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The Talk

Keeping your 'cool' on the job is tough, but important

Trying to keep your cool on the job, isn't always easy.
(photo source: disney-wiki.com)
Trying to keep your cool on the job, isn't always easy. (photo source: disney-wiki.com)

Everyone has a bad day now and again. And anyone who has ever had a job has probably walked into a situation where their confidence was at rock bottom.

You just don’t feel “cool” enough.

There’s even a syndrome, called imposter syndrome, where people feel they may be underqualified for the position they hold, or are not in the same league as their colleagues or clients.

Such nerves can strike before a big meeting, public speech, getting a new boss or co-worker or countless other times while on the job.

And that can be a real problem.

In a 2000 study at Wake Forest University, researchers looking into “imposter syndrome” found that people who didn’t feel as confident in their jobs actually performed more poorly on tasks than those who had confidence.

The challenge, of course, is to get and keep that sense of confidence. Of believing you belong there and can handle the task ahead of you, even if it’s a tough one.

On my very first gig as a reporter I received a very important lesson in this.

I was 19, but very ambitious to become a writer. I contacted what is now the Parkland Press to see if I could land any freelancing work, and I did.

I was ecstatic heading into my first assignment – a subcommittee meeting of the South Whitehall Board of Commissioners.

But when I entered the small conference room, my excitement turned to dread. As I saw a group of older adults sitting in suits and discussing the township’s future, I felt every bit the 19-year-old kid that I was.

Surely they would look over at me and laugh. What did a kid like me think she was doing there with all these “important” elected officials?

I slid into the closest chair I could find along the wall, trying to take up as little space as possible.

The door opened again and a young handsome man sat down next to me, juggling a load of notebooks.

I recognized him immediately. He was Charlie Dent, our new state representative who had only been sworn in to his very first elected post a few weeks prior.

Now I was really in over my head.

But he smiled, leaned over and introduced himself. He could see my nerves and asked if it was my first time covering a meeting. I acknowledged that I was and that I was as nervous I looked.

“It’s my first time here, too,” he said. “So you’re not alone.”

I suddenly felt better. I wasn’t the only first-timer there.

He then offered a bit of advice that I never forgot.

Everyone has had their first time at something at one point, and I shouldn’t be nervous. Go in there and know you belong there as much as anyone, and you’ll be fine.

I used that advice to interview many business and political leaders over the years.

I even managed to jokingly flirt with former Polish President and solidarity leader Lech Walesa one time.

You just have to find the confidence within you, no matter who is in front of you. Right?

But what do you do when your confidence fails you, or, worse, when all of your “cool” has left the building?

That was my Wednesday.

For some reason, I didn’t think it was a bad idea to set up a face-to-face interview with the president and CEO of a $100 million a year company immediately after going to the eye doctor to try out contact lenses for the first time.

My appointment didn’t go well. My clumsiness nearly beat out my determination to ditch my glasses, and I left with a scratched right eye that was watering horribly, but the contacts were in and I was going with it.

As I walked into the building for my interview, I realized how ridiculous I looked. My eyes were swollen, puffy, twitching and tearing up.

How was I going to pull off this interview?

I decided to suck it up and tell my interviewee up front, that I was wearing contacts for the first time and not to think I was “weird” if I were winking at him for half of the meeting.

He laughed and promised he wouldn’t.

But as the interview began, the pain got worse. He could see I was struggling and said, “Please don’t feel self-conscious. Take care of your eye; I can wait.”

Nervously trying to wipe my eye, I managed to fumble my reporter’s notebook and give myself a huge, bloody paper cut.

So now I’m tearing and bleeding. I instinctively put my mouth to the cut and managed only to get my freshly applied lipstick all over my hand.

So now I’m wet, bloody and smeared in lipstick.

I regained my composure, we both laughed it off and had a good interview, even if my eye was twitching and burning the whole time.

Yes, it was embarrassing, but I got the job done.

Then I got dumb again.

The photographer arrived and I could have begged out of the facility tour. He could surely take pictures without any help from me. But I was interested in seeing the place, so my twitchy, watery eye and bleeding finger decided to tag along.

I had forgotten all about my bad back. The long walk up and down stairs and through a long cement-floored building had my lower back throbbing in less than 15 minutes.

What had I been thinking?

I decided to go with the embarrassment of honesty again and asked the plant manager to escort me out, while the photographer finished up with the CEO.

So I head to my car twitching, bleeding and now limping like Quasimodo returning to the village after having successfully rung the church bell.

I might not have been cool. Heck, it might go down as the most embarrassing interview I’ve ever conducted – and remember – I “flirted” with Lech Walesa.

But now I know that I can hold up under fire.

Oh, there’s a thought. At least I didn’t catch on fire. That’s one for the win column for sure.

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