I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the best. – John Keats
There are people who don’t think twice about addressing a room full of new people, a table of potential clients, or an attractive single in a bar.
Then there are the rest of us. But in a world of relentless competition, you can’t afford to let social anxiety hold you back. It’s wasted opportunity. So what to do?
For many people, the fear of meeting others is closely tied to the fear of public speaking (a fear that consistently beats out death as the one thing we dread most). Some of the world’s most famous speakers admit to feeling similar anxiety. Marcus Buckingham, for example, who’s addressed thousands as a speaker and millions as a guest on Oprah has said that he gets “throw-up nervous” before every engagement.
Try these three steps to tame your natural anxiety:
- Acknowledge that your fear is perfectly normal. You are not alone – and fear is not an excuse for inaction.
- Recognize that getting over that fear is critical to your success. The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity.
- Commit to getting better. How? Some ideas:
Find a role model. Have your most gregarious friend wingman for you at a few events. Watch what they do, and over time, adopt their techniques as your courage builds.
Learn to speak. Join an organization such as Toastmasters that gives you the chance to practice in a non-intimidating environment, with an instructor who can guide and push you.
Get involved. You’ll feel most comfortable when you’re doing something you enjoy with others who share your enthusiasm. So become an active member in a club or organization, and ultimately take on a leadership role.
Just do it. Set a goal for yourself of initiating a meeting with one new person a week. It doesn’t matter where or with whom. Introduce yourself to someone on the bus. Slide up next to someone at the bar and say hello. Hang out at the company water cooler and force yourself to talk to a fellow employee you’ve never spoken with. You’ll
find that it gets easier and easier with practice.
As you reach out to others, don’t worry about failure! As the playwright Samuel Beckett wrote, “Fail, fail again. Fail better.” Fear debilitates. Once you realize there’s no benefit to holding back, every situation and every person—no matter how seemingly beyond your reach—becomes an opportunity to succeed.