How Putting Myself Out There Changed My Life for the Better
If the odds are stacked against you, just try anyway. You might surprise yourself!
Like many people, I’m very introverted, naturally shy, and have serious doubts about my capabilities constantly.
Meeting new people drains me. I get anxious from cold-calling people even if it’s as simple as calling the dentist's office for an appointment. I hate networking events. I’m constantly questioning whether I made a good impression or not on others. I have depression issues and have low self-esteem.
Honestly, I think it’s a miracle I got anything accomplished in life. But here’s the kicker — I did. Many times over.
In the last 10 years, I’ve moved up the corporate ladder aggressively. I’ve been managing large teams for years. I live on a comfortable salary in Utah, with a great view of the Rocky Mountains. And currently, I’m trying to build my writing skills in my spare time. But my progress won’t stop there as life continues on.
But it wasn’t always like that. There was a time where I had almost given up on myself and my future. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere, especially with how crippling my depression and low self-esteem was on me.
As an INFJ, I’m never satisfied with the status quo. Despite my insecurities and tendency to be my own worst enemy, my obsession with continuous improvement dwarfs everything else when it comes to my life. I’m always seeking to improve, grow, and move forward.
For me, it all turned around after a brief conversation with a co-worker about putting yourself out there.
About 10 years ago, I had difficulty landing a decent-paying job. I graduated from college just after the Great Recession and the economy wasn’t doing so well. To help pay the bills, I found out about a grocery store job fair and applied. It would just be a temporary gig, I told myself.
I ended up getting a job as a cashier. My first day of training? Sacking and bagging groceries.
I understood that you had to do what you had to do to survive, but I felt humiliated and ashamed of myself. I had a bachelor’s degree in political science with a 3.5 GPA, but I was working for $9 an hour with no benefits at a grocery store. Many of my co-workers were high schoolers, only working their first part-time jobs.
I wanted a career that I could grow into. I continued looking for a good entry-level job in my spare time, but the job market stayed weak and lackluster.
I kept getting denied job after job for a few months. I was losing hope. As a result of my frequent rejections, my self-confidence tanked. Am I really that unhirable? To add salt to the wound, some of the job openings were ridiculous with their requirements.
“Entry-level position. College degree required. 5 years+ experience required. $25,000 a year.”
What? Who are these recruiters and why do they think these types of unicorn-people exist for these low-paying jobs?
I kept my job at the grocery store. Unfortunately, customer service isn’t fun for introverts. Every passing shift felt longer and just as unfulfilling as the previous shift. I felt trapped and unhappy.
One busy evening, the store was packed full of people and shoppers. Every cashier had a line of customers, waiting to be checked out. All hands on deck! Normally, on an evening like this, I’d be cursing my situation.
But something different happened that night.
One of my Assistant Customer Service Managers, Keith, was on a nearby check stand, helping out with the long lines. He was rapidly scanning groceries, yet still making eye contact with every single customer. He made conversation with every person that went through his line. His voice was loud, boisterous, and energetic. I couldn’t help but smile because of his infectious attitude.
I was perplexed. Although Keith was exhibiting a great personality, I knew he hated the job. Weeks ago, he had confided in me that he dreaded coming to work sometimes. He said the shifts were unrewarding and exhausting. But here he was, laughing and smiling away despite the drudgery.
When the in-store traffic finally died down and I had a second to breathe, I pulled Keith aside. I asked him, “How are you in a good mood? That was a crazy two hours. I heard you back there just chatting away with every customer like there wasn’t a problem in the world.”
He replied, “I’m not. But there’s no point in being miserable about what you can’t control. All you can do is make the best of it and hopefully make the situation better for everyone else too. The least I can do is force myself to try. I just put myself out there, you know?”
His words resonated with me. He was right. What’s the point of being miserable and feeling sorry about my situation? What does that accomplish?
The next day, I emulated his behavior from the night before. I psyched myself up to be more cheerful and engaging with every customer. I exerted more energy into being more efficient with my work.
“How are you doing today, ma’am? What plans do you have going on later this afternoon?”
“Hello! What are you going to make tonight with these steaks?”
“Oh wow, I love your shirt! Where did you get it?”
I felt weird doing things out of my comfort zone, especially as a shy introvert, but I saw immediate results.
The customers smiled more at me. They made eye contact and asked me questions in return. I started learning more of the customer’s names, their kid’s names, and what days of the week they typically came in. I even knew if certain regulars preferred Kit Kats over Twix candy bars.
I helped out every customer that looked lost. I offered to help bring out groceries for elderly customers. The shifts passed by more quickly. I stopped looking at the time, counting down the minutes until it was time to go home. I started to make friends at work.
And most surprisingly, I was actually enjoying myself.
My attitude transformation attracted the attention of my boss. This was noteworthy considering she was in charge of about 100 employees in total.
She pulled me into her office and told me that she was very impressed with my work ethic, my customer service skills, and my leadership skills. She asked me what I wanted to do with my future. I told her, “I don’t know. I have a degree, but haven’t been able to get a job so I’m just working here until I figure something out.”
She nodded understandably. She asked, “What about a career in management in retail? Amazing benefits, a competitive salary, and best of all, you get to lead big teams of people for the company. It’d be a great experience for you.”
I considered it for a few seconds. I replied, “I don’t know if I have the chops or skills for that. Where would I even start?”
She smiled at me, “Well, let's start by getting you some relevant experience so you can apply for the store management program. It’s competitive, but if you’re interested, I can help. But only if you’re willing.”
I hesitated for a brief moment. My mind started swimming with insecurities. “Why bother,” my mind asked itself. “You’ll just get denied like you always do.”
I shook myself out of my trance. I firmly said, “Yes. I want to put myself out there.”
The next week, I was promoted to Assistant Customer Service Manager. It was a modest hourly pay increase — Up to $11 an hour, but it was a raise nonetheless. I threw myself at the new role eagerly.
The new role gave me new exposure to the world of managing people. I quickly came to find out that I knack for it. I found it fulfilling to coach and develop people, especially younger and new employees.
Seizing the opportunity
The store management program opportunity opened up a few months later. It was a 2-year leadership training program, designed to produce the best managers the company had to offer. It had a very low acceptance rate and people who had been in the company forever had been known to try and get in for years.
For me to qualify for the interview, I needed a referral letter from the top store manager. I remember him sitting me down in his office to discuss my application. He frowned at me and said, “Quy, not many people get into the program and your experience is pretty lackluster.”
I could see he was trying to temper my hopes. Behind his smiling eyes, I knew he had zero expectations that I would get into the program. I felt defeated after realizing that my boss’s boss didn’t even have faith in me. I started to remember all the rejection emails I had been getting for months after applying for a myriad of different jobs. The insecurities of my worthiness came rushing back to me again.
I shook my head and replied, “Well, the least I can do is try. I believe I’d be a perfect candidate to be a store leader for the company. I want to put myself out there. If I don’t get in, it would be a good learning lesson for me.”
He nodded and signed the paperwork.
Putting yourself out there
I ended up getting into the program a few months later.
The interview process was tough, grueling, and challenging, but I pushed through it all. I still remember the exact moment when my boss opened the email to let me know that I had been accepted into the retail leadership program.
I started as an hourly employee to become a salaried manager, leading teams larger than 150 people. I more than doubled my wages overnight.
For months prior, I had been eating ramen, Tuna Helper, and cheap off-brand spaghetti meals to ensure I had the money for rent and bills, despite being a college graduate. I no longer had to worry about basic expenses anymore.
The program served as a launchpad for my career. When I graduated and became one of the youngest store directors for the company, I developed the skills needed to run businesses, develop employees, communication skills, and drive sales. All of these learnings strengthened me as a candidate for future job opportunities, eventually landing me where I am today.
Most importantly, I started to be more confident in myself. I’d like to say the program changed my life forever, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate. My life changed forever because I changed my mindset that one fateful evening during that busy evening shift.
Instead of bemoaning the situation, I told myself to make do with what I had available to me — Just try. As a result, I continued to see events over the next 10 years in my personal and professional life that changed my life for the better. Here are some examples.
Learned how to analyze data, despite having no background in analytics, allowing me to leave retail and enter the corporate world.
Asked my future wife out on a date!
Moved to Utah from Texas. I wake up to a sunrise over the mountains every single day.
Started writing on Medium and meeting some of the most interesting people around the globe.
So think about all the things you’ve ever wanted to do or hoped to do for a second. Maybe you were thinking of writing a book that you’ve been putting off for so long. Or maybe you had been considering back to school for that MBA. Or maybe you want to learn a new language.
What are you waiting for? What’s preventing you from reaching those goals? What can you do about it? Are you afraid of failing? If so, can you learn from your mistakes and do better?
Once you’re done roadblocking yourself, psych yourself up, muster that courage and energy, and put yourself out there. I promise it’ll get easier every time you attempt something new. The least you can do is try.