Why it's hard to move up (and how to make it easy)

Between the ages of 15 and 21 a guy named Frank successfully convinced thousands of people he was a lawyer, a doctor, an airline pilot, a substitute teacher and an FBI agent, and a few other things in between. Before finally being caught, he escaped from both a taxiing plane and a prison. More on Frank in a minute… A college admissions office takes your application and accepts or rejects you. But they’d never say, “Go back to high school. You're not ready to be a college freshman yet.”

If, in some whacko alternate universe, this happened, you’d think, “They’re nuts!” And take your business to another college.

What you would not do is go back to high school and re-enroll. No high school would take you! Most people won’t tell you this straight-up truth: Work is one big game of CYA. For that reason, it’s extremely rare for anyone to take a risk, ever – with anything. This is especially true when it comes to new hires. What this means for you:


If you show one particle of doubt that you’re where you supposed to be, you'll trigger someone's CYA alarm and it’s all over but the ghosting.

Like the Horse Whisperers I talked about in the first email in this series, Fraudulent Frank was born knowing what most of us have to learn: 99.9% of people are easy to convince, provided you erase one crucial thing: doubt. You don't need an MBA, to be younger, older or more experienced. They'll say that because they can and that's what you expect to hear, so you buy it.



Here's what they're really experiencing:

"I feel doubt and I will not put my professional reputation at risk for you." That’s how, before he was old enough to buy a cocktail, Frank convinced people he was what he claimed to be absent of any real credentials. He acted the part with confidence. He made people think: "You don't have the credentials, but I don't doubt what you're saying, so I'll risk letting you in ..." the courtroom, the plane, the prison, etc. This mental pivot happens in a millisecond, but it happens. Doubt is almost always what keeps talented people under-employed – the fancy word for working beneath your level of ability. How do you get around this?

(see below)



Perception is reality. As it so happens, Frank paid his debt to society and now has his own security company and lectures at the FBI. He knows what he did wrong, but more importantly, he knows what he did right and he’s successful because that’s where he put the emphasis. The strategy to move up is 3-tiered.

  1. You have to find your confidence. An MBA might do this, yet an afternoon at a ropes course is cheaper and faster and surprisingly more effective at giving you boost that re-engages your confidence. Add to that, it's $99,800 cheaper; What gives you confidence? Go do more of it.

  2. Be honest. Do you really want to do this or is it just the next most obvious step? If you aren't all in, you'll look for excuses instead of ways forward. Sometimes we won’t own this because it’s easier to place blame on the market, recruiters, a lack of MBA, etc. Insincerity like doubt, is something humans have a keen sense for and it will also trigger CYA.

  3. Persist. If you give up and roll-back to your same old job when you know you can do more, that’s on you. If it's your first move up, expect it to be hard, that's normal. Push forward. Don't go back to high school.

Warning: unless you do it strategically and with iron clad reasons and an "out," accepting a too low-level job puts you at risk. Tread carefully. Be smart. Get help if you need it. Courtney P.S. Frank Abagnale and his story are depicted in the movie Catch Me If You Can.




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