I have a phobia of talking to important people. More specifically, important people who are more than a decade older than me. Anyone who’s been in a class with me knows I’m far from shy and I have no problem speaking my mind. But, something that most may not know (and even some of my best friends are surprised to learn since I’m “such a people person”), is that I freeze/have trouble being myself anytime it comes to talking to someone with >1 credential listed after his/her name. MD. RN. PhD. Anything is fair game. For the first few years of college, I avoided office hours all together because I dreaded one-on-one interactions with my professors. I couldn’t tell you exactly why – academic insecurity, intimidation, a desire to separate the professional from the personal, an element of being star-struck (yes, I am a nerd who would get more star-struck by an exchange with a professor than with Kim Kardashian…), possibly a combination of all of these?
Recently, I’ve come to acknowledge, address, and face these fears. Since I have become aware of it, I promised myself I would make a conscious effort to work on it. How else would I get to where I want to be in the future if I’m too big of a chicken to talk to the experts in the subject? So how did I begin to work on it? Realizing a few things – they were once in your position as a young student, they’re also huge nerds, and, more likely than not, they actually want to spend time (and enjoy spending time) talking about the subject they’ve devoted their life’s work to.
At a conference I attended this weekend in Washington, D.C. with esteemed doctors, scientists, public health workers, etc. I made a commitment to myself that I would swap business cards with at least five people. And I’m very proud of myself for building the courage to carry out this commitment. I made it a point to do research on the work of the attendees before the conference and approached them with questions about these topics. Since many of the areas of expertise of these professionals involved research with asbestos and none of them worked in Michigan, I also asked if they could connect me with anyone in my area who pursued similar research, and explained why I was interested in the work. As expected, they were more than willing to do so, some even ecstatic about my interest. After approaching a couple of these professionals and realizing it could in fact be as easy as (if not easier than) talking to my friends, my worries began to vanish. Shockingly enough, I even started to consider these interactions more exhilarating than threatening. BOOM. Fear. Conquered.
Do any of you experience similar fears? How have you dealt with them? Any advice/feelings on networking? How do you continue to build on these relationships after they’ve been established?