Our self-perception often lags behind reality, and how this could be holding you back

Issue #42

Hey there, I’m Lesley. Welcome to the latest issue of Failing Forward — A weekly newsletter sharing my experience as a bootstrapped co-founder.

There’s no bravado here. I fear failure, just like you. I write this newsletter to remind us both that failure is not just okay, it’s often the best way forward.

In this week’s post, I explore how self-perception can lag behind a shift in one’s reality, and the immediate gains one can get simply by recognising the shift and helping yourself catch up.

It all began when I did the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test yesterday. I hadn’t done it in years and found that I’d changed from an INTJ personality type to INFP.

For context, here’s a quick breakdown of the two personalities:

INFPs tend to be creative, driven by emotion, encouraging, self-critical, and prefer work that aligns with their values.

INTJs are single-minded, bold, unafraid to break rules, and intent on applying the full force of their intellect, logic and willpower to get things done.

While I was initially very surprised, looking back on the past year made me realise I had indeed been acting like an INFP.

This was interesting because, had I not re-done the MBTI, I would not have known I’d changed so fundamentally. Even right now, I still prefer to think of myself as an INTJ, despite my actions clearly indicating otherwise.

Struggling with this made me think about the broader principle of how self-perception often lags behind reality.

We see this lag in self-perception all the time.

Someone who’s won a national championship might remain insecure because they still perceive themselves as an underdog.

Or a newly retired CEO might have trouble accepting his new role as “just a regular guy”, when he used to be in charge of a thousand people and a billion dollars.

While thinking about these examples, I began to wonder where else in my own life had my self-perception and actual life diverged.

Here’s what I found…

Sorry to interrupt, but if you’re enjoying this post, you might want to subscribe and receive new issues via email. Your future self will thank you!

[memberhero_form id=244]

I realised I still think of myself as a WordPress plugin beginner, even though I’m not one anymore.

It’s been a year since I started working on Member Hero and Newsletter Glue. The first plugin flopped due to my inexperience, but the second has been going fairly well.

Between Member Hero and Newsletter Glue, I adopted a beginner’s mindset and learnt everything I could about bootstrapping, the business of WordPress plugins, product management and product design… I read lots of articles and books, and joined WordPress and indie hacker communities. I also sought as much feedback as possible.

This beginner’s mindset has served me well, but it’s been a year and I’m now a different person.

Objectively, I’m not a rookie any more. I’m a professional WordPress plugin business owner.

Here’s an obligatory clarification about how I am indeed aware that being in this business for one year does not make me an advanced level black belt WordPress ninja wizard. I’m simply saying I’m no longer a green-faced grunt, that’s all.

And here’s another clarification because I know someone out there is thinking it — Just because I’m no longer a beginner, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop learning. Even if I did one day become the aforementioned advanced level black belt WordPress ninja wizard, I’d still have lots to learn.

Ok, clarifications done. Let’s keep going.

But with my self-perception lagging, I’ve still been treating myself as as a beginner. I’ve also been treating Newsletter Glue as a learning experience, rather than a serious business.

As a result, I’ve been telling myself things like “it’ll be nice if Newsletter Glue succeeds, but don’t expect too much. It’s just a small plugin, it’s okay if it only makes a little money”.

I now realise it’s not okay. That lag in self-perception has been holding me back. And I’m doing both myself and the plugin a disservice if I don’t adjust my mental model to align with my current reality.

The reality is that Newsletter Glue has the potential to be big. But that won’t happen if I keep dreaming small. This realisation was just the first step.

Self-perception doesn’t catch up overnight.

Just because I’ve realised it, doesn’t mean everything will change immediately. Just like the championship-winning athlete or retired CEO, it’ll take me awhile to wrap my head around all this.

However, I believe most of this process will be subconscious. I imagine I’ll look up from my work one day and realise I haven’t considered myself a beginner in quite awhile.

In the mean time, this creeping self-belief feels kind of good, and I intend to ride it and see where it takes me.

I’m building Newsletter Glue — an email newsletter platform on WordPress with a Gutenberg-first approach.

Here’s what I got up to this week…

🔥 Highlights from this week
100+ active installs!!!
💔 Lowlights from this week
  • This week felt like we were swimming through mud. Everything felt slow and painful. We made important progress but have little to show for it.
✅ Completed this week
  • Learnt how to and added rich text editing and dynamic updates to our blocks. This is going to have a huge impact on the quality of all our blocks going forward.
  • Started work on newsletterglue.com.
🎯 Goals for next week
  • Finish the first couple of blocks
  • Start on some new ones
  • Continue work on newsletterglue.com
  • Create marketing plan for the paid plugin
  • Tiny new update to the free plugin with some simple improvements

Worth a thousand words


Worth your while: Here are my favourite links from this week

Watch: How a deaf person navigates a drive through

Forgive my ignorance, but I don’t often think about accessibility in my life. Which is why this video about the experience of a deaf person at a drive through was eye-opening to me. In this video, we learn the right way to deal with a deaf person at a drive through, and watch this Starbucks employee nail it. Watch YouTube video →

Read: Many traditional newspapers are dying. Not the New York Times. They now have 4x more subscribers than they did in their print-era peak.

This powerpoint-like post dives deep into how the New York Times successfully transitioned from print to digital – profitably. From selling off its non-core assets, doubling down on subscriptions, and changing its business model, this post systematically explains how the NYT has pulled off the business transformation of the century. Read article →

Listen: Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about the beauty of plants, and the limitations of science and language when it comes to deeply understanding them.

If there was ever a human personification of Mother Earth, bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer would be it. In this 2015 interview, we learn how she views plants as beings in their own right. And hear her thoughts on how the English language’s use of “it” for plants diminishes them to the level of inanimate objects. If you’ve never cared much for plants, it’s simply because you haven’t heard her speak. I highly recommend you make time for this. Listen to podcast →

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