Success and tiny acts of courage
I’m 18, standing in a phone booth, just outside the Miracle Food Mart where I have a part-time job as a cashier. In my trembling hand, there’s a piece of paper. On it is the phone number of the president of Quantum Communications – someone to whom I have sent a letter outlining the reasons he should hire me for the summer. Now I have to follow up. I am standing here because a future behind a cash register is more frightening to me than making this call. But I’m so scared. I might as well be standing in the window of a burning building, calculating my fall to the ground below. Suddenly, I’m outside myself, forcing me to dial and speak. I hear myself making my case, and I guess he can hear my nerves or maybe it’s my bravado because he laughs, but he says, “Okay, I guess I’ll see you Monday.”
Ah, courage. Is there anything quite as invigorating? That phone call changed me. And I’ll bet there has been a time or two when you have had to push yourself out of a metaphorical window, and you know exactly what I’m talking about.
But these days, and maybe you can relate here, too, I have to remind myself that there is still a place for courage in my career. Ultimately, for my business to be satisfying and successful, I must regularly reach out to others, even when I really don’t want to.
So today I write this blog to me, to remind myself of how great it feels to take action, how proud I can be of myself, and how taking risks makes exciting things happen. Pay attention, Lori:
You don’t have the same intense fears you did at 18, so there’s less motivation and, because you’ve achieved some cool stuff, you’re okay resting on your laurels. But stay resting for too long and you’ll be back behind that cash register. For realz.
In other words, it doesn’t feel like it, but the building is still burning. Jump, dammit. (I know you don’t want to! That’s why it’s an act of “courage” and not an act of “going for ice cream.”)
Focus on the act, not the outcome
When you reach out to someone for new business, 98% of the time it will come to nothing. It’s going to take a lot of calls and emails to get to that 2% who have something. Set your sights on achieving your “tiny acts” rather than the possible results. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
Stop thinking and…
One of the most brilliant taglines ever brought to us by capitalism is Nike’s “Just do it.” It’s right on the money because it points to the single biggest obstacle we all face in achieving our goals – our brains. The more you think, the more you fear, the less you act. So, stop thinking and just, you know. Do it.
Besides, it feels great when it’s done. The reason you remember that phone call so well is that it was a rush! It’s up there with a white-water-rafting high but without the uncomfortable wetness.
Make a simple, achievable plan
That 18-year old was a smart cookie. She targeted six PR agencies she wanted to work for, sent the president of each an unusual letter of introduction, (“I have no million-dollar ideas, I just want to learn from you”), and she followed up the letter with a phone call.
Take a page from her book. Do some research, target a manageable list of businesses or contacts you want to work for, send them an email and follow up. Then repeat. And repeat again. And again.
If you are like me, the reason these tiny acts can be so difficult is confidence and, paradoxically, it’s easier to have confidence before you have experience. Time tames the ego. But you have something more meaningful because you have evidence of your worth. When it’s hard to act, believe in your resume or portfolio.
Acts of courage look different to me these days. They’re smaller, gentler and they don’t make my hands tremble. I need them, though, as you do. And it’s not just about success – it’s about being the person you admire.