This is a long "encore post" but I wanted to bump it up "special" for some amazing people I met this week!
In June 2009, thanks to a kind invitation by a friend at the University of Phoenix, I attended a VIP 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 story starts with something that actually happens at the end, 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.) is interviewing Paul McCartney. Farley approaches the star McCartney 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 ala I could have had a V8, 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. Not too long after the invite though, I saw his name at the top of a “best-selling nonfiction” list. Either I have been living under a rock or have been so caught up in my professional infatuation with Stever Robbins, that I’ve been blind to all others. (Remember when Stever Robbins, like, commented on my blog? That was so awesome. Yeah!)
So, I picked up Keith's first book, “Never Eat Alone." Early in the read, Keith told a story about his father doing something special for him that 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 that 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 that I was eager to put into practice. Maybe one or two 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 UoP 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. Increased confidence brings increased capacity after all. (Thank you again AC, my greatest mentor.) In return, 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 reflect with gratitude
In my mind, I was following Keith’s advice. I devoted my time and attention to other “common folk” like myself vs. spending the night hovering around him; the star.
Finally my friend from UoP whom I know “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 "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." Suffice it to say that this interaction was one big learning moment... or several actually. So many that I'm making myself want to throw up thinking about it.
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 developing 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 realised that not only did I neglect to get Keith's email address, the only message that would accurately reflect the situation would be something like this:
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.
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 "ah ha" 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.
So here’s your takeaway for this week’s Balance Beam blog post, sponsored by one of my most embarrassing moments:
No matter who 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!"