“Fake it until you become it,” he said.
He was quoting a popular Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. I knew the one. I’d always assumed Amy was talking about moving up in business, getting promoted within a company, and climbing the corporate ladder till you reach the top. What hadn’t truly occurred to me until the night I was at Duquesne University’s Presidential Inauguration and met Ron, a professor at CMU, was that this mantra could be applied to any aspect of life.
Here I was, trying to refute it – what if I didn’t want to become the CEO? What if I knew that climbing the ladder wasn’t the path for me? I didn’t have to fake it till I made it then, right?
Attending the Duquesne President’s Inauguration scared me. I knew it would mean networking, there would be drinks and business talk, and I would be among older, more experienced professionals who knew each other and knew what they wanted.
As an introvert, I don’t particularly like networking events. I don’t like making small talk and feeling like I am kissing ass until the moment when I should swoop in and make a pitch. I don’t know when that moment is, usually. I don’t like feeling like everyone is at a networking event to get something from someone. Most of the time, I don’t know what I should want from people, besides a nice conversation and eventual friendship. I always feel like I end up talking to the wrong person (albeit a very interesting and engaging person), and I never know the precise moment when I should ask for or give a business card.
So while I was excited to attend the Inauguration, generally speaking, I was nervous to be in the company of much more esteemed professionals and academics than I am, or may ever be.
That being said, I still believe myself to be a confident, self-assured person in most aspects of my life. I felt confident that I could go to this thing, smile and be myself. If I met some people, cool. If I made a fool of myself, I could leave early. I tried not to put too much pressure on myself to meet every single person there.
When I was getting ready for the procession and putting my robes on, I saw an old friend, across the room. Someone I literally hadn’t seen in over three years. And I felt this wave of relief. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was alone. I didn’t feel quite as much like an outsider. I felt like as long as I had one person, I would be okay. She agreed to meet up with me after the ceremony and I knew I had that person. She had my back.
Unfortunately she didn’t have the invitation to the Gala, so I really did have to face this networking event all alone. But with that little boost of confidence, I entered the ballroom. It was every bit as terrifying as I’d imagined. The room was filled with people who knew each other or acted like they knew each other. They had connections and they had experience. And I was just hungry.
I grabbed a small plate of food and a glass of wine. I realized that my hands were now full and that I’d actually have to sit down somewhere, but there were no empty tables. I put on a brave face and asked a couple if I could sit with them. (I’m pretty sure there’s another Ted Talk about taking a seat at the table – Sheryl Sandberg’s I think.)
It turned out they were extremely nice (why did I think they wouldn’t be?), we had a bit in common (and a lot more not in common), and I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. Also, a nun (who had both an mba and a law degree) asked to sit with us and we said of course. She was also very nice, and she said we were three of the nicest people she had ever met. (Let’s just all be nice all the time!)
I’m not sure how the conversation turned, but suddenly Ron was quoting Amy Cuddy and talking about the transformation he sees in students in just a year, as they practice business presentations and public speaking.
I felt like it was fate that I sat at their table. Those were the words that I needed to hear. I needed to feel not so alone (thank you, Kelly!) and I needed to hear that it takes time and practice to do anything – presentations, business meetings, networking events. I may not be very good at small talk and networking right now, but I can fake it. I can keep going out, I can keep meeting new people, I can keep asking to sit down at a table. And someday, maybe I’ll be able to say that networking isn’t so bad.
Those were the only people I talked to at the Gala. I met back up with Kelly after I scarfed down a few desserts, and I called my night a smashing success.
I am invigorated. I am motivated to try another networking event and meet more people. I am convinced that at the very least, I have what it takes to keep faking it until the day I can look back and realize that I actually have become it.