THERE WAS a time in my life when I was extremely sensitive.
Around the time a pigtailed Britney Spears burst onto the scene with her ‘Pedo-Pop’ video, I began to pay closer attention to the opposite sex.
I lacked self-confidence in my mid teens like many others in that age group, but at teeny bopper discos or in later life, nightclubs yours truly was typically found lurking in the shadows, as far removed from the action as possible. I was a wallflower.
The concern I had back in those painful adolescent days was being rejected. I can count on one hand the number of women I approached sober in a public setting between the ages of 17-21 (including my ‘wild’ University stretch). Naturally, the fear of rejection was always more worrying than the rejection itself.
I didn’t simply imagine a curt, ‘No thanks. I’ve got a boyfriend.’ Instead, emblazoned in my mind’s eye was this Cleopatra glancing down from her pedestal high above, faintly aware of my presence, a look of disgust suddenly drawn on her face as if I had just shit in her purse. In my over-active imagination sometimes she would spit in my face, slap me or pour her drink over my head.
There was a huge pressure in my generation and among my friends to ‘score’. Not locking lips with a girl before midnight would trigger the ‘Panic Button‘ – a quick refuel of liquid confidence at the bar. Good ol’ Dutch courage would cure all before finally staggering out into the battle arena again to find an attractive crumb on the dance floor plate that hadn’t yet been gobbled up.
The two best things I ever did to combat my crippling shyness and super-sensitivity were:
- Attend University in a new City
- Start a career in Sales
While 95% of my friends from secondary school went to the nearest city (Belfast) to continue their studies, some quirk in my own inner compass pointed to Dublin.
My gut instructed that another 3 years with the same motley crew of familiar faces, stacked on top of the 6 that preceded wasn’t to be my destiny. Many of the myopic students simply wrote Belfast on their UCAS forms because their friends had done so. Safety in numbers.
While my confidence slowly improved I still battled some of the same insecurities.
I studied the sexiest of all subjects – Accounting and Finance which in hindsight wasn’t the right fit for me. However, I persevered because I was too concerned what parents and friends would think if I quit or changed mid-course. When I somehow escaped with a degree, I searched far and wide for a job opportunity to help eat into my student debt.
The only open positions I could find that didn’t require prior experience and paid better money than flipping burgers were in telesales.
I have friends who are still painfully shy into their 30’s. They also have a thin skin, in that they take rejection or criticism badly, however well intentioned. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that IF you want to live a sheltered life, but the truth is – shit happens. Many people lose heart too quickly and don’t have the mentality to automatically dust themselves off and get back in the ring.
In telesales (and later face-to-face sales), I helped conquer some of my fears, challenging my own deep rooted beliefs. Along the way I also learned the art of communication, building rapport, presenting, negotiation, leadership and many other interpersonal skills that go way beyond the call of duty.
The beautiful thing about Sales, especially with telephone selling, is that you are faced with many opportunities on a daily basis to face your fear. Like dating, it’s a numbers game and rejection is part of the experience. Failing Forward.
Ten years ago there was a big movement within the Self-Help community, particularly for young guys, that focussed on attracting women. It came to the fore with Neil Strauss‘ book ‘The Game‘ which spawned an entire industry of peacocking Pick-Up Artists.
PUA‘s are guys that get together and talk strategy, sharing tips and techniques to impress women in bars and clubs. While I was more of a keyboard jockey than purveyor of the ‘Seductive Arts‘ there were a lot of similarities in the material I read and sales methodologies I became exposed to.
Whether you think those guys are the biggest sleazeballs on Earth or simply fun, harmless characters that make an otherwise boring night more interesting, you can’t blame them for taking it on themselves to improve their current life situation.
Usually they had a background not unlike my own – number crunching, late bloomers with little or no experience with women. By proactively working on their own style, confidence, looks, communication skills and more importantly, going out there and consciously facing their fears is an incredibly bold and brave step.
They almost collect rejections from women with pride because win or lose the girl, they’ve inched one step further outside their comfort zone. If done enough times, that zone stretches so far beyond its elastic limit that it will never return to the same place again. A permanent change can be made.
While I wouldn’t particularly advocate pimping your wardrobe just yet, or nipping to the shops wearing your high vis jacket and feather boa à la Mystery, there is a lot to be said for testing yourself every so often.
Being in sales for ten years now and regularly receiving rejections should really have dented my confidence. But if you hear it often enough (which isn’t as often as you might think by the way), you start to become fearless. Any aspiring authors would be wise to embrace rejection too as even literary giants have learnt to take failure in their stride.
My friends from when we were teenagers barely match me with the kid they once knew. Through a series of turns in my personal journey, I’ve inverted my introverted self and come out the other side as a better, stronger and more confident individual. I couldn’t have done it without embracing rejection.
Now please like my post or I’ll take it personally!
I would love to hear your own thoughts. Has a setback or rejection changed the course of your own life? Have you ever overcome your fear of failure?