How I Learned a Simple, Important, & Cringe-Worthy Lesson
Several years ago, I was invited to attend a lovely reception in the heart of the French Quarter, New Orleans. The guest of honor was Keith Ferrazzi, best-selling author and networking guru. If I were writing this in 'flash forward' form where the opening scene is something that actually happens at the end of the story, I’d have to borrow a certain Saturday Night Live skit. Maybe you’ve seen it: A nervous, hyper, sweaty Chris Farley (R.I.P.) interviews Sir Paul McCartney. Farley approaches the star with such brilliance as, “Remember when you were, like, with the Beatles? That was so awesome. Yeah!” Throughout the encounter, he hits himself in the head as if he's in one of those I could've had a V8 commercials, grips his hair in anguish and mourns, “UGH! That was SO stupid! What was I thinking? Stupid stupid, stupid!” So there’s some foreshadowing for you. But let me start from the beginning… When I was first invited to the reception a few weeks prior, I’ll admit that I had never heard of Keith Ferrazzi. Then, I saw his name at the top of a best-selling nonfiction list. Further exploration led me to a semi-awkward interview with Larry King and some YouTube videos. I picked up his first book, Never Eat Alone. Early in the read, Keith told a story about his father doing something special for him which I had just similarly done for my daughter (aka "Miss M"). I know there’s no crying in business books, but this got to me in a way which I had not expected. I kept reading. Never Eat Alone somewhat confirmed things I already knew about the importance of relationships. It also offered several smart new perspectives which I was eager to put into practice. Perhaps a few things I wasn't 100% sure about, but I remained open based on the fact that Keith Ferrazzi is well, Keith Ferrazzi. And I’m not. (To reference another famous SNL line.) Press forward to the New Orleans reception with Keith as the star attendee promoting his new book, Who’s Got Your Back. The party was in a lovely venue, obviously well-organized and perfectly hosted. I began the night feeling charged and confident. As I always tell my coaching clients, increased confidence brings increased capacity. More than one person I met impressed me with their genuine friendliness, intelligence, and openness about their lives. I had some great conversations upon which I still reflect with gratitude In my mind, I was following Keith’s advice from the book. I devoted my time and attention to other “common folk” like myself vs. spending the night hovering around him, the star. Finally, another attendee whom I know always 'has my back,' encouraged me to go talk to the guru. By “encouraged,” I mean he physically pushed me into the room. That’s when I realized that my quick study and clever business prowess was actually pure, unadulterated cowardice. I was chicken. I hadn’t been chicken about talking to a senior executive at a potential million dollar client five minutes prior. I wasn't even a bit nervous exchanging deep life passions with virtual strangers (per an “assignment” given by Keith earlier in the party.) Why was I breaking into a sweat now? The thing is this: For some reason, I was confident in just being myself in the prior conversations. However, I allowed the idea of attempting to 'network' with the actual expert on networking intimidate me and make me feel like just being myself wasn't enough. But by placing Keith up on STAR level and myself down on NOT WORTHY level I had unknowingly but instantly put the converse of my favorite mantra into action against me: Decreased Confidence = Decreased Capacity. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to sit down next to Keith. I told him about the part of his first book to which I had connected so emotionally. My nervous babbling didn’t do it justice. Even still, perhaps I should have quit while I was, um, ahead. After that, it’s a little bit of a blur. As I remember each detail of the brief encounter, it's hard for me not to think about the things I said... and didn't say... without a slight internal cringe. I can only pray that being the end of a long day in the middle of a 17 city book tour, Keith didn’t have the energy to notice he was actually talking to Chris Farley. Or rather Chris Farley was talking at him. Ugh. I should have had a V8. It’s a good thing for my self-esteem that I'm such a huge fan of the learning experience. There's so much I should have, would have, and could have done differently; I make myself want to throw up just thinking about it. I didn't even get his business card. Oh, [insert sarcasm] I gave him my card. Cuz you know, it was all about me. (Ouch.) Another assignment he gave the crowd was for us to ask others how we can help them. Unfortunately, I didn't get enough past "me, me, me, my opinion, blah, blah, me, me, me" to ask Keith how I could help him. My mortification quickly dawning on me like a Polaroid picture, I made a quick exit from the party. I got to my hotel room around 10pm and immediately sent "thank you" emails to my party host and everyone I had interacted with during the evening. Great angst ensued as I realized that not only did I neglect to get Keith's email address, the only message which would accurately reflect the situation would be something like this:
Dear Keith, Thank you so very much for letting me talk at you while you ate your Bananas Foster. If you would ever like me to talk at you over a cup of coffee, please let me know. Best, Miss M's Mom
You have to read Never Eat Alone to fully appreciate the irony in the cup of coffee reference. Despite the long list of 'do overs' I imagine in my head, the final lesson is really pretty simple. All I needed to do was be myself. My authentic, confident self. My natural self with the life passion to help people, with or without the "assignment" to do so. In being myself, I would have avoided being Chris Farley. In retrospect, it also would have served me well to pay closer attention to Keith’s interview with Larry King.
So, here’s your takeaway for this month's blog post, sponsored by one of my most embarrassing moments:
No matter who you think you’re talking to (or even who you’re talking to thinks s/he is), YOU have a unique presence. Own it. Believe in it. Be confident in your authentic self.
To quote SNL's Stuart Smalley, "You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it...people like you!"
Photo Credit: NBC Universal