Who You See In The Mirror Matters

The Star is about self-reflection.


Every week (more or less), my wife and I meet up with some of my grad school friends for trivia. She is, without a doubt, much more fun to be around, and as a result, has a standing invite even when I am unable to attend. But this past week, she had to decline—that is, until her original plans fell through.

That night, someone made a joke about trivia being her second choice. She defended herself by saying that her mastermind group had planned to meet that night, but it had been rescheduled at the last minute.

My friends weren’t familiar with mastermind groups, so she explained that every month, she and two other artist/entrepreneurs get together to discuss their businesses and share what they’ve been up to.

julia doing crafts

“Isn’t that just called ‘friendship?’” someone joked.

And in some ways, it is. The three women are friends. They have fun when they get together. But as my wife said, it’s more than that. There are reading assignments, presentations, guest speakers (like me), and more. There’s no talking about boys.

The point of this story is that the decision to call the monthly meeting a mastermind group is somewhat trivial. The decision to tell our trivia group that she had planned on going to her mastermind meeting (rather than just “getting together with friends”) is somewhat trivial. The decision to say she has a business rather than a side gig is somewhat trivial. And yet, these somewhat trivial decisions aggregate up into something quite significant.

How you see yourself matters a great deal.

As my friend Jay wrote in his newsletter:

“When you impose and hide behind small goals, you condition yourself to underperform what you are actually capable of.”

It’s been nearly one semester since I started graduate school. I have learned a good deal in a short time. But let’s be honest—three months isn’t all that long. I am not a radically different person than I was in August. But I feel different.

It’s not just what I’ve learned in twelve weeks of classes that have helped me better understand papers and presentations or pass math courses I never would have dreamed of taking in undergrad. The fact that I now see myself as a “political scientist,” that I subscribe to the label, matters. The fact that I see myself as someone who can and should understand these sorts of things is owed a healthy portion of my success.

One of my favorite pieces of advice is Austin Kleon’s mantra: “If you want to be the noun, first do the verb.”

on titles, the noun and the verb
via Austin Kleon

Don’t call yourself a writer if you don’t actually write. But maybe that mantra is a little mixed up. Because to do the verb, sometimes you have to give yourself permission to be the kind of person who could be the noun one day. The people who say “I’m not very creative,” are not very creative because that’s the story they’ve told themselves. It has nothing to do with inborn talent or ability and everything to do with a label.

In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

“Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”

I am one to downplay my own abilities and accomplishments. My wife is not. She is not afraid to call her business a business. She is not afraid to call her mastermind group a mastermind group. She is not afraid to promote herself and her abilities. I respect that. And it matters.

In his recent paper, Hyejun Kim, an MIT PhD candidate, finds that the way someone sees themself can mark the difference between a hobbyist and an entrepreneur:

“Although entrepreneurial human capital is necessary for the entrepreneurial transition, it is not sufficient. Specifically, I find that some knitters—“creative knitters”—have significant skills and demonstrate their abilities to create original designs but do not necessarily produce their designs to share with or sell to other knitters. Qualitative evidence shows that the motives and skills of creative knitters are almost identical to those of designers, and the only difference between them is the existence of social networks that triggered them to become designers. Based on this observation, the second part of the present study tests the effect of users’ encounters with their peers on their transitions to become entrepreneurs. Specifically, I measure the effect of a knitter joining a local networking group whose members’ primary purpose is motivating and supporting each other. With a closely matched sample of potential designers, the difference-in-difference analysis shows that joining such a local group increases the probability of entrepreneurial transition by 26 percent…According to those designers, social capital helped them to “get over their shyness and develop self-confidence in their designs” and this is especially important for early entrepreneurial transitions of users who “think the biggest personal challenge is believing in yourself–that what you are creating is something that is desired and valued by others.”

In other words, talented knitters who are part of a supportive mastermind group get the positive feedback and recognition they need to see themselves as the kind of person who could be an entrepreneur.

Who you see when you look in the mirror makes a world of difference.


Each Monday, I share strategies to help you master your limited time, get started, and build creative habits that stick. Try it. You’ll like it.

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