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The ‘but’ monster

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You know the feeling: You gave the presentation of your life, you were on fire, and you met every question with a dazzling, intelligent, emotional, cogent, coherent answer. Every idea you could share with your clients or prospective clients found its way into your head and flowed bountifully into your words. But…

Now that you’re driving home, suddenly you’re not so sure. They seemed to love the first feature of your product, but there was something about they way they compared the second feature to your competitor’s that might have indicated a preference for your competitor. And then there were those few awkward seconds when your attempt at humor went right over their heads.

And now you recall those few moments when you remember feeling yourself to be a bit “sales-y” or perhaps a little too desperate. And what about that piece of food from lunch that got stuck in your teeth? — and your tie was sticking out from under your shirt collar — and there’s that stain you failed to notice until just now…

Growing your network, giving presentations, interviewing for clients definitely has its ups and downs. When the adrenaline rush starts to dissipate, the self-doubts — to which we are all susceptible — come flooding in. We begin to analyze everything we’ve done, finding enough fault with ourselves to replace all the confidence we had a few moments before with an empty, aching feeling that we’ve somehow botched the whole endeavor.

This is the “but” monster at work. In my book, The High Diving Board, I talk about this creature, whose original purpose was to prevent you from roaming out into the streets or beyond the borders of your neighborhood. As you grew and expanded that “neighborhood,” the “but” monster grew right along with you, though he learned how to hide himself. Now, when he pops up out of nowhere, he’s huge. And he’s angry that you got past him and delivered that great presentation.

So, he welcomes you back home to him with the doubts that should have kept you from venturing out in the first place. He tells you: “Yes, you wanted to fly, butyou’re really out of your league here.” Or he says “Sure, it was a good presentation, but…you don’t really know that much, and your competition is probably much better.” Or “It was a good presentation, but…they were probably distracted by that piece of food in your teeth.”

Here are some ideas to beat the “but” monster:

  • Don’t fight him. You can’t stop the negative feelings from arising, so let them come. Your lifelong gatekeeper is strong, immortal and immutable. But recognize that the doubts he raises are a natural reaction to your choice to go beyond your safety zone. If you’ve accepted that it’s OK to be afraid in the pursuit of your goals, then accept also this corollary: You can’t stop the self-doubt, but you can decide not to let it slow you down.
  • It doesn’t matter, anyway. No deal, no presentation and no single event should matter so much that “blowing it” could possibly destroy your life or career. Get over your doubts about this presentation by jumping right into the next one. If nothing else, you’ll have a new disaster to worry about!
  • Let go of your outcomes. Set your goals, do the things you need to do to reach those goals, and then stop worrying about how an individual situation will work out. For every presentation you actually mess up, there will be another you get right.

Everyone has their “but” monster; don’t let yours stand in your way. When he rears his fearful head, remember these steps to beat him back.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to


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