How Do You Feel Fear?

11 Feb

When I was 15 years old I got a job at Mister Junior, a boy’s clothing store on Chicago’s north side. No more being paid with points. I was in the workforce. I was not only a full-fledged salesman, but I was being paid 75¢ an hour to do it. I not only loved what I was doing, but I was good at it. I was in high school and working two evenings a week (stores were only open Monday and Thursday nights then) and Saturday. Once I got over my fear of approaching customers I found that I had a genuine gift for sales, and I was having fun. I was a Mister Junior silver tongued devil.

Now how did this 15 year old kid learn to get past his fears? At that age you are somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Old enough to be working but still young enough where interactions with adults still scared me. Ringing my neighbors’ doorbells and selling them seed packets was a piece of cake compared to walking up to a complete stranger and introducing myself, and then engaging them in conversation.

Working on the floor with 3 other salespeople we would rotate turns approaching potential customers as they walked through the door. Since this was a children’s clothing store the majority of our walk-ins were parents accompanied by their children looking for new clothes.

When it was my turn to walk up to a customer I could feel the fear begin to rise through my body. Starting in my lower gut and moving up through my chest until I could hear my rapidly beating heart thundering in my ears. It took everything I had to take my first faltering steps towards the new customer and keep my voice from cracking as I said hello and asked them if I could help. Since I was the new “kid” I was still learning the inventory and the different boy’s sizes, not remembering what size I had worn at any age growing up.

I found that once the conversation started the fear I was feeling would usually dissipate to a point where I began to feel more and more comfortable in the buyer-seller relationship. But, I think it was the assistant store manager, who seeing my discomfort, took me aside one Saturday morning and asked me how I was doing. I was more than a bit embarrassed when I told him that I was scared approaching customers. His response after a short laugh was to tell me that it was perfectly natural to feel some fear. That it was almost the same as an actor walking out on stage at the beginning of a play and the butterflies they experience. He then told me something that made perfect sense. He said these people are coming into our store because they want to buy new clothes for their child. They’re here and looking for help. Your role as a salesperson is to find out why they came into our store and then provide them the help they need in picking out the right items in the right size. And he finished our little pep-talk with this touchstone; just before you approach a new customer say to yourself, “Show time!” Feel the butterflies and add, “It’s OK to feel some fear, Michael. Just go ahead and do it.”

He was right. The fear would last maybe a minute or two, and then it became fun. Yes, fun. I wouldn’t want to go back to working retail now because the thought of standing on my feet for 8 hours would be pure hell. But I miss the opportunity to meet new people and see how fast I could develop some rapport with them, and then of course, how much I could sell them.

What does fear feel like to you?

To your fearless life,

Michael

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