Don’t Give Up Just Because Everyone Else Wants It, Too

You are afraid to go for a thing. An opportunity, a job, a promotion. Your main reason is because, well, other people want it, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. Including the other day, when a young writer told me that she would love to pitch magazines with ideas she has, but knows that “so many other people want to do that too.”

You know why? Because anything worth doing will likely be appealing to a lot of people.

I don’t care what it is you want to do: Write, act, be a head chef, or copyedit the fine print in a wig catalog (which, by the way, I did do for a while). Someone else will want those jobs.

Think of a job you don’t even want—maybe you don’t care to be a landscaper, or an accountant, or to install automatic garage doors. But guess what? Someone does! And if you decided to go into the garage door business, there’d be some heavy competition, especially with different firms like Garage Door Service Raleigh already offering a variety of services surrounding garage doors. You just don’t see it now because that’s not where you’re looking. But trust me. Somewhere, someone is hitting their head against a wall because someone beat them to a garage-door job and they’re just sick over it.

Yes. The planet is crawling with people. And some of those people want to do the same thing you do. So what? Does that mean you don’t do it? You bow out, pick another profession? Good luck. Everyone’s looking to do something, at every turn.

I say this to you as someone who believed this herself for a long time. Get this—I didn’t even apply for a job during the spring of my senior year of college, or for a year after, because I didn’t think I qualified for anything, and couldn’t imagine anyone would want me. It was pathologic. I know that now. I graduated with honors and a writing scholarship from Boston College. And I could not bring myself to apply to a single writing job. I thought, why bother? There are so many writers out there who are better. The world doesn’t need another one.

Wrong. Wrong on so many levels. I am so mad at myself for that that I sincerely hope someone invents a time machine just so that I can go back in time to 1995, hop out, slap myself in the face, shake my young stupid self by the shoulders and yell, “The world is not as smart as you think it is. And you’re smarter than you think you are. Get a fucking job.”

Look, I made out ok. But I still rub up against that friction and fear when I apply for a job or make a pitch for a new client. I think, “Why me? There must be someone better.” And then I quickly remind myself that this is toxic thinking and a waste of time. I say, “Why not me.”

What about that person who gives you the friendly warning that the industry you want to be in is just so competitive, just so hard to break into? That person either doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or didn’t try hard enough herself. That person doesn’t want you to succeed. Don’t let her insecurity feed yours.

You know what I told the young woman I spoke with? I said she wasn’t doing anyone a favor by not trying. That she owed it to herself, to try so she can get even better. She owes it to the people who are looking for good writers and coming up emptyhanded. And, she owes it to the woman who, ten years from now, will ask her advice.

And while I know more about this particular industry than just about any other, I will tell you that there are never, ever enough great writers–intuitive, creative, sensitive, persuasive. Trust me on this.

If you haven’t read this piece in the Atlantic (“The Confidence Gap”), which has been doing the rounds, read it now. Not tomorrow. Now. Because men aren’t holding you back—they’re going for it while you hang back, unsure. You are your worst enemy.

You’re too good, too strong, too capable not to try. You’ve done too good a job underestimating yourself and overestimating everyone else. Now it’s time to be good at something else.

Also check out Kate Irwin’s “7 Ways to Improve Self Confidence” on