Our expectations, our outlook on life, our personal norms, powerfully impact the world we see.

This theme of self-fulfilling prophecy is one I return to over and over (and over) because it is potent, pervasive, yet so nuanced, subtle. It is a lesson that I am eternally relearning at ever deeper levels of complexity, discovering ways in which my world view trips me up, blinds me to certain possibilities, shades certain opportunities, or hinders me from fully being aware of potential in other people, particularly those with social behaviors or cultures different from my own.

There is a story: Seeking new territory, two shoe salesmen travel to an underdeveloped country. One salesman writes back to the home office, discouraged, “No opportunity here, no one wears shoes.” The other sales rep writes back bursting with enthusiasm, “Tremendous opportunity, everyone barefoot!”

We see the world we expect to see, we interpret our experiences to fit into our world view, we see the world as we are.

Think you can, think you can’t. You’re right.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted July 1, 2008.