Simon Stewart from Facebook just mentioned in an interview, “what would you do, if you weren’t afraid?”. Well that is something I have wrestled with over the last 12 months or so. I have tried to find an internal balance that has enabled me to get the most out of any opportunity that I am faced with. We often say ‘live life like it is the only one you get’ and ‘you get out what you put in’ but do we really act on these, or do we spend more time being restrained due to fear? These phrases have circled around in my head a lot over the past months, gently reminding me to set aside my inner fears and relish the learning situations offered in the community. They force me to suppress my concerns over failure and embarrassment in favour of the rewards that will come from success. This change of attitude has rekindle my willingness to try new things. There are so many activities within our industry that will take you out of your comfort zone, but we need to learn to give these opportunities a proper chance. The only way we can do this is by being open to the possibilities they offer, and open to the possibility of failure (and make no mistake, that is scary!)
Fake it till you make it
Approaching strangers may seem like an insurmountable blocker for some of us, but the benefits of overcoming this are tenfold. Some who know me will have the belief that I find talking to people easy, but that is not the case. I like to talk, this is true, but those initial moments when I attempt to strike up a conversation with someone new still fill me with dread. You will probably find that the more people you talk to about this, the more of us you’ll discover who share these feelings. So why do people think I find it easy? Well, I like many others fake it just long enough to strike up that conversation and then watch it unfold. How do we do it? Well I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I try smiling to relax me, but also to see what response that gets, and then I go with “Hi I am Emma, what’s your name?”, followed by something safe like “So how are you finding the event?”
Fail early and fail often
Within the agile community you may hear people talking about fail early, and of course I hope that this does not happen the first time you try something new, but we all fail at things. And yep, I have tried to strike up a conversation with someone only for it to fail miserably, but the wonderful thing about failing is that once it has happened it does not seem as scary to fail again. Also, in a true agile fashion, you could always adapt & hopefully you will just take the failure as a learning experience. The successful conversations you manage to establish will make up for any that don’t work, you just have to keep trying. As with most other things we do: the more you do this, the easier it becomes.
Prepare for impact
Conquering your fears opens you up to all the amazing people within our community (Agile, Test, Developer, etc). This then gives them the ability to have a profound impact on us. It is amazing how some exceptional people can touch you, even when they’re speaking to a large group, and something they say strikes a chord with you and causes a response. This is often possible for the speakers at a conference, or that attendee to a Lean Coffee meeting who imparts that little gem of knowledge that inspires you to try something new, or investigate another possibility.
However there is still a further pot of expertise and knowledge to draw from, and that’s *anybody else you meet at these events*.
To let other people have this opportunity to have an impact on you, you need to talk to them. You also need to open yourself up to the proposition of anyone teaching you something, and potentially having a profound influence on you. Some of our deepest learning comes when we expose (and embrace) our vulnerabilities.
Reap what you sow
Just last week I got the opportunity to go to Agile 2014 in Orlando where I managed to silence my inner demons and tried my best to be social and invested in what was on offer. The return on investment for this small compromise on my part was unbelievable. The wealth of knowledge that this enabled me to draw upon was phenomenal. Beyond that, there were also those few wonderful people with whom I was lucky enough to quickly and easily develop a natural rapport. What it is that triggers that connection, I cannot tell you – It may be the kind smile or the joke that sets the relaxed tone for further interactions. What I CAN tell you, is that these relationships will help further you as a person both personally and professionally. Some of the relationships that I have created at events over this last year have opened my mind in so many ways and were the best investment in myself I could ever make.
Break down barriers
Going to these conferences you often have an awareness of some more prominent people in the community, and perhaps feel intimidated by them or may have put them on a pedestal. What you need to remember is that YOU made that artificial barrier. There was a time when they were like anyone else, attending conferences for the first time. Even now you can bet that several of them get nervous before speaking, and some of them also don’t find it easy to strike up a conversation, so you are in great company.
So for those of you who are regulars on the circuit, remember to include those new faces. And to those newer faces, make sure you don’t exclude yourself, but instead make the most of the golden opportunity to interact with all the fabulous people around you. If you do this you will be astounded by the profound effect it can have and what a lasting impression some of these people can have on you even in such a short time.
Thank you to all those at Agile 2014 who made me feel so welcome and shared their experiences and knowledge with me.