“I was a nerd growing up, and I’m a little antisocial and awkward.”
– Louis C. K.
Can you be a successful entrepreneur if you are socially awkward?
I have severe social anxiety. Basic tasks like talking to people and being in crowded environments are incredibly stressful for me. Things that normal people find relaxing, like going to house parties, make me tense. Even simple stuff like answering emails and replying to comments makes me nervous.
Moving to a foreign country caused me zero worry. Yet going to the mall is stressful. I naturally don’t like being in a crowd. With that said, most people are completely unaware of this. If we hung out for an afternoon I’d probably seem like a completely normal dude. I can hold conversations, make jokes, attend parties, and go on dates. Even if social interactions bother me I’m still able to keep it together.
Because of the fact that I suffer from social anxiety, and run a business that requires me to interact with people, I’ve decided to share some tips for introverted entrepreneurs:
“Life is not fair, get used to it”
A lot of people make their shortcomings into their whole identity. They turn themselves into some kind of victim and use this as an excuses for being miserable. Losers like neckbeards and social justice warriors victimize themselves. Winners don’t let some minor setback prevent them from reaching goals.
People have crash landed airplanes. You can answer a phone call.
I’d love to tell you that there’s some cool trick to overcoming social anxiety. But I’d be lying.
You’re going to have to be a little uncomfortable if you want to get anywhere.
To put it more bluntly, you need to have some balls just to cross the threshold of success. Otherwise you’re stuck on the side with all the whiners and losers.
Set your frame
Here’s a trick I learned as a teenager. If you’re going to go out and do something that isn’t particularly fun, set a deadline. Are you going to a house party but would rather stay in and read a book?
Just tell everyone that you have to leave early. You still went out like everyone wanted but you also met your own needs.
I use this exact same technique now.
If the client wants to talk on the phone I have 30 minutes. There’s always a deadline in place.
This keeps things from getting out of control, some clients can hit you up 50 times a day if you aren’t careful, and still lets them discuss the project with me.
Own your awkwardness
The first time that Larry King ever went on the air he told the audience that he was nervous. 65 years and $144 million dollars later that decision doesn’t seem to have hurt him.
Business is a strange creature.
While you have to be confident, you also have to be friendly and personable.
I wouldn’t recommend pitching your client with a line like “I am a socially inept guy who will have a panic attack halfway through this assignment,” but you can be a little more open about your weaknesses.
One time I was Skyping with a potential client when I realized that I’d been making weird hand gestures during the conversation. Saying something along the lines of “Sorry, if my hands were distracting. I get a little nervous on camera” defused the whole situation. Everyone laughed and I ended up with the job.
Don’t boast about your flaws, but acknowledging them can be a good idea sometimes.
I’ll be the first to admit that, in the world of self-improvement, exercising is really played out. Depressed? Hit the gym. You’re girlfriend broke up with you? Bench press that mid-sized sedan.
I love lifting and workout seven days a week. However, pumping iron is not going to make all your problems go away. It will give you something else to think about though. The pain of sending out emails asking clients to pay their bills is minuscule compared to what you’ll experience in the gym.
The other morning I did 50 pull-ups. Getting home I saw that there were some clients to talk with. I was too sore and tired to be anxious when dealing with them.
Exercising will teach you some discipline and get you out of your head. You learn how to build a routine and do something even when you don’t want to. Physical fitness has also really helped my to have better control of my body language. When I Skype with clients I’m able to look more confident and composed, even if I’m secretly terrified.
Develop some canned jokes
I picked up a great piece of advice from porn legend Ron Jeremy, memorize at least one witty response for questions that you frequently get asked.
This can help you from being caught off guard and it prevents you from having to stutter and mumble as you collect your thoughts.
You’re response doesn’t even have to be elaborate or even funny. When clients ask where I’m from, this is a subtle question they use to make sure you can actually write in English, I say “The great state of Iowa.” The client gets a response and you don’t have to spend additional time thinking up an answer.
Preparing ahead of time can help you out a lot. Even if you are nervous a few rehearsed lines of dialogue can make you appear to be more confident.
A few other thoughts
Unless you’re operating a hot dog stand most of your entrepreneurial work time is going to be antisocial. Writing a blog post eats up more time than responding to comments does. Most of the day is spent by yourself as you type up proposals and create new content.
When you run a venture you get the luxury of not having to deal with as many people as the average office drone would. In about a week I’m going to drop a post that elaborates on this, but I’ll explain it a little bit here. If you’re the employee of a company you have to go to all kinds of meetings, training seminars, and other stupid events. If you’re the boss you can simply make a decision without having to worry about giving anyone a PowerPoint presentation on the matter.
The only thing you need to take away from this
Things like having a prepared response to common questions or going to the gym are both great. But they’re secondary to your mindset. Henry Ford said it best:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
If you’re to awkward for success you’re right. If being introverted is just a minor inconvenience that you can overcome you’re right too.
Did you know that I worry every time I publish a new post? Someone might hate it or the idea I had will sound stupid. There are a lot of possibilities for disaster.
Instead of focusing on those fears, most of which are pretty irrational by the way, I look for good things. Site traffic has consistently gone up. Posts are sometimes shared on Reddit. And I’ve gotten to meet some cool people.
Whatever you’re worrying about is usually not that big of a deal. I’ve screwed up with jobs before and am still alive. I might have given the client a discount or done some re-writes, but it was never the end of the world.
Focus on what you can gain.