Hello, TryBe! I’m hoping this morning finds your hearts and spirits replete with peace and contentment. It’s Sunday, the weather’s nice, and I woke up on the right side of the bed, which means, of course, that it’s story time.
Peep the scenario. It’s the late 2000s and 20 something year old me is still settling in as a new arrival to Charlotte, North Carolina, having only been here a few weeks. If I’m honest about my move, I’m ill prepared for it, as it was informed much more by an impulsive and sudden need to escape the monotony of the small town two hours away that had birthed and raised me, the only place I had ever called home, the place that housed all of my triggers (both conscious and subconscious), than it was any real rational or well thought out plan or course of action to truly change my life, though I certainly would never have admitted this to anyone at the time. Even preparedness and strategy took a backseat to my perceived need to get out, and indeed get out I did, and I’m feeling good about it. Things aren’t necessarily going bad (yet), but they aren’t necessarily going well, either. I nab, via Craigslist, an interview for a somewhat suspicious marketing gig uptown, a commission based one selling office supplies to business owners in and around the city. Truth be told, I’m not particularly excited about the prospect of working such a job. I dread it, in fact. Though I’m not yet half as self-aware in my 20s as I will eventually grow to become in subsequent years, I know enough about myself at this point in my life to know that my social awkwardness and anxiety, already a consistent hurdle for me, will likely be amplified by my being forced to rehearse a pitch and deliver it to people. Nevertheless, I need this job, so I’m determined to give it my best go.
It’s the morning of my interview, and I am obsessing over everything. Before leaving home, I even search YouTube for a tutorial on how to tie the perfect tie, not because I don’t know how to knot one, but because I want to make sure mine is the undisputed flyest in every room it and I appear in. After hyping myself up and finally making it out the door, I “positive self-talk” my way to the interview 15 minutes early. As I sit in the waiting area in my posture trying to maintain my “cool”, I’m almost sure I hear the faint sound of a shouting male voice and crowd in the background of the background. I shrug it off as the sound of a television or radio, and I go back to my silent self-talk. Before long, another candidate arrives. As time passes, more file in. One dude’s tie is putting mine to shame. It doesn’t take long for my old friend anxiety to creep up on me, wasting no time in imprisoning me with my thoughts.
“What am I doing here?”
“This is a waste of time.”
“Everyone here is more qualified than me.”
“How did homie get that Windsor knot so perfectly nestled into his shirt collar like that?”
“They’re not going to seriously consider me.”
“I don’t have any experience with this type of thing.”
“Even if they do consider me, I’m not cut out for this type of work.”
One by one, the negative thoughts and emotions flood their way back into my brain. My train of thought is derailed by the voice of a young sister sitting directly across from me, expressing concern about her tattoo and asking me whether or not I think she’s going to be disqualified from consideration for the job on account of it. As I open my mouth to respond and reassure, I’m interrupted by the sound of a door being flung wildly open and the now confirmed and much more pronounced sound of a crowd and shouting man. As the crowd murmurs on, the shouting man’s voice abruptly stops, and out from behind what I thought was just a wall separating the waiting area from a hallway emerges a guy so big I can only use “Shaq-esque” to describe him. Sweating and breathing heavily, he glances into the waiting area and swiftly looks around it at us each with a look of both seriousness and absolute intensity before returning, just as quickly, behind the wall to the sound of a door slamming and the shouting resuming. The sister and I, still in our crouched forward position from our attempted conversation, stare momentarily at each other in absolute bewilderment, then, in almost unison, at the receptionist who had signed us in, still click clacking at her keyboard as if nothing had happened. Seeing our looks, she smiles coyly and calls the next name, which happens to be mine. Quite naturally, my first question to her is about the room and the fiasco in it, but she doesn’t give up a single detail, telling me that only trained employees are privy to that information. I’ve still a whole two days ahead of me before I finally learn about the “Energy Room” and its purpose. I find out that it’s exactly what its name implies, a room specifically purposed for reps to blow off steam and “charge up” before going out into the field, a room to practice our approaches and strategies, a place to scream our heads off if we want to. The room itself isn’t particularly large, but is sizable enough for multiple parties to engage in independent interactions without infringing on each other. I don’t yet know this, but it’s in this room that I’m about to happen upon the lesson that this blog entry is centered around, a lesson so impactful that it would take years for me to truly grasp and understand the power of it.
I’m a few days in, and things are going just as I predicted. I’m not faring well. My nervousness and anxiety is on a hundred, and I’m having a hard time getting orders placed consistently, but I’m not the only one. On this particular day, one of the team leaders has the idea to line six of us new recruits up and hand us each a copy of the thick inventory book used for order placement. He tells us that he’s going to pitch to us, one by one, his rehearsed lines and instructs us to shut him down in whatever way we see fit, as nastily as possible, even, if we feel so inclined. He then proceeds to the beginning of the line and starts his pitch, which is summarily shut down by the first recruit. He then takes the book from that person and goes to the next recruit who shuts him down the same. With each shut down, he takes another book from the recruit doing it. By the time he makes his way to me, the sixth person in line, he makes a note of all of the books he’s holding and tells us they are representative of the weight a rep carries when they internalize the rejection they will inevitably face out in the field. He then repeats the lesson in the exact same way, instead opting to take the books and drop them with each rejection. Though it’s a simple illustration of a simple point, it helps me immensely. I had been doing just that, taking personally every rejection to the point that it was sabotaging and contaminating my ability to maximize my effort. From that point forward, I make it a point do my best to view every interaction with any business owner, be they hostile or courteous, as an opportunity to practice what I had learned: letting go of rejection and refusing to attach any stories to me because of it. In very little time, it transforms my experience and I’m doing much better.
The story ends there, but it would take years for me to fully wrap my mind around the significance and power of what I was taught in that room and connect it to other aspects of my life experience outside of business. How could I? The notion that we should and must internalize every rejection or perceived rejection is so endemic to the society that we live in that most of us don’t know that we can opt out of accepting that notion. Whether the rejection or perceived rejection comes in the form of the breakdown of intimate relationships, unsuccessful business ventures, or some other form of “not getting what we want”, so many of us suffer because we have been taught that we have to derive our sense of self from every single aspect of our personal history. I have known and befriended many people who are in and strongly identify with immense pain because of their deep seeded notion that their relationship history is evidence of their own personal inadequacy and nothing else, as if the society that we live in truly fosters and facilitates healthy intimate interactions between people and they just don’t have what it takes to “get with the program”. What I’ve learned is that it’s of the utmost importance to place the things that we experience in social context. As hard as that sometimes is to do, we must, because if we don’t, we end up ignoring the role societal factors play in shaping our experiences and attaching stories of undeserved blame to ourselves and navigating the world with guilt and shame, emotions that serve no constructive purpose whatsoever. When we view what we experience, think and feel through the wider lens of social context, oftentimes we find that we’re being unfair to ourselves, that the perceived “failure” was actually a learning experience and, oftentimes, the most likely outcome of the given situation. It means understanding that, maybe just maybe, things not working out the way we wanted them to hinge on more than just our own personal shortcomings and that we don’t have to frame ourselves in such a self-harmful way. This is in no way intended to downplay the need for self-reflection and accountability when it comes to the things that we have to unpack and unlearn to establish and maintain better relationships, nor is it intended to imply that a person should live their life in a haphazard way, doing what they please at the expense of everyone else while blaming everyone and everything but themselves for the inevitable backlash from the damage they cause. It simply means adopting a refusal to attach reductive stories of self-blame to yourself and a habit of viewing the totality of any given situation. If I had any advice to impart today, TryBe, it would be do give your absolute best to any situation, be it a relationship or a job, because when you do your best and it’s rejected, you can move forward with no regret, knowing that whatever you’re after simply isn’t for you and that there’s nothing more you could have done than your best.
I hope this helps someone. Until next time, keep your hearts and spirits intact.