet, but I’m working on it.” While believing in yourself will not necessarily get you a gold medal at the Olympics, it is what will help you get up at five in the morning and run a couple of miles before work. Every great artist or Olympic athlete was at one point drawing stick figures or not very in shape. It is that belief in what they could do that helped them develop into a winner. The power of the mind is incredible — placebos are effective something like 50% of the time. That means we can convince ourselves that we have no energy to take out the trash, when in reality we can go run twenty miles if we wanted to. Believing in yourself helps to close the distance between what is the status quo and what is possible.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
For most of my young adulthood, I did not really dream big. I believed in myself enough to keep going on a daily basis, but I did not really believe that my life would amount to more than an unsatisfying, mediocre job. Looking back at that time, this lack of belief in myself actually hindered my progress. I would see posters for really cool and interesting internships on the bulletin boards in high school, and I would tell myself that I would never get it. Not believing in yourself is like being given the winning lottery numbers but not even making the effort to buy a ticket.
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?
After my first year of law school, the most prestigious thing was to get a summer internship at a nice law firm, but it was outrageously competitive. As students, we were told that such-and-such partner at this fancy law firm would be interviewing all applicants…and good luck! I wasn’t the absolute top student in the class, so I sort of gave up hope. And then I realized that I didn’t have the right to give up hope. my parents had brought me to this country, I had learned English, I had taught myself to read. I had started without the advantages that so many of my classmates had, and here I was just a few decimal points in GPA behind them. I realized that my superpower was working my butt off. So, I researched this law firm partner until I could write his biography, and by the time of that interview, I walked in saying, “Look, Larry, I know where you and your wife went to school, I know what your legal philosophies are, and I probably know what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. I guarantee I will work harder for you than any other candidate you interview.”
I got that internship not because I knew the most about the law but because I started believing in myself. That’s how I became an elite lawyer, and that’s how I was able to walk away from that and start my own firm.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Figure out your superpowers. Who does Superwoman see when she looks in the mirror? She sees an ordinary Kryptonian. On her home planet of Krypton, super speed, invincibility, and laser vision are considered pretty average. The skills that would go basically unnoticed where she’s from are God-like powers on Earth. Everyone has at least one thing that they do better than anyone, and once you identify that you will always believe in yourself.
2. Know your worth. You need to take your skills and yourself to where you will be properly valued. You can work yourself to the bone and make two hundred bucks a day, or you could make that much in half an hour. It doesn’t have to be about money either. If you are ever in doubt about yourself, go where you are valued, welcomed, and complimented.
3. Keep a brag sheet. Every day we do dozens if not hundreds of incredible, skillful tasks and activities. However, we often forget our victories and only focus on our defeats. I keep a special little note on my phone called a brag sheet where I write down the big wins that give me a thrill. Whether it’s finally making banana bread from those decaying bananas or landing your biggest client of all time, at least once a week you should write down one thing you did that you were impressed by. Whenever I feel hopeless and lost, I take a quick glance at my brag sheet and I’m amazed that I know the person who did all those things — it’s me!
4. Hypnotize yourself. Even if you are sad, forcing yourself to smile will literally increase your natural oxytocin levels and make you happier. If you really feel like you don’t believe in yourself, get in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and say, “I believe in myself, I can do great things, I am valuable, important, and loved.” If you repeat this ten times, you will not be able to escape feeling more confident and energized. Humans are complicated, beautiful machines, and sometimes we have to hack ourselves.
5. Perform a random act of kindness. If you ever feel like you can’t do anything right, do some basic act of service, like helping an older person lift something into their car. You will immediately hear how strong, powerful, and incredible you are.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
The most effective way to stop self-criticism is to get to the root of it. If you are constantly telling yourself you can’t do something, it’s important to drill down to the core of that belief. Is it true that you can’t change the tire on this car, or is that just something you heard from your toxic family member? Another technique that works for me is if I notice a negative thought coming up frequently, I ask myself who would I be without this unpleasant thought? I would be relaxed, happy, and confident instead of anxious and sad. Every time that bad thought comes up, I remind myself: I’m a better person without it, and I start imagining the wonderful person I could be without that self-criticism. Very soon I actually become that wonderful person.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
I think it’s very important to make a distinction between being confident/believing in yourself and being delusional. There are certainly disorders where people are separated from reality and see themselves as worthy of praise and devotion when they are not doing the bare minimum. I think what helps me to stay grounded is being humble and being helpful. No matter how much I achieve, I am humble because I know that others have done more. But just because others have done more, doesn’t mean I should stop because I am helping people.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Most industries, clubs, and organizations have extremely sophisticated gatekeeping tools to keep out all those who are unqualified. If you believe you are where you are because you have fooled everyone, revel in the fact that you are the trickster goddess of deception and clever ruses.
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.
I think that the internet is one of the greatest tools humanity has ever invented. I would put social media in that category as well. But, like any tool, it can be misused and abused to the point that it starts to destroy the society that once benefited from it. Billions of people use social media daily, and many of the algorithms that drive these websites are designed to get people to spend more and more hours scrolling through their feeds. While social media is not a problem in itself, I think its overuse ends up creating toxic and divisive relationships between humans — hate and outrage are often amplified by algorithms to keep people logged in.
To help the roughly 5 billion daily social media users detox, I think a movement of unplugging for one day a week would be extremely powerful and help people live more mindful lives. The problem is I’m not really sure how I would spread this idea…except via social media!
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 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast with Bill Gates, because reading about his heated floor twenty years ago inspired me to be the person I am today.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.