When I got sick, one of the first things I had to do to get better was learn to give myself shots in the stomach. The very first time I had to do it, I sat on a hospital bed with Johannes across from me and the nurse beside me, and I cried. And when I say cried, I mean I bawled harder than I have ever bawled in my adult existence. My whole body heaved with the impossibility of the task.
Johannes sat cringing next to me. He had just spent four years studying to be a doctor, and for him, this was like opening your eyes in the morning. For me, it was like the nightmares I have where I’m falling and don’t know where I’ll land. It was pure terror.
I couldn’t do it. The nurse left the room, and Johannes looked at me with disgust.
And then, something inside me flipped. I stopped crying. The nurse came back in. She handed me the needle, and I did it. As simple as pushing a button into the button hole, I pushed the needle into my stomach. And when I got home, I had to lie on my couch and do it every night all alone, and I did it then too.
After this, there were several more visits to the ER, an eventual surgery, and when it was all done, when it was finally all finished, I felt euphoric. Euphoria enveloped me for all that I had been through; for all that I had fought against and won.
You have to work hard, and sometimes you have to gloriously muck something up to be really successful later. Why we’re always so afraid of conflict, diversity, adversity has never made sense to me. I have no patience for people who are sanctimoniously happy all the time. It means they haven’t taken enough risks.
Success is directly related to how hard you push yourself.
I write about how difficult the process of becoming a leader is, the problems I’ve had transitioning, how life is just plain hard sometimes, to illustrate that once you find your passion it’s not all about birds chirping and bunny rabbits frolicking.
Of course, that’s part of it; right now, for instance, I am really excited. I just had a great meeting with those in my organization. We’re getting closer and closer to rocking out. You know, like, the lip-singing-dancing-around-the-living-room-jumping-for-joy kind of rocking out. But in a Board Room.
And that makes me happy. Especially because I worked hard to prepare for that meeting. Really hard. Our database hates me with a vengeance hard. Sixteen or seventeen meetings a week hard. Like, my apartment is messy an hour after I clean it hard.
I generally spend every waking moment thinking and acting on how we’re going to rock it. So when things go well, that feeling of euphoria – of happiness to the point of enlightenment – is because I’ve pushed myself farther than I’ve ever gone before. Just like when I was sick.
So, it’s hard. And it’s work. And sometimes it’s pure terror. But that’s passion in a nutshell. You wake up and you can’t imagine doing anything else. You do it because there is no other way to be.
Be working to be rocking.
Last week, I scheduled a meeting with one of the top CEOs in Madison, Mr. Rich. Here’s how I did it and how you can too:
1. Make first contact. Meet Mr. Shaker at an event. Go up and introduce yourself. Yes, I know this is hard, especially when CEO #1 stands by CEO #2 and Celebrity #3. Must they cluster? Go and introduce yourself anyway. You are not a chicken. Go! You don’t have to have a lot to say. Just introduce yourself, set the stage for a meeting, and gracefully exit.
Another option is to send a letter. A letter is for when you have no way of meeting them in person. It warms up the cold call. It should be short and to the point, and give appropriate information, but not enough that a meeting isn’t necessary. The primary purpose of the letter is to set the stage for your phone call to set up a meeting.
2. Write yourself a script and act. I learned the value of a script, and the basis of all relationship-building in business, when I was a telefunder in college. Not a telemarketer. TeleFUNDER. Big difference.
As a telefunder, I read off a script, and after four years, I knew that script by heart. Every time I sat down to make calls, I pulled the script up on the screen. Half the time I wouldn’t even look at it, but it gave me the confidence to know exactly what to say, improvise, and to become the top fundraiser out of hundreds of other callers.
These days, when I make calls, I still bring up a script. It’s short and to the point, and I’ve thought out many of the potential objections in my head.
Then I lower my voice. This is because I have a high girly voice, and that’s really annoying on the phone. I learned this the hard way when I tried to be a cheerleader my first week of telefunding. I almost got fired I was so chipper. Pay attention to what you want to convey and act it out.
3. Be persistent. The first time you call you’ll probably get their voicemail, or the secretary. They’re counting on you to give up. Not the first time. Nobody gives up the first time. But maybe the second time, or the third. Don’t let your attempts taper off. You have to be the person that calls back the fourth, fifth, sixth time.
Call on different days and times of the week. While your worst time might be Wednesday at 8:30 am, that might the perfect day for you to reach Mr. CEO.
Or maybe email is better. It just depends. A general rule of thumb is that older generations will respond quicker to phone calls, while twentysomethings will respond quicker to emails. Skip the guessing game next time by asking Miss Celebrity how she prefers to be contacted when she hands over her business card. Golden.
4. I said persistent, not creepy. If I call a CEO five times a week, I only leave a message once or twice. You don’t want to be all scary about it.
5. Be persuasive and positive. Never ever remind the CEO that you’ve already contacted them last week in your message. You can refer to your first contact, but not the ten calls you’ve made in between. I guarantee that the CEO knows about the ten calls you’ve made, and if you just stay upbeat and positive with the tone of your voice, they’ll call you back.
Persuasive doesn’t mean pushy. Persuasive isn’t begging. Persuasive is confidence. Don’t confuse it.
6. Be strategic and ready for run-ins. It never fails that I am often embarrassed in front of important people.
In calling Mr. Rich to set up a meeting, I ran into him three different times unexpectedly. The first was when I was walking to the coffee shop wearing my “pigpen” pants and he rounded the corner. I think the term “pigpen” is self-explanatory. This is not the time to talk. Smile. Say hello. Keep walking. The second was when I came out of a public restroom and I opened the door right into Mr. Rich. Smile. Apologize. Keep walking.
The third was at an annual dinner. It was one of those times when he was standing next to two other bigwigs. This is not the time to keep walking. Stop. Introduce yourself. Go back to step #1.
7. Notice the flow. The hard and time consuming stuff is in the beginning. Getting a meeting is much harder than the meeting itself. Make it work.
Go on with your bad self.
Need more? One of the best series on networking can be found here.
For creativity, you need to get rid of the crap. Your surroundings are a reflection of who you are, and the state of your environment is a reflection of the state of your mind.
I work best when everything is in its proper place. At this point, I should make a disclaimer. Everyone works differently. You might work well in crap. I cannot. The piles and dust and general disorder weigh on my mind. Like a big stinky dump truck with tin cans tied to the bumper that clang against the sides of my brain. No, I do not work well with disorder.
Chaos and confusion within your to-do list will also make a mess of your mind. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Get it out of the way. Right now.
For me, it’s tough to deal with accounting-related tasks. Not only because I am so clearly a right-brained person, but because I’m also directly responsible for my own salary. It’s incredibly stressful. So I sub-consciously avoid the numbers game because it’s difficult and hard and sticky.
But it’s also incredibly important, so I push it to the forefront daily. After all, the show cannot go on without money, and I really love that thing called eating. So while I would really prefer to be brainstorming the next big idea, finishing the accounting makes me feel just as good, euphoric even.
Purging your to-do list of items that bring you anxiety means not only crossing off the difficult and boring tasks, but getting rid of the items that suck your energy.
For instance, I have a habit of adding unnecessary to-dos to my list. Items that are so ridiculously broad such as “recruitment,” or so entrenched in abbreviation like “LM to SC and in DB & Ltr” that I have no frickin’ clue what I’m supposed to be doing or where to start. Such items are now banned from my college-lined notebook. Don’t let them show up in yours. Sneaky rascals, those to-dos.
It’s kind of like the style shows where they embarrass people into dressing properly. The fashionable teach the outdated, passé, and defunct how to rid their closet of negative energy and bedazzaled Capri jeans. By doing so they make the simple act of getting dressed a retreat of confidence, coolness and beauty.
Now, just think if your to-do list were that sexy.
Face your work woes. Creativity will follow the work that you do and the risks you take.
Work woe no more.
At a conference this week, I introduced myself to two young men. I found out they were venture capitalists, and I began to tell them what I do when one of them cut me off. “We live in Chicago,” he said. Oh. Okay.
I shifted gears and jokingly repeated an observation that I had heard from another conference goer. “So, some people say you all are like pirates,” I said. Silence. I thought it was a joke. The dagger look told me otherwise. A sore topic, I guess. I had no idea.
We talked for quite a bit longer and came to the mutual understanding that venture capitalists are, in fact, not like pirates, and I realized that one of them was pretty good-looking.
On the back their business cards, I wrote short notes to remind me of who they were. “Cute venture capitalist,” on one and “not a pirate,” on the other. Just to be clear.
The conference ended with numerous courageous spirits presenting at an event called “Elevator Pitch Olympics.” Participants pitched their business plan in ninety seconds, and then a judging panel graded their hearts and souls on a 1-5 scale.
As the first participant ended his ninety seconds, the judging panel wrote their scores on small whiteboards and held them up for the audience. Businessmen and investors around the hall yelled, “Darker markers!” and “We can’t see!”
“I can see just fine,” I replied to those around me. “You all need contacts!” The guy behind me persisted, “I can’t see!”
“What? Is my head too big?” I joked. He laughed and in an instant I knew exactly who he was. I had just made apparent to one of the biggest players in Madison that my head might be big. And that he could be blind.
I gave my brightest smile and turned back around, writing to my friend next to me, “Oh. My. God.”