Sure, I know no one is perfect or knows everything about anything – and that the people most willing to admit that are usually the most successful. Yet part of me has held on for a long time to the fundamental desire to hide my imperfections from everyone, to let them think I knew it all – even if I knew better. When I moved to Washington, D.C., six years ago for an internship, I had no intention of starting a business and never dreamed that when the internship ended, I would find myself with virtually no network and job searching for six months. I went to networking events several times a week and each time felt my stomach tighten into knots, terrified I wouldn’t know what to say to these people. I quickly realized three things. First, if I pretended I knew what I was talking about, others thought it was true. Second, simply trying to get something out of others was wasting my time. But when I asked what I could do to support them, they assumed I knew something they didn’t and wanted to spend more time with me. Finally, I needed to start Inspirion, Inc. I perfected the art of pretending. Before long, this landed me consulting opportunities with Fortune 500 companies. I was terrified but assumed they must see something in me I hadn’t yet. After that, I kept figuring it out along the way. I only knew a handful of people in my industry, so I created most of my business model from scratch. Fortunately, I had a great foundation (education and experience) and found that I excelled at speaking and at many consulting projects. Four years in, I’d accomplished great things with my company, and I was more afraid to let anyone know I didn’t know everything. To get to the next level as a speaker, I needed more education, fresh ideas and new skill sets, but like in past years, I still resisted (at first) going to the National Speakers Association’s (NSA) National Conference this year. Thank goodness for the wisdom of our friends and colleagues! Several of mine starting pressing me to go. I spent weeks cataloguing every possible excuse not to attend but eventually gave in. And if I do something, I do it right. I made a commitment to simply listen and learn rather than trying to prove how smart I am, so I wouldn’t waste my time and money. At the conference, I learned more in one story-telling workshop then I had in the previous six years combined. Their hands-on approach to social networking proved to be hugely valuable. I was working side by side with speakers I highly respect. We helped each other with wording and grasping the new tools we were learning. Not only did I walk away with a newfound understanding of effective speaking and social media, but I also developed some important new friendships. During one session, a keynote speaker recalled his first NSA experience 20 years ago. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, there’s the bar,’” he said. That’s exactly how I felt as I listened to him rock the stage.
That phrase has helped me understand that it’s best to admit (to myself and others) that I don’t know it all, contrary to my self training. The conference taught me to come back to the basics and refresh myself on things I can now look at with fresh perspective – and to always be willing to learn. That extraordinary man did not develop over night into a magnificent speaker, nor did he ever stop learning and developing. He found the bar and never lost sight of, knew when it changed and changed with it. I think I’ll do the same!
Misti Burmesiter, Author…Speaker…Executive Coach