Conquering Fears

persons-0015_largeI 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?

2 thoughts to “Conquering Fears”

  1. Hey Cortney. This is a cool post. I think all of us can relate to having huge fears in one way or another. Personally, I’m not phased by speaking to people who are a generation older than me or more, however, I definitely understand where you’re coming from. It’s like your speaking to an entire different species. I think it may help if you approach these people with a certain thought process. Imagine being in their shoes. In a sense, they are in the same position as you: interacting with another person that they are not familiar with and may or may not have much in common. At the end of the day, they’re just another person. Also consider that they’ve been through what you’re currently going through. In other words, before they got to where they currently are, they were in shoes – a college student that had to step outside of their comfort zone to network, make connections, and form relationships.

    Once you’ve met someone, I would suggest following up with an email, simply saying that it was a pleasure to meet them, you appreciate them taking the time out of there day, and you look forward to staying in touch. Something along those lines. You got this!

  2. I do have a similar fear. However, mine stems from interacting with professionals who are just barely older than us. People who are much older than us do not typically intimidate me. I think this is because no matter what I know I will fascinate them. I know that sounds stupid, but our generation does SO much more to stay busy than the older generations did when they were in college. Or maybe they are in a position of power but didn’t even go to college. I met with my bosses for my job last weekend and they jumped right in talking about marketing, web development, writing, etc. (all stuff I am already familiar with) but when they got to the business aspect they could tell I wasn’t picking it up as quickly. So they stopped and made sure I knew that I should NEVER be scared to ask questions. They literally told me that I should stop them in the middle of talking if I don’t understand one little thing they said. I immediately felt so comfortable and I could not be more excited to start working, because this comfortability provides me with a huge willingness to learn.

    On the contrary, the marketing manager that I work under for my internship graduated from college only 3 or 4 years ago. She will email me a project that is way too advanced for me, and I literally mean she will email it to me. I’ve been working under her for a year, she lives in California, and I think I’ve spoken to her on the phone maybe five times … ever. She has such high expectations, doesn’t ever give tell me if I did a good job on a project, just expects me to do it and return it in a timely manner. This is an unpaid, completely voluntary internship I picked up to learn more web development and public relation skills. She is the most terrifying girl I have ever encountered. She’s fairly successful, went to UCLA, etc. I think the problem with interacting with professionals so close to your own age is that they’re still young enough to be your friends, but in reality they’re just your boss. Additionally, they probably were just as involved in college as you were. Older generations don’t know what it’s like to be involved in 3 student orgs, have a full-time job, AND be a student! 🙂

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