It was my second networking luncheon.
As the new owner of a digital marketing franchise, I went online to look up every business networking group I could find in my city. This one was at a Mexican restaurant nearby, and I walked into the private dining room to about 45 people and a very plucky 70-year-old woman who served as the group’s organizer. She shook my hand before holding it with both of hers, giving it a soft squeeze as she said, “We’re so glad you’re here, darlin.” I liked her already.
After signing in I found an empty seat next to a petite young woman, who I soon found out had no interest in talking. That was okay. I’d psyched myself up all morning to be socialable, but as an introvert, I’d never complain if someone wasn’t in the mood for a conversation. A few minutes later, a grey-haired man took the seat to my left and started asking about where I worked.
“I’m the franchise owner and operator for JumpSix here in San Antonio.”
Pause… “You’re the owner?”
This conversation was pretty familiar. My first networking luncheon consisted of mostly 40- to 60-year-old men, so I was used to the kind of response I often received from that demographic. Apparently when you’re 23 years old, look like you’re 16, female, and own a business, older men express respectful bewilderment. I understood, and I appreciated it in a way, but I couldn’t help but wonder wryly to myself how the opinions of those same men (or anyone else I talked to) would change if they knew I didn’t have a single client yet.
Eventually the meeting officially got started, and everyone was given about 60 seconds to introduce themselves and their business. Some introductions even included audience participation as group regulars recited their company’s slogan.
Then it came to me. I stood up from my chair, barely taller than most people sitting down at 5'2", and walked over to the designated spot in front of the whole room. I spoke louder than I was used to, but clearly, and I was so relieved I hadn’t botched my spiel halfway through that I didn’t notice that my legs were casually crossed and my hands folded in front of me. I quickly changed my stance to be more open, “confident,” and used my hands when I spoke.
Then the moment was over, I sat down, the rest of the meeting went by and I walked out an hour later with about two dozen business cards and three appointments.
It was a good day, and definitely a good excuse for celebratory coffee on the way home.
My life’s become so weird. I’ve been enamored by the stories of entrepreneurs for years, but whenever I imagined being self-employed, I imagined selling some kind of product online and spending most of my days sending emails, taking calls, handling digital marketing, and mailing packages. (I have no idea what product I thought I’d be mailing—minor detail, right?) I was always behind-the-scenes, with a living room full of product and packing materials, just chugging along on coffee, creativity, will power, and strong organizational skills until my business grew enough to hire others who could help.
This was never my main dream (just one of many), so I’m not surprised it hasn’t come true—just surprised how what I’m actually doing is both remarkably close and radically different.
I am a business owner, but I’m not building something from the ground up. I do send tons of emails and make lots of calls, but I’m not behind-the-scenes; I’m a salesperson who has to get out and meet people face-to-face as often as possible. (Yeah… me. INFJ. A salesperson. Ha, ha…)
It’s the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced, but climbing it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I know life tends to work that way, but until we actually do the hard things that shove us past our imagined limits, we can never know how incredibly worth it it is to become intimate with all the anxiety and awkwardness along the way.
The past few months have shown me how to grow thicker skin, take full responsibility, give myself grace through failures, and to be more authentic with people even when I don’t feel like putting myself out there.
That good day came after what felt like an eternity of seemingly fruitless efforts, tongue-tied phone calls, timid explanations, awkward answers of “Um, I don’t remember, let me check on that for you…” and wondering every single day what the heck I had signed up for.
After at least getting through all that, why not celebrate the little victories?