Would you agree a typical networking conversation goes a little bit like this.
"Hi, I'm Miisa. Lovely to meet you." "Hi, what do you do?" .."Ah, that sounds very interesting. You must be really busy!" And then both parties continue by reassuring the other person how busy they are and talk about their modest success (regardless of their real level of success) playing it either up or down as required. As no-one wants to appear too unsuccessful or successful.
The other night I was again in a typical networking situation. But this time I thought, hey, let's live dangerously! I tried a different approach.
I stroke a conversation with a lady who turned out to own a successful PR company. And first we dealt with the compulsory technicalities - what we do - then moving on to the next compulsory bit, how busy we are. When she heard my crazy combination of projects - three companies, and a friend added a little more excitement by telling her that I also had 6 year old twin boys, so she rightfully exclaimed "Oh, you must be terribly busy!"
What a prize!
That's what we all want people saying, right? You must be so busy.
This must mean you are important? Intelligent? Possibly in demand? Loved? Perhaps even successful? The subconscious mind starts adding all sorts of adjectives to the word 'busy', for no reason and none based on facts.
But I decided to push my boundaries, so I replied.
"No, I'm not busy."
I didn't want to sound smug, or belittle genuine busyness. (Sometimes we all have to be busy.) But I, honestly, am not busy. I have a lot to do, and that's not the same.
I refuse to live busy.
Let me explain. In the beginning of this year I made a firm decision (not your usual flimsy New Year's resolution, no) never to be in a hurry again. And it has worked. I stopped being busy right there.
So I continued chatting with this lovely lady, and she asked me the next obvious question, the one we all ask a person who has just revealed that she's piled on a bit too many projects she possibly can handle (and she says she's not busy!)
"So, how is it going?"
Again, I should have said, "Oh, it's going ok, thank you. All businesses are doing really well, and DrivenWoman is just starting to get some real traction." But I thought, it's so boring, always talking about what is working.
Let's throw in a curve ball!
"Oh well, my online start-up hasn't caught fire just yet. It's actually not going anywhere. We don't know who our customers are. I've been digging long and hard and haven't found a treasure. It's now time to look for another spot (to dig some more..). Let's see what happens."
Her jaw dropped.
I was just standing still, my former perfectionist shaking inside, the old me always wanting to appear so successful. My inner 'chimp' (=the lizard brain) was screaming for bloody murder and wanted me to take her out of this situation by softening the message and somehow pulling it back out of the fire. Couldn't I offer any BS story of success for the start-up too?
Rather than fabricating stories, I studied my feelings - and I felt great!
I'm as fabulous as a person even if everything I do doesn't succeed.
(We shall see what happens next with my online adventure. The site has been open for 10 months so to expect success would be silly anyway. Perhaps we'll find the sweet spot through a pivot, perhaps we don't. All we can do is try our best and enjoy what we are doing.)
Meanwhile, I was enjoying the sensation of not trying to appear successful. A great feeling. I'm good exactly as I am right now. I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I was simply owning my story, my journey.
What happened next was surprising.
The lady ended up being much more interested in talking to me than if I'd done the usual "blaah, blaah, blaah, I'm so and so and I'm so busy and successful BS". We ended up having a much more interesting conversation than if I'd confirmed that I'm busy, and that no, it's not a problem to have three projects on a go and everything is great.
Just imagine how interesting people and conversations would become if we'd all started owning our stories?
Failure is not permanent. When we talk to someone we get just a glimpse of someone's journey. The lady I talked to that night might be really successful today and in 5 years everything might have collapsed. Or she's just getting started and soon she'll be on the Forbes most influential women list. What do I know. And for me it doesn't matter anyway.
I always approach every person and every situation with openness, non-judgement, and understanding that we should never rank people based on anything. Not success, not money, not failure. When we talk to someone we see very little. Even when we talk to people we know. We never know their full story and we can't really know where they are going.
Surprisingly this understanding helps me to be kinder to myself.
Today is just a glimpse of my story and it's up to me how the story continues.
Please note. I don't say - how it ends - as journeys are not about the ending. They are about the journey, ha ha!
Who would you rather talk to, the person who covers behind constant busyness and a mask of success, or the one who'd be ready to reveal some cracks in her shell?
Think about it. And think about who do you want to be next time someone asks if you are busy and successful?
Try telling your own story exactly as it is, own it. It's incredibly empowering!
Girls, let's be real.