I have been learning life lessons at a faster rate as an entrepreneur than ever in my life. My most recent discovery came to me after a recent successful meeting with a potential partner on an account:
I always hated the idea of schmoozing, networking or trying to “connect” over cocktails and trite after-work events. It all seemed so artificial. In college, the power of schmoozing was beat into our heads. I didn’t get it; feigning interest in career choices and people’s titles, forced laughter at jokes I didn’t get, and posing generic questions, the responses to which I had to muster interest in hearing. It was torture.
Now that I am an entrepreneur, working as an event producer, artist manager, and business consultant, I have been forced to take this fear head on whether I want to or not. I go into numerous meetings every day where I have to convince someone to sponsor my show or play my artist’s music. I’ve had to learn to either love and own these situations or be crippled by them. The road to confronting this began with admitting where it actually comes from: insecurity.
Fantasy: I never wanted to be perceived as a salesperson. The idea of selling anything, especially myself, always made me uncomfortable. People are going to think I’m full of myself. I’ve cringed at the thought of convincing someone to fund a program, hire my services or get on board with anything I am doing. They are going to think I’m so desperate, greedy, selfish… I always had this impression of salespeople as sleazy, and untrustworthy swindlers who will sell the jacket off their mother’s back if they could make a dollar.
Reality: I realize now that it was my insecurity and preoccupation with how others perceive me that has actually stifled my growth in this area of professional development. I was so focused on making sure that people always thought I was down-to-earth, genuine and “real”, that I wasn’t able to overcome a big hurdle in business. The reality is that I will never know what others think of me so its simply a waste of time to shape my behavior around what my own mind imagines that they will. Besides, the other sad truth is that most people are so submerged in their own fear of what you and everyone else thinks, that they barely have time to notice what we’re trying so hard to cover up.
Game Time: I have taken on a new approach on this road; I have turned it all into a game. When I walk into a meeting to pitch, sell, or otherwise schmooze, I calm myself down by reminding myself that the fancy executive, billionaire, potential client or whoever is in front of me, likely spent the morning fretting over a bald spot, a facial blemish, some weight gain, and/or how to behave in this meeting or another. I don’t do this to make myself feel any superior or anything. On the contrary, this helps me remember that we’re all in the same boat; in need of the same things, and worrying about the same silly ideas. Once I arrive at this place, I am instantly empowered. I get present and speak to an equal partner in this game of life, not a scary judgmental monster I’ve doodled on the sketchpad in my mind.
(Another trick that I’ve noticed really works for the tougher more intimidating types is maintaining a ton of eye contact. For some reason, this sends even the shrewdest person into a subtle anxious and disarming frenzy that helps me snap out of my fantasy of discomfort.)
Ownership: I never thought I would say it but I am a saleswoman, and I’m actually pretty damn good at it. Every service, song, image, event or other idea I sell, I know it is extraordinary; after I complete a meeting with someone, they know it is too. Authenticity and passion keep me grounded but honesty with what this fear is really about keeps me on task. Its actually all a lot of fun now. Owning this has probably been one of the most productive parts of this entrepreneurship road.
Every once in a while I still get a little nervous when I let remnants of an insecure imagination run wild, but I’ll share one final helpful reminder that always calms me down before a meeting; a dear friend once said this to me and etched it in my memory forever: “Remember; Charmin or Scott. I don’t care who they are, I know they use one.”