When you’re convinced you’re right, but you’re actually dead wrong

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A few days ago one of my clients sent me a really funny and moving email, and I want to share it with you:

“For years, I have had a paralyzing fear of being a failure at running my business. I spend a lot of time asking myself, ‘Why am I so afraid?’ but I wasn’t able to answer this question, until I got some insight from my husband.

You see, I have this fantastic charging cord. It can stretch from the wall outlet to the other end of the sofa. It can stretch from the USB port in the front seat of the car to the back of my SUV. I can plug it in the kitchen outlet and walk to the pantry and refrigerator and cook dinner while chatting away on my charging phone. I love this cord!

Recently I was packing for a trip, and as I was putting my phone cord into my bag my husband said, ‘Wow, that cord is so awesome, I want one!’ I thought his level of enthusiasm and excitement over my phone cord was unusual, but I directed him to our Amazon account where he could get one.

He continued on about what a great cord it was, even asking, ‘How long is that cord??’  With a little exasperation, and complete certainty, I told him the cord was 2 feet long.

He laughed, picked up the cord, and stretched it from my toes up to my head and then back down to the floor. I started laughing too because, obviously, if the cord is two times the size of my 5’5″ frame, then it can’t be only 2 feet long. Soon, I was doubled over in laughter, tears streaming down my face, because I couldn’t believe how certain I was that the cord was only 2 feet long. How could I have misjudged the length by so much?

I realize that my fears about business are a lot like this 2-foot cord.

I was looking at the history of my business and seeing a story of failure. I felt that I was so inadequate and horrible at running my business that I should just close it. While discussing this decision with my husband, and crying about my fear of failure and being hungry and homeless, my husband laughed.

He said: ‘You have traveled to Asia and Africa and Europe and seen 16 different countries and 6 states in the past year. You have a great home. You employ 6 people in your business. All your bills are paid, AND you have money in your savings account. Do you think you don’t make money? Do you think you aren’t OK? How could you achieve all of this if you were a failure at running a business?’

I never looked at myself like this. I didn’t think I was OK, and I didn’t think I was a success.

All this time, I thought I had a 2-foot cord, or a business that didn’t stretch far enough, but I have a 20-foot cord that can wrap around me multiple times. 

I never looked at my business, or myself, as a success. I was always looking at my shortcomings and mistakes and feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I looked at all of my failures where I should have seen growth and success!”

I LOVED this story, and it made me want to talk with all of you about the times that we’re convinced we’re right … but we’re actually dead wrong (and the consequences we suffer from when we make huge, inaccurate assumptions).

THAT TIME I DECIDED TO “GET HEALTHY” AND FAILED MISERABLY

When I was 20, I decided I was going to be super responsible and prep for my upcoming summer study abroad trip to Switzerland and Italy by “getting really healthy.” I knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking — and those mountains in Switzerland are no joke!

For a couple of months I went to the gym almost every day and ran on the treadmill. And at meal times, I ate lots of weird “diet food,” like that low-fat processed cheese that comes in individual plastic wrap and snack packs that have next-to-no calories but lots of fake sugar.

And it worked! I was already pretty thin by any standard, but I lost a size and didn’t have much trouble hiking around Switzerland.

But after I got home, the “diet lifestyle” caught up with me. I felt so drained and lethargic — not normal for a “healthy” 20-year-old — that I went to the doctor, convinced I had a mysterious illness.

To be honest, the doctor didn’t have any revelations for me. Being exhausted is a hard thing to find a root cause for.

But in hindsight, I know exactly why my body shut down for a while — I was acting on a very false assumption of what “healthy” meant, and I was paying the price.

It’s pretty easy to guess where I absorbed this skewed definition of “healthy” — comparing myself to other, “fitter” girls running at the gym, and a big consumption of commercials and glossy magazine ads.

Listen, I know there’s not just one definition of healthy, and we could all have a friendly debate on the merits of carbs, fruit, healthy fats, and whole grains, and running versus yoga versus weight lifting.

But that’s not my point. My point is that I never questioned what I thought I knew about being healthy. I made an assumption, and I never investigated whether the foundation it was built on was firm or shaky.

NEVER QUESTIONING YOUR ASSUMPTIONS IS STRAGIHT POISON

The reason I love my client’s phone charger cord story is because it is SUCH a good analogy for what assumptions do to us.

When you have a 20-ft. cord, but you act like it’s 2 ft., you severely shorten the possibilities in your life.

If you move through life convinced you’re right about everything, you could be thriving and still feel miserable; you could think you’re “healthy” and be suffering needlessly; you could presume you’re “not good enough,” while you’ve been worthy the whole time.

You won’t consider alternatives, even though they might be better for you. You won’t bother to ask for better treatment. You’ll act undeserving, even though you aren’t. You’ll feel sick and blame it solely on genetics. You’ll miss countless opportunities to learn new things. You’ll be angry, even though you don’t need to be. You’ll get in fights for no reason. You’ll lose friends and sabotage relationships. In short …

You poison what’s possible for you if you aren’t willing to question what you think you know.

BUT IT’S GOING TO COST YOU

The antidote to this particular poison is pretty simple — a dose of humility and a big heap of willingness to be wrong.

It’s also going to require time. It takes a lot more patience, determination, and energy to ask questions: “Wait, if this isn’t healthy, I wonder what is? I may need to do some research. Read some books. Talk to a variety of health practitioners. Learn the ins and outs of the human body. Understand the debates on all sides. And then maybe I’ll have a better idea.”

It takes almost no time at all to make an assumption and keep going about your day. It’s more convenient in the short term, even though it’s disastrous in the long term. And we’re nothing if not a culture of convenience.

But I’m going to assume (ironic, I know!) that you don’t want to be paralyzed by your assumptions. So I’ll leave you with a few questions you can ask yourself to shine the light of awareness on some of your blind spots:

  • Where have you been acting like there’s “never enough?” How true is that? And where in your life might you actually have plenty?
  • What’s your definition of success/health/friendship/wealth/{insert anything you struggle with}? Is this your definition, or did you inherit it? If you were to write a new one just for you, what would it be?
  • How much are your political/religious/cultural/educational beliefs your own how much are they a carbon copy of what you grew up hearing?
  • How tolerant are you of people who you don’t agree with?
  • Where have you given up or settled, even though you don’t like having done so? What if your reason for settling didn’t have to be true?
  • And a great all-purpose question: What if, instead of saying, “That won’t work” or, “That can’t be true for me,” you asked, “How could that work?” or “What if that could be true for me?

I would love to hear from you! What assumptions have you been making that need to be questioned? Come share with me in the comments below.

IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE …

Stop looking for evidence of what you don’t want

Why your insecurity actually makes you entitled

We present to you … the horse & buggy analogy

How to access your most untapped source of wisdom

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)

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5 Comments // ADD COMMENT

5 comments

  • Janine

    I’ve been ‘certain’ so many times of someone’s motives for their behaviour only, when I confront them, to find that I’m wrong. I often assume people are vindictive when the truth is that they are usually (if not always, in my experience) oblivious to my hurt feelings and they didn’t realise I would be offended or hurt by something they said or did. I’m forcing myself, every time I get annoyed with someone, to be curious instead and gently probe about why they did what they did. This always yields good results. Me getting angry at a misunderstanding will only ruin relationships :\

    • Rachel East

      Hey Janine! Sorry for the late reply! But YES, I so agree with you. So often our anger or resentment is totally our own projection; it’s not always about something the other person did, just our interpretation of what they did/said. It’s awesome that you’re willing to be curious and open instead of just reactively fly off the handle. That’s a very mature and evolved way to be! 🙂

  • Cindy | In Good Company Design

    I love this blog post, it’s relevant for EVERYTHING. The assumption that we’re right is a tricky one because it’s so pervasive it’s hard to identify it as an assumption rather than a fact.

    I was talking to my husband about this yesterday. About how you change people’s minds on extremely volatile hot button topics.

    It was difficult to get this concept through even to him (and Kristen, you know how amazing my husband is… he’s pretty grounded and self-aware).

    You don’t have to say you’re wrong… you just have to be open to the possibility that you’re assumed truth might not be entirely true.

    As long as you’re able to be open to another truth you can be flexible enough to start a new conversation. Without that flexibility, you’re stuck.

    You always have a choice. You have a choice to be flexible or to remain rigid.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Cindy! Apologies for taking a while to respond. 🙂 I love the way you described this to your husband; that’s it’s not about admitting that you’re wrong, it’s just about being open to other perspectives beyond your own, and realizing that your version of what’s true may not look like everyone else’s. At the core of it, it’s really about realizing that there really *is no such thing* as “right” or “wrong.” Everyone just has their own definition!

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