Last week I attended my first London Chamber of Commerce networking event. I know that networking is a big part of owning a small business but I usually don't like to do it. The idea of going into a large room filled with people I don't know...and then having to actually go up to someone and make conversation, sends shivers down my spine. For an introvert like myself, it is one of my worst social nightmares! Talk about being out of my comfort zone.
So to even go to the event last week, I really had to push myself. Throughout the day I came up with hundreds of excuses to go home instead. But I went. I took a deep breath and walked into the room filled with people. And yes, I did go up to a few individuals and initiated a conversation. It took a lot of courage to take the first step but once I was there, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Most of the people I encountered were friendly, and I came home with some business cards and future contacts. But most of all, I came home with a newly boosted self-esteem. It felt good to know that I overcame my fear and accomplished a goal. Yes, it would have been easier to stay at home and watch TV, but I wouldn't have felt nearly as good at the end of the night.
Have you been wanting to do something but have been putting it off because it is way out of your comfort zone? Everyone does at one time or another. Here are some questions I ask myself and some additional things I do whenever I'm faced with this kind of situation:
1) "What am I afraid of?" and "What is the worst thing that can happen?" In my case I was scared of walking into the room and having absolutely no one talk to me. Or worse yet, approaching someone and having them just walk away. Whenever you hesitate about doing something it is usually due to fear. Identifying that fear makes it something you can now deal with.
2) "What harm would it do to me if the worst were to happen?" This question allows you to assess the impact the event would have on you and your life if the worst were to happen. For me the impact would be hurt, humiliation and a loss of self-esteem. It might be different for you.
3) "What is the probability that this will actually happen? and "What evidence do I have that it will happen?" When we are feeling fear, our minds automatically think that what we fear will definitely happen. But if we look closely at the situation and the evidence that exists, we often find that the chances of what we fear happening are low and that we have no real evidence to back up our fear. Asking these questions will help you to look at your fear, and the situation, in a more objective light.
4) "What can I do to handle the situation the best way I can?" Look at your resources, both internal and external, and put together an action plan of what you can do to minimize the risk and your fear. In my situation, I set a goal of talking to three people during the reception. I also decided that I would give it an hour. If I felt really uncomfortable or if I had not spoken to anyone within that time, I gave myself permission to leave without guilt. I also practised a few things I could say to people that I could use as introductions and to explain what I do. This helped to give me confidence that at least I wouldn't stumble over my words. Having this plan helped to lower my fear and to make the situation more managable. I went from thinking "There is no way I can do this" to "I can do this".
5) Arrange with a friend, coach or mentor to talk with them both before and after the event/situation. I find this step really helpful. It is helpful to be able to talk over your plans with someone and to make a commitment with that person to follow through. This person will also give you encouragement and support that will give you a boost and make it easier to work your plan. Then, after the situation is over, checking in with the person will give you the opportunity to review what happened, what worked and what didn't work, and to see what you can do in the future to make the next time easier.
6) Celebrate! Don't forget this step! You have just accomplished something that was very difficult for you to do. This is an achievement that is worth celebrating! So make plans to do something that is fun and makes you feel good. Get a massage or a manicure. Treat yourself to a meal out at your favourite restaurant. Personally, I went out and bought a book that I had been wanting to read. The possibilities are endless. Make this step part of your action plan and make sure that you do it. In this world where it is so easy to concentrate on our failures, it is important to acknowledge our successes.
If we live our entire lives just doing things that make us feel comfortable and safe, we miss out on so many experiences that could give us joy and happiness. Growth is never easy. It is often painful, but the results make it worthwhile.