OK, well March blew by along with its interventions. I’ve had some juicy encounters with chutzpah – encounters that have been full of feeling and therefore taught me a lot – but not much consistency in trying to apply the month’s interventions. This may well end up as a longer project than I had figured!
I’m still coming up way short in Do What You’re Afraid Of, or even in Become Aware of What You’re Afraid Of (although the latter has shown some progress). For April, let’s stick with Do What You’re Afraid Of.
- No Matter Where You Enter the Stage, Be Interesting When You Get On It (from Kristi Hedges’ book on Presence)
- Learn to Love the Phone (like many geeks, I shy away from the phone, mainly for chutzpah-deficit reasons as near as I can tell)
- Speak Truth to Power (an old anarchist slogan repurposed for my Chutzpah Project)
Let’s see how this goes.
Just finished reading Kristi Hedges’ excellent Power of Presence. Kristi is someone I’ve thought better and better of as I’ve gotten to know her better, and the book is really good: not repetitive, down-to-earth writing, straightforward information on the how of being a better leader that’s quite useful.
One chutzpah-ready idea (among many!) from the book, which resonates with earlier experience I had as a consultant: no matter where you enter the stage, be interesting when you get on it.
People aren’t paying attention to anything nowadays that doesn’t demand their attention, and nothing squanders attention – even when the audience has no choice but to pay it – like mealy-mouthed, equivocating, or plain old dull talk. It’s worth giving a fair amount of effort to how to be interesting: in meetings, when you speak, when you want to be heard and win people to your point of view.
It’ll be an Intervention for April, I think.
We had an entrepreneur in this week who, one of my partners said admiringly, “owned the room.”
He was not a jerk, or shameless, or a “bad boy,” as many of the entrepreneurs we see are. If you grant me that chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness, they slosh over into shamelessness.
This guy didn’t do any of that stuff. He just thought he was pretty good and made us think it, too.
How? Humor, for one thing. He poked fun at some of his early assumptions building his company, and did so in a way that brought us in on the joke. He made fun of VCs a bit, too, but, unlike jerky entrepreneurs, it didn’t sting. Again, we were in on the joke.
Also, he made persuasive arguments with logical steps in them to show us why he believed he was doing well (his potential is good but his numbers aren’t there yet). And, unlike jerky entrepreneurs, he didn’t try to mislead us. He told us all his trial installations were just that: trials. The logical arguments made sense, and made us think he was sensible even though the proof isn’t there yet with his company.
A lot of people seem to think chutzpah means “win/lose”: you grab at something before I can grab at it and take it away from me.
By being funny and sensible, this entrepreneur made his nerviness “win/win”.
Hope we get the chance to work with him.
I shouldn’t say it’s always hard for me to fawn. I find it easy to fawn:
- When I like the fawnee. I guess that’s sort of obvious, but it probably needs to be toted out and examined. Since I like the person anyhow, I don’t have to worry (as much) about whether they’re going to like me. I don’t have to worry about what to say, because we already have things we like to talk about. All I have to do is feature things they want to talk about rather than feature things I want to talk about, and we’re off to the races.
- When I’m not fawning on my own behalf, but on behalf of a third party, like a Cause or a Product. I don’t know why this makes fawning easier for me, but it does. And not just me; a friend told me the other day he doesn’t mind fawning when it’s on behalf of a greater cause. Maybe this gets to the heart of why fawning takes chutzpah: when you’re fawning on your own behalf, you’re saying, “look at me, look at what I want, look at what I’m after.” That’s a chutzpah sink; it’s much easier when you’re saying, “It’s not about me, but about <Important Cause>.”
Fair enough. Fawning is harder than usual for me:
- When the fawnee is indifferent to me. Now I not only have to say, “listen to me,” I have to act like a clown or make a fool of myself to get his/her attention. I’m not sure why I equate drawing attention to myself with acting like a clown or a fool, but I do. And to make a clown of myself and then have the fawnee ignore me: it’s humiliation++.
- When I have to compete with other fawners. Right here is why I hate networking events: many-to-one fawners-to-fawnees. Good definition of Hell: I can be rescued from eternal torment in a lake of fire, but the Way Out is to fawn on Satan or one of his top lieutenants at a networking event where all the other damned souls from my lake are fawning to get out as well.
Since before I brought The Project live in February I’ve been pondering the issue of Really Sensitive Posts.
It’s easy enough to talk about chutzpah-building in the abstract. And at least some of the more practical Notes From the Field are easy enough. But what about situations that involve my boss, my wife, etc., where too much frankness can blow back. What to do?
Well, if chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness, there’s got to be a golden mean between gutlessly insipid posts and suicidal ones. A golden mean I’ve got to aim for.
I’m thinking of posting the really sensitive ones to a private blog, to be opened up when the sensitivity has elapsed. That way I can keep to a posting schedule and not crimp my style while reserving the right to open things up in the future when the material in a post is less volatile.
Just got back from a few days in Scottsdale at a VC and Private Equity IT group conclave. Delightful to find out that such a group exists, and a fun time with a good crew.
Didn’t seem so at the beginning. Coming in to a new group of people all of whom seem to know one another and feeling like I have to impress them is a situation that daunts the crap out of me. And that’s how I was Tuesday evening when I went to bed after meeting a few people and depleting my slender reserves of chutzpah.
Fortunately, I remembered the Interventions and mindfulness about fear in particular. By remaining mindful of what I was afraid of – actually, having people I wanted to impress react to me with indifference – I was able, paradoxically, to keep it in perspective.
(The opposite, not being mindful, tends to make the fear more global, more ominous, and, because it’s unknown, more scary.)
I also remembered the Intervention about associating with those with chutzpah. I hung out with some guys who were speaking up at the sessions, who seemed to be a standard deviation or two out on the comfortable/confident axis, and they proved to be great guys and very friendly to me.
This in turn started a virtuous circle going. I won’t say I felt like Homecoming King at the end of the conference, but I had met a bunch of great people whom I’ll stay in touch with and whom I wouldn’t have met sans conscious work on the chutzpah dimension.
One big weird area of fear for me is talking on the phone.
I think I share this with a lot of geeks and ex-geeks. We’d do almost anything to not communicate through the phone.
Blessedly, I’m missing the fear of talking face-to-face, and have gotten over the fear of talking to audiences. But the phone remains an open wound, so to speak, in the Fearless Body.
As with my post on “Mindfulness and Chutzpah” last month, one challenge here is to be aware of the fear in the moment, i.e., right when mindfulness might allow me to choose to use the phone even if I’m afraid. What often happens is I just go off on a non-phone-using course without it even coming to mind in any conscious fashion. Obviously there’s no way to get control over a fear which doesn’t come into consciousness.
So this month one challenge is to remain aware of moments when I’m running away from using the phone without allowing the moment to pass.
I’ve noticed the past couple of weeks that asking for favors for me – just me, not me on behalf of some larger entity like an employer or my children or a non-profit – has gotten easier for me.
Asking for these kinds of favors – “would you look at my manuscript?”, “can I pitch you a story idea?”, even “will you go out with me” back in the day – was always pretty difficult for me. I would rehearse multiple times asking a girl out as a teenager. I still do some rehearsing with phone calls where I’m asking something from someone I consider more important than me.
And this kind of rehearsal helps with defusing the negative Voice of Failure from within, because one can anticipate every derogatory thing the person on the other end of the phone might say and plan comebacks, all in advance.
But the last couple of weeks, as I say, I’ve had less dread about these asks, and have even just picked up the phone once or twice (ok, I’m exaggerating: not the phone, but picked up the keyboard for an email) and quickly dashed off a request for a favor.
Like a lot of these Notes from the Field, hard to attribute to any of my Interventions so far, but at least, as we say in the investing business, the needle is moving in the right direction.