I get nervous about dumb stuff. I’m nervous as I’m calling a potential client. I’m nervous as I’m driving to a date. I’m nervous going to a networking event. What am I so afraid of? I guess I’m partially scared that I’ll say something dumb, and am also anxious because I don’t know what to expect. As a control freak, I find this unsettling.
Then I realized: in many situations where I’m nervous, so are the other people involved. When I’m going to a networking event, chances are that at least a handful of other people who have showed up are feeling jittery too. Even the most suave guy is going to be a bit nervous for a date. The client I’m calling on has probably been in my shoes before and can empathize with how I’m feeling. This realization helped to cool my anxiety-filled jets a little bit.
You’re not weird to feel nervous about new situations, and chances are that you’re not the only person feeling this way either. Knowing this makes uncomfortable events easier to handle.
The other thing I’m realizing is that people will give you credit just for showing up, even if you don’t handle the situation as perfectly as you’d like. This past week I was at a conference in Las Vegas. I was invited to a dinner with a lot of high-profile women in my industry. I really wanted to hold my own at the dinner, but was also SUPER intimidated. I was worried that I’d be awkward or say something dumb in front of women I respected. But instead of judging my every move, they were welcoming and seemed impressed that I was there. For younger people, particularly in business situations, you’ll get a lot of credit just for showing up and trying your best. It doesn’t matter if you let an awkward silence happen from time to time. It’s okay if you don’t always know the perfect moment to hand over your business card. That also helps to relieve a lot of pressure. You don’t have to be perfect, just be present.
The last thing I realized: no one is scrutinizing you as much as you’re overanalyzing your own behavior. While you’re beating yourself up about a dumb comment you made an hour ago, your remark didn’t even register with anyone. You’re imagining everyone else in the room silent-laughing when they saw you almost trip on the corner of the rug, but everyone else was so busy wondering whether they had food in their teeth that they didn’t even notice.
Whether you’re networking, dating, or just trying not to feel awkward in a crowded gym, know that other people are feeling the same way. We’re all just a bunch of awkward turtles moving through life together. Embrace it, own it, and realize that no one else is judging you like you think they are.