I have been to hundreds of networking meetings, and for years have smoothly made my way through countless rooms where I didn’t know a single person when I first arrived.
Even so, to this day I can still get those all too familiar twinges of anxiety beforehand. However, I know that I’m not alone in experiencing this particular anxiety. In fact, it’s a common phenomenon, as I recently learned when speaking with a very successful business professional who happens to develop business for law firms.
When talking about this anxiety, she reassured me that it is “weird” – her word – when someone says they relish walking into a roomful of people they don’t know. That’s because, irrespective of whether you’re a legal, finance or real estate professional, the vast majority of us have some apprehension about walking into a sea of “strangers” despite years of doing it.
I was so curious about this strange phenomenon that I sought out a trusted advisor for her take on this seemingly silly anxiety. She rather aptly termed it a “fossil fear” – the fear and subsequent anxiety of doing something that you’ve done countless times before. The anxiety is a fossil from our “prehistoric” past (which may only be ten years), in which we were first intimidated by meeting new people. In a way, the DNA that maintains that old fear lives on, creating new fear (even though we’ve attended more events than we can count where we didn’t know anyone, and we survived).
All the same, that fear-based DNA stokes new fires of dread even as we gear up for our umpteenth experience with meeting new people. So, what are we to do about it?
Fortunately, we can move past that prehistoric or dated fear, thanks to muscle memory we have built up over time. Indeed, we simply need to tap into our muscle memory, which serves to remind us of things like “You’ve done this before and it turned out beautifully,” or “You’ve spoken publicly more than a dozen times and it’s always been successful,” or “These nerves are going to pass as soon as you start talking to someone about what you do, or asking what they do.”
The biggest challenge, so far as I can tell, lies in building up the muscle memory initially. Just as it takes time to develop biceps or quadriceps or any other muscle, it takes time, dedication and resilience to push past any resistance and take that step out the door to the gym, or through the door of a networking event, business development seminar or speaking engagement.
If you’re an executive, attorney, business leader or other industry professional and you find yourself anxious about attending new events, it’s helpful to remember that these fossil fears are just that – fossils. The fear and anxiety are just withering remains of something that was overcome a long time ago.
They are no match for muscle memory, which is alive and active, and can only grow stronger by the day.