Sometimes we go through life learning lessons that are so valuable they cannot often be put into words. Other days we remember to brush our teeth before noon and we put on pants before our husband comes home from work so we can pretend we had a useful and productive day with the kids. The point is that we learn lessons, we have days that are off days and we have days that are on days. We also make things more complicated than we need to make them; it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people complicate the simple (even though I’m so guilty of doing that myself from time to time).
Today I learned a lesson that is unlike any other lesson I’ve learned in a while. I’ve been working from home for more than 8 years now. That means I rarely have to talk to people. I do most of my communication via the internet and I can go days at a time without having a real life conversation with anyone but my husband and kids. I text my girlfriends a lot, and we have a very active social life – just not during the week. We have kids involved in too many sports and extracurricular activities for that.
We keep a tight-knit circle and don’t often socialize with people who aren’t in it. This morning when I attended a “Boo Hoo,” breakfast at my daughters’ school for parents with kids going into kindergarten, I was really nervous. I’m not typically a nervous person; but this morning I was. I am a confident woman who never usually cares what other people think, and I never waver in my confidence. I was wavering this morning as I thought to myself, “I have two daughters in a brand new school this year, and I’m nervous about the impression I’ll make on the other parents and teachers.”
That’s not me. I’m not typically nervous because I don’t care. However, I want my kids’ school years to be amazing, and I want to be active in their schooling. I’ve heard more than once from people that get to know me over time that I’m incredibly intimidating in person based on the way I dress and my facial expressions and my confidence. I was nervous people would assume I’m just a snob and not give me the time of day. Quite frankly, I’m tired of fighting to prove myself to people I have to have contact with on a regular basis.
In the end, of course, I decided on bright red Manolo Blahniks, a red button up tucked half in and skinny 7FAMs in a dark wash; because that’s me and I really don’t care if people like me or not. I was pretty nervous, still, and I text my best friend, who happens to be a former teacher and a current TOSA for a local school. I asked her how to talk to people and how to make sure that they’d want to talk to me instead of being afraid to or assuming they wouldn’t like me. She gave me the best advice ever.
“Smile and say hello, my name is Tiffany,” and let it go from there. I was taken aback by how simple this advice was. I was more taken aback when it actually worked. I smiled, I spoke to everyone, and I worked the room. I think maybe some people think I might be the PTA president or something since I was pretty much working the room with a handshake and a smile, but whatever. The hour ended, and I now have three email addresses and three potential new friends. Each of them is quite lovely, each of them have a few kids of their own and all of them live near me.
It occurred to me that this was just a breakfast for parents with kids going into kindergarten, so it’s not like it is a political move or my career at stake. But it was something that taught me something that can be applied to the business world. Networking, after all, is important when it comes to business. I left a breakfast after an hour with three new contacts. What happened if that was a business breakfast? I would have left with three new potential clients or people who might be able to throw clients my way, refer me or work with me in some way.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t worry so much about how you look or what you smell like (no, actually, worry about that) or what people might think of you. Forget it. Just smile and say hi and introduce yourself. Ask a few genuine questions and voila – you just made small talk and gave people an idea of who you truly are and what you are like. They might even like you.
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