“Quivers down my kneebone… I got the shakes in my thighbone…” Guess Who (“Shakin’ All Over”)
Have you ever been so freakin’ nervous you almost lost control of bodily functions?
Two things made me suddenly think about this unseemly subject.
First Thing: We have an Afghan hound in the house with a bark that rattles windows four blocks away… and he has come thisclose to eating the mailman, the Fed Ex guy, three neighbors, and a flock of Jehovah’s Witnesses who dared knock on the door.
And that’s just over the past month or so.
But here’s the kicker: He will break down into a sobbing lump of useless self-pity if Michele or I so much as look at him cross-eyed.
His bark is a mask for the social vulnerability he suffers.
He doesn’t really want to rip out your throat.
Deep inside, he’s just a confused, awkward puppy, trapped in an adult dog’s body. Scared shitless of the world. (Literally shitless, whenever fireworks or lightning are nearby.) (Yeah, it’s a mess.)
Second Thing: I was recently advising someone about “getting his ass out in the marketplace as an expert”… and the guy actually started shaking.
Just the thought of stepping onto the metaphorical stage of life, and performing… sent this poor guy into a stuttering implosion.
He not only had no “bark”… he had no cojones, either.
This got me thinking about my own journey from stuttering fear-meister to swaggering bluster-bomb.
It’s relevant… because, in business, my line is: If you truly have a great product that your prospect should own… then shame on you if you don’t step forward confidently and BE that guy he needs you to be… so he can feel good about buying.
You can’t sell from your heels, people.
(I love to trot out the old quote by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: “It’s not that I’m all that great of a guitar player, you know. It’s just that I can step out in front of ten thousand people and DO it.”)
(Talent comes in WAY behind cojones when it comes to carving out your niche.)
Anyway, back to me…
I am not an extrovert by any stretch.
In fact, I chart pretty heavily toward “total thumb-sucking, light-avoiding, cave-dwelling introvert” in basic personality tests.
You can tell an introvert from an extrovert pretty easily: When the extro is around people, like at a party, he gets energized. The introvert finds it a chore, and leaves the event drained.
It’s all about energy transference.
Now, I was lucky to grow up with a sizeable contingent of good friends — who I went all the way from kindergarten through high school with — which saved me from having to “make” new friends until I hustled off to college.
And, in college, for whatever reason, I was immediately taken in by a group of goofballs who somehow saw my potential for furthering their goofball yearnings.
However, it took me a long time to get to “know” most of these people.
Seriously. It was decades before I finally felt comfortable around most of them.
Nearly all of the people I’m close to, I’ve been close to for half my life. (I’ve known my business partner, Stan, for 25 years, and our contract writer, Mark, since we were nineteen.)
I tell you this to illustrate how ill-equiped I was to become a guru.
I stuttered as a kid… and frequently found myself getting stuck on words as an adult whenever I encountered uncomfortable situations.
Meaning, any new situation where people I didn’t know were looking at me.
In grade school — back when I was convinced that everybody else knew things they weren’t sharing with me (and that’s why life seemed like such a mystery) — I even burst into tears in class math competitions. (One little girl — Peggy The Bitch, I call her — repeatedly tripped me up with the question “What’s 5 times 0?” I nearly always said “5!” before realizing my blunder and being told to sit down while the rest of the class continued the competition.)
(Ah, childhood humiliation. What a concept.)
As a teen, a good (longtime) friend convinced me to learn guitar so we could start playing in bands. He wanted the excitement and recognition of being on stage. I just got a thrill from playing music.
So he fronted the many bands we formed, happily, from center-stage… and I happily lurked near the far edge, out of the limelight, content to concentrate on the tunes.
I was kinda like Garth, from Wayne’s World. Thrust into the action on the coattails of a raging extrovert.
Freelancing was a natural for me. It required long, lonely hours inside your head… and you were excused from looking like the regular “suits” in the agencies because, as a writer, the more outrageous you appeared, the more they believed you must possess the “goods”.
Halbert, of course, was THE uber-extrovert. He publicly listed his main hobby as “finding new methods of self-aggrandizement”.
I stayed behind the scenes as much as possible. My main job, in fact, during seminars was to handle everything but the actual delivery of the action onstage.
It was Halbert’s show, and I liked it that way.
I had defined myself as an introvert, and never considered it could be any other way.
I even had a “defining moment” — back in college, when I was introduced to my first “real” girlfriend’s beloved sister, I started laughing uncontrollably. Not because anything was funny… but because my body betrayed me, and just went off in an inappropriate spasm.
I was humiliated, because after lamely stuttering about why I had burst out with guffaws (I could come with nothing good to explain myself), the awkwardness just got deeper and deeper. My girlfriend forgave me (and even sorta found it endearing — I was her “bad boy” artistic-type boyfriend, so weirdness was expected).
But her sister forever thought I was an A-Number One Doofus Jerk-Off.
Rightly so, I might add.
Around uncomfortable situations, I was that guy.
After, oh, around thirty gazillion private consultations and Hot Seats and meetings with clients once I became a sought-after pro… all of whom initially tried to “alpha male” me into submission, because they wanted the writer (me) to be their slave…
… I started to think that maybe I had unwisely “defined” myself.
As anyone who has gotten freelance advice from me knows, I quickly learned to walk into a new client’s life and OWN the bastard. I knew that I held all the cards — he needed copy, couldn’t produce it himself to save his life, and thus was in zero position to be dictating terms to me.
I ain’t shy, professionally.
Now, my technique may or may not help others. (I developed a “stage personality” for these consultations I called Dr. Smooth… and let this “alternative John” take over.)
(And damn, but that Doctor was good at taking control and bullying clients.)
It’s a standard tactic, adapted from acting. No big deal, nothing revelatory about it.
What it did for me was immediately obliterate that old “defining moment” that I had regarded as my “fate”.
I wasn’t really a socially-retarded loser.
I just played one in life.
Cuz I thought I’d been… assigned… the role.
If you’ve ever seen me speak at seminars, you know I’m no wallflower these days. I’m totally comfy in front of any size crowd, because the “mystery” of what’s going on has been solved in my mind.
It’s not about me.
It’s about the content of what I share.
(Plus, of course, I know so much about the people in the audience nowadays… from all those decades of delving into the psychology of salesmanship… that I don’t even need to imagine anyone naked to be calm.)
(It’s just us folks in the room. Good people looking for good info, plus maybe a little entertainment along the way. And a speaker line-up of “just-plain-dudes” having fun in the limelight.)
My point: You can do what you need to do.
If your market is crying out for someone to stand up and be the go-to-guy… you really can do it.
Like Keith Richards, you can get your chops honed to a degree that gives you enough confidence to be “onstage” (however you define the stage — it can be your website, an actual stage, or infomercials or any other media)… where you will deliver what the folks paid to see.
There are vast armies of “experts” out there (especially online) with no more real skill or insight or knowledge than you have.
Often, they have less.
What they DO have, that so many others refuse to cultivate, are the cojones to step up and BE that guy the audience needs you to be.
I can tell you this with absolute certainty (because I personally know it’s true): Most of the top guru’s in the entrepreneurial world — especially online — are former dweebs, stutterers, social outcasts and semi-dangerous nutcases.
They are, essentially, gawky and lonely and scared little kids trapped inside an adult’s body.
What they have done, however…
… is to re-define WHO they are when it counts.
Everyone, at some time or another, feels the urge to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over their head. Life is tough, business tougher. Hamlet’s slings and arrows constantly rain on everyone’s parade, and NO ONE gets a pass.
… the winners define themselves.
I’m still an introvert. I still have my awkward social moments. I still occasionally stutter.
But those things do not define me.
Long ago, I threw away the role “assigned” to me… and just created my own new one. Which allows me to do whatever needs doing to further my goals… including climbing up on stage alone and engaging a thousand people as a ringleader.
Life sucks when you’re crawling around under the weight of unnecessary self-loathing, self-pity and self-expectations you can never meet.
Life rocks when you re-cut the jigsaw of your personality, and make something new according to who YOU want to be.
Just food for thought.
Love to hear your experiences with self-defining moments.
It’s heartening to hear so many commenters in past blogs finally come to grips with internal battles they’ve sometimes struggled with for years.
Hey — it’s fun when this stuff starts working.
P.S. We are very close to finishing up a new venture here that — if you crave rollicking adventure in your business life — will absolutely light up many people’s worlds.
It’s a limited opportunity… but the folks who truly know, in your heart, that one of the spots was meant for you… will instantly understand what has to happen to get involved.
Just a few more days…