A lot of people have a lot of opinions on fear. Some say it is a great motivator. Others will say that you should never let it guide you. There is no denying, though – most of us do experience fear of SOMETHING at SOME point in our lives.
Being afraid, or worried, about something specific happening to you is one of the most common conditions of being human. Parents fear harm coming to their children, homeowners fear a break in, and political leaders might fear a threat from an unstable enemy.
But I invite you to look at fear a little differently. Because what happens AFTER the feared event is often a very liberating experience, given the right perspective and the right amount of time to recover. I could give you dozens of examples of this in my personal life, because not only am I middle aged now (GASP) but I have 4 small children, so my life is pretty much a constant test of my will, patience, and constitution.
As I tend to do, I try to find ways to tie what happens to me in my “regular” life to that of my working one. As I was running on the trail today, I had this epiphany.
When the thing you fear happens, it frees you.
Yes. I said it. When something that you are worried about comes to fruition, as terrible as it may seem, you might just find yourself not only letting go of that fear but finding yourself stronger and more resilient than you previously gave yourself credit for.
Here are a few of the greatest hits from my personal selling career that at the time seemed like the biggest of tragedies, but, once they were in my rearview mirror, made me stronger, smarter, more courageous and more grateful.
Colossal Mess Up #1 – In the first three or four years of my career, I was handling a large installation at The Merchandise Mart for one of the tenants’ showrooms for their biggest tradeshow of the year, NeoCon. Let me try to encapsulate this for you. I got in way over my head, I over promised, and then I backed out and stopped communicating with the client because I was terrified. The president of my company was called, and I was summoned to his office to explain myself. I lost a lot of sleep those weeks, and I was just so scared that I could not handle the situation by myself that I completely shut down. The president stepped in, got it handled, and we took a huge bath on the project. In the end, the client was satisfied, but I never talked to them again, once apologies were made. Here’s what didn’t happen. I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t even get yelled at.
What I learned: It’s not only OK to ask for help, it is ADVISED to.
I also learned a lot about taking my time with a project, not running in and promising the moon because I was so excited at the prospect of the size and scope. It is ALWAYS better to take extra time to think about all aspects of a project before you commit. And NEVER run away from your problems because they will always find you. ALWAYS. I was empowered after that whole mess because I saw that no matter how bad I screwed up, it was not going to affect my entire life. Mistakes happen. There are consequences, but I was not going to come to any real harm. That episode was the most pivotal of my life, and this happened more than 20 years ago. It freed me to realize that while my work was important, I could never let it ruin me.
Colossal Mess Up #2 -I cried in front of a client. Like a baby. I was very close to this client, and HIS client had just gotten done reaming me in a room full of people. Like, he screamed at me that his kid could have done better with a box of broken crayons than the books that we printed. The guy was mean. I made my apologies, communicated the plan to get it solved, and my client and I walked out of the room. As we rounded a corner, my client put his hand on my shoulder, and I just burst into tears.
Oh man, was I embarrassed. I was embarrassed and I was shocked and I was hurt and I just felt really overwhelmed and over my head. And my client just said my name and told me it was going to be OK.
And you know what? It WAS.
What I learned: Being that vulnerable was really embarrassing, but sometime later, I celebrated the fact that I was human, and sometimes I had no control over what was going to happen to me. Now, granted, I was in my middle 20’s at the time, and this whole “playing at being grown up and being a career woman” was still a relatively new concept to me.
I still to this day, and again, this happened more than 20 years ago, think of that client with extreme fondness. He showed me humanity and compassion and kindness in the face of being gravely criticized himself and we both walked away relatively unscathed.
Having spent my entire academic life being praised, I was unaccustomed to criticism and negativity. And the truth is, that criticism was a gift. Because it taught me that people handle their anger differently, and I needed to be able to adapt to that anger and unpredictability. Being humiliated, though unpleasant, freed me from fearing being yelled at. And years later, when I had a boss that was verbally critical to me regularly, I could handle it and not take it personally.
No one looks forward to the bad stuff happening. But maybe we should. Because surviving and even thriving after a terrible thing happens makes us that much stronger and more resilient in the future.
As a sales and marketing coach and consultant at Success In Print, Kelly Mallozzi advocates for graphic arts companies to start a revolution and fight to keep print relevant. She may be irreverent, but what she lacks in convention, she makes up for in smart-assery.