“Criticism didn’t really stop us and it shouldn’t ever stop anyone, because critics are only the people who can’t get a record deal themselves.”—Sir Paul McCartney
When you step outside the proverbial box, you have to be prepared for criticism.
As I went from meeting to meeting, networking my way to successful workshop enrollments, I perfected my thirty-second commercial introduction. I always started with a song: “You’re gonna be rich tomorrow…if you take my class today,” or “We’re in the money…my clients are singing this song.” Generally, people enjoyed the upbeat flavor of my off-beat presentations.
But then I found myself in a different networking group. Everyone there gave a standard introduction in the exact same format: “Hi, I’m Larry. I am an attorney specializing in real estate law, I’ve been in business for twenty-five years”; “Hi, I’m Susan. I am a CPA specializing in taxes. I’ve been in business for fifteen years.”
As my turn approached, I hesitated. Maybe I shouldn’t do my singing thing in this room. Then I thought, “Nah,” and went ahead, “Money makes the world go around, that clinking clanking sound…if you want more clinking and clanking in your life, call me.” There were a few shocked faces, but mostly smiles as I looked around me.
The next time I went to this meeting, a woman came over to me. “There were complaints about you at the last board meeting!” she exclaimed. “It was felt that singing was inappropriate behavior at a business meeting.”
“Well, I have to tell you,” I replied, “that may be, but ten people came over to me after the meeting and asked for my card and six of them signed up for my workshop, so I think I’m going to keep singing!”
When I related this story to a friend, she told me about of friend of hers who was a professional singer. In search of work, she moved to Hong Kong and was invited to an office weekend party. She wrote a song for the company and sang it, after which she was asked if she would teach it to the president, whose favorite thing was karaoke. She ended up choreographing and teaching the song to the entire management team. She sang a duet with the president, who then hired her to be the cultural ambassador for the company. She now travels to all their international offices, bringing fun and morale to the company’s clients and employees. Why singing? Everyone in Asia sings—all the business people, every chance they get, all the time. There it is a huge asset to singing. She says she’s like a goddess over there.
Hmm. I think I should start planning a trip….
If you’re having trouble with the box you’re in, take yourself to a different box.
“There are people everywhere who enjoy the unique gifts I have to share.”
I’ve always considered myself a little bit “left of center”, but for most of my life I just tried hard to fit in, to do what was expected, do it as well as I could, dress to match the styles others thought best, and make my way in the world following the rules. I was brought up with the phrase “What will the neighbors think?” whenever I strayed from the beaten path.
It took me years to figure out that if I blended in too perfectly, I became invisible. I felt like wallpaper where nothing stands out. I started to become aware that if everybody likes you, you don’t have any personality. If you go along with the crowd too much of the time, without the crowd you don’t know who you are.
As Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
So let yourself drift, today! Figure out what you like about yourself that’s a little unusual, unique, funny, raunchy, strong, sexy, smart, or weird. Let your edges show. Stop blending in and set your own style.
What will the neighbors think? Some won’t like it at all, they’ll be threatened, or try to squelch you back down into the box. But some will love it, and want to get closer and find out more about you. Deep friendships come with that, and freedom.
Years ago, I was standing in line at a wedding reception, and next to me in the line was an old friend from Sunday school. We were reminiscing about the old crowd, and Linda kept mentioning different people from the “in-crowd” (that I wasn’t in) and going on about what they were doing now. The food line was long, I was hungry, and when she finally mentioned yet another girl, I decided a little truth might spice up this conversation.
“I have to tell you, I never liked Jenny x,” I said, “And I don’t care what she’s doing now.”
Linda’s mouth dropped open, she looked at me wide-eyed in shock and stopped dead in her tracks. Then she smiled at me and said with a twinkle, “You know, I never liked her either!”
We both broke into peals of laughter, hugged each other, and then started a real conversation about what we really liked and didn’t like. It was fabulous! Instead of party chit-chat that we would have forgotten by the time we got in our cars, we discovered a true friendship.