Reframing the Question
Ask yourself "Why not me?"
One day I received an email out of the blue inviting me to interview for a CEO position at an iconic Silicon Valley company. I showed it to my husband and we laughed, thinking it was a mistake. I replied politely to inquire about the opportunity but heard nothing back. Then, a few weeks later, I received a second email formally inviting me to speak with the company. I agreed to talk to them, but I was still skeptical. Then something happened: I had dinner with the venerable Silicon Valley search firm leader, Jim Citrin, at Quattro. As we were discussing the opportunity, I asked him, “Why me?”
His response was, “Why not you?”
I didn’t know how to reply. Here was a respected Silicon Valley leader telling me that something I hadn't thought was possible was actually within reach. Jim went on to say, “Every single CEO had to get their first CEO job at some point. This is your chance.”
Jim's question lingered in my mind long after our conversation. Why not me? Until then, I had always imagined that chief executive positions were for someone else, someone who was groomed and ready. Unlike Fidji, who had always known we could get there, I doubted that it was possible because I was asking myself the wrong question.
Although I was a finalist, I didn’t get the CEO role in the end, but my conversation with Jim served as a turning point that led me to where I am today. It changed my mindset and made me open to possibilities in a way I had never allowed myself to be before.
I see so many people in the same position. They're filled with doubt about themselves and their aspirations, always asking, "Why me?"
If you are one of those people, I want you to start asking yourself, “Why not me?”
Change the question
Often we ask ourselves self-defeating questions. My “Why me?” is an example of this. By phrasing the question like that, I was forcing myself to explain all the reasons I was better than everyone else. Rarely can you win when you frame the question that way. But Jim turned it on its head. He wanted me to explain all the reasons I shouldn’t be throwing my hat into the ring. And I knew my answers would all be excuses.
Adjusting the things we say to ourselves can have a powerful effect on the ways we think and make decisions.
Instead of asking, “Who am I to pitch this new product?”, ask, “If I don’t do it, who will?”
Instead of asking, “What if they don’t listen to me?”, ask, “What is the worst that can happen?”
Instead of asking, “What if I fail?”, ask, “What if this is the opportunity I have been waiting for?”
Making small changes to our questions can yield completely different answers. It all starts with reframing your approach so that you are not looking at the downside risk, but the upside opportunity.
Open the door to possibilities
I often hear the phrase, You can’t be what you can’t see.
My high school English teacher once asked me, “What do you want to be when you graduate?”
I replied, “I only know that I want to study engineering. Or maybe I could be a paralegal.”
My teacher responded, “Why wouldn’t you want to be a lawyer?”
I blinked and said, “I could do that?”
I grew up in a small town in the south. I didn’t have big dreams or a clear destination. My dad was an engineer for the Army Corp of Engineers, so I decided on that path early on since it seemed interesting and achievable. I never opened the door to other possibilities.
Kids from my school rarely left the state for college or went to top schools. I applied to colleges in the south because it never occurred to me that I could aspire to a big-name school and actually get in. I knew so little about the world that I was shocked when I was named the Presidential Scholar for the state. In D.C., where we spent a week, I met some of the smartest kids in the country, and they were going to the likes of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. I applied to Duke on a whim, and I had the chance to attend because I won a major scholarship. I realized then that the world was so much larger than I had imagined.
Doug Purdy, my manager at Facebook, asked me several years ago, “Whose career do you admire, and how can we get you there?”
I thought it was a rather silly question. I scoffed and replied that many people I admired were more talented, more successful, and so much better than I was. But Doug refused to back down. He believed in me and opened my eyes to the idea that I had a bright future ahead. At the time, I felt stuck in my career, so it was even more difficult to imagine what my trajectory might look like. Knowing that my manager believed in me gave me hope when I needed it. That reframing helped me move past a time when things were looking bleak.
When you are head-down in your job, it is easy to ask the wrong questions. Those wrong questions will lead to the wrong answers, so try turning them upside down and seeing where they lead. By giving yourself permission to explore new possibilities, you can forge a path that exceeds your expectations.
Learn to dream big but start small
Life is not just about knowing what you want to do but also taking concrete steps to get there.
When you are challenged, it’s easy to tell yourself that something isn’t possible. Rather than give in to those doubts, instead, imagine that maybe it could happen. Pick something you hope to achieve, and ask yourself, “Why not?” Whether it is running a marathon, joining a board, or founding a company, imagine the end goal, and work your way back to where you are today. Then map out what it would take to get there while thinking about others who reached the same goal. By looking to those whose achievements you admire, you can unpack their paths and learn how their journeys apply to your own.
The other day, I was coaching a PM Director who reached out to me for advice. We had never met, so I started by asking her what she wanted to achieve. She shared enthusiastically about her dream, which reflected her personal journey, and how she wanted to find a way to share her passion with others. As she described it, I could sense how much it meant to her. I asked, “How long have you wanted to do this?”
She replied, “Five years.”
I then asked her what she had done to work toward her goal, and she replied that she didn’t know how to get started. I begged her not to let another five years pass and instead start now.
This prompted her to consider what small steps she could take in that direction. She confessed that she had a dream of meeting a certain CEO in the space where she hoped to succeed. I said, “I know them, so let me see if I can put you in touch.” I am not sure if this will go anywhere for her, but by simply exploring the idea, she was able to open a new door.
This was a person with a dream that overwhelmed her, but she didn’t know where to start in order to realize it. She had spent too much time thinking about the what (her goal), but she couldn’t figure out the how (steps to achieving it). By asking herself, “What is the next thing I can do to get there?” she gained a clearer picture of how to move forward. She promised to start on that journey and see where it took her.
Every time you ask “Why me?” when facing an opportunity, you are asking the other person to justify to you why you should consider something. But by asking “Why not me?” you are no longer giving yourself an excuse.
We have a tendency to look at an end result and view it as unattainable. When climbing a mountain, we stand at the bottom, looking up at the summit, and think, “I can’t possibly get there.”
But if I said, “I know for sure you will get there; your job is to figure out how,” your mindset changes. You focus instead on figuring out the steps it will take to reach the summit.
Every other person who reached the top of that climb once stood at the bottom. Those who accepted they would achieve it figured out how to get there, rather than contemplating whether they would. So ask yourself today, “Why not me?”