Axios Finish Line

An analog clock with only two symbols instead of twelve: the symbols read 'AM' and 'PM'.

Welcome back. Axios CEO Jim VandeHei is your host tonight. Reach him at [email protected].

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 583 words ... 2½ minutes.

1 big thing: A muscular chip on your shoulder

Illustration of a newspaper with the Axios logo and a thought bubble.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Confession: Yes, that is a big chip on my shoulder, Jim writes.

  • It was planted by the high school guidance counselor who told me I wasn’t smart enough for college. It was fertilized by my 1.491 GPA in Year 3 of college, validating her point.
  • It sprouted fully the moment I landed in Washington, D.C., where most had fancy pedigrees and Ivy League degrees. This was intimidating as hell for a small-town Cheesehead with one Supper Club plaid sports coat and little hope of a job.
  • I've spent every year since, consciously or subconsciously, trying to prove I am smart enough to not just belong — but thrive.

Why it matters: None of us wants to be insecure. But never underestimate the power your own insecurities can generate if you are aware of them and exploit them in a healthy way.

  • Mine inspired me to try to outwork — and outthink — those I assumed had a head start or some educational or connections edge.
  • I still like to read critics and naysayers for an extra jolt of motivation. Sometimes, I toss out an incendiary quote in the media to bait them. 😃

Truth is, we all suffer some form of imposter syndrome (save the true narcissists around us).

  • Punchbowl’s John Bresnahan and I, back when we were reporters together at Roll Call, would talk about how after each scoop or big story, we would have no time to savor it — because we instantly worried if we could ever do it again.
  • The insecurity led to a lot more scoops.

Here’s how to attack your own imposter worries:

1. Be honest with yourself. Insecurities are often rooted in some truth. Try to understand your weaknesses, real or perceived, so you can do something about them.

  • Fear is a fabulous motivator.

2. Attack your weakness. Do the small, daily things to overcome the nagging insecurity. First, try to mitigate it and then turn it into a strength. You will be shocked how persistence and effort can ease limitations.

3. Weaponize the fury. Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan famously looked for any slight by another player to manufacture motivation, knowing it provides a tiny extra edge. He was maniacal about it, but the trick does work.

4. Give yourself grace. I can't sing. I can't dance. I'm kind of lousy at Trivial Pursuit. At some point, it's wasted energy to lament. Double down on things you do well instead.

The bottom line: No sane person is as confident as they seem. We all carry baggage.

  • The successful people in my life simply accept that — and do something about it.

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🎁 Simplest, greatest gift

Insecurities can be powerful motivators. But one of the best gifts you can give the children in your life, your partner, friends or colleagues is ... confidence.

  • Confidence empowers us to take risks, speak out, put ourselves out there and achieve great things.

Here are two ways to bestow confidence:

  1. Give sincere compliments. Never underestimate how a few genuine words of affirmation can change the course of someone's day or week or month. All of us often focus on what we're doing wrong. Tell the people in your life about what they're crushing.
  2. 🧀 Walk the walk. Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said: "Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence."

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