When Joe and I first discussed the possibility of me writing a “Dear Julie” blog for our Web site, I thought, “What could I possibly have to blog about? Who would want my advice? What if no one sends in any questions for me to answer? Then what, Make up my own?” I spent many hours thinking about what I would say and how I would say it and still felt I had come up with nothing.
The only other time I felt this uncomfortable was one of our very first consulting jobs. Well I should say one we actually got paid for, which was with an East Coast plumbing and HVAC company outside of Boston, MA. Joe had already been to the company several times, going on ride-a-longs with their techs and waxing philosophically, as he often does, when he brought me in to talk about some of the other problems going on in the office.
Finding Comfort with Being Uncomfortable
I was excited and nervous at the same time with all sorts of thoughts going through my head. What if I pronounced their name wrong? What if I couldn’t remember it? What if they didn’t like my ideas and asked for their money back? Oh no, was that a run in my nylons? I knew I should have worn a pant suit. I understand now why Hillary Clinton wears pant suits. She didn’t want to be caught sitting across from some world leader and looking down to find a run in her stockings. How could she concentrate on the conversation at hand? She’d be wondering if the Queen of England was carrying any clear nail polish in her handbag. At least I was smart enough to wear comfortable shoes.
The company had converted an old house into their headquarters. Finding a parking space was a bit nightmarish. If you happen to live in the Boston area or have ever visited, you know what I am talking about when I say parking on the street can be vicious. Aside from all the streets being one-way, it’s as if the original settlers adapted a grid street pattern and then said let’s turn it 45 degrees. They should have a Freedom Trail to a parking spot. Someone could assign drivers a color as soon as they cross over the Charles River. I ended up having to park on the sidewalk. Apparently this was the norm, and all the employees were doing it.
It’s Difficult Trying to Fit In
I entered the building, and the service manager immediately greeted me and took me through an intricate maze of halls and doorways to the owner’s office. I walked up to him, hand extended, ready to give him my firm Mid-western handshake that I had been practising. I thought about how all those business classes would now come in handy. Besides, this was a man-dominated industry, and I didn’t want to come across with some wimpy, limp, kiss-my-hand type of greeting.
I wanted him to know that I was ready to take on any challenge he might throw at me over the course of the next two days. I started to say hello and introduce myself when he threw out his arms with a big smile across his face and said, “I give hugs, not handshakes.”
That Was Awkward
To be honest, I have never really been a touchy-feely kind of person. What can I say, I like my personal space. I have always reserved hugs for family members, like Tana and Pa, my great-grandparents, or their brother Uncle Sam (I forget which side he was on) and my 5-year-old nephew Jacob and 1-year-old niece Emmy.
I could only imagine the look on my face. This was awkward and uncomfortable for me. What should I do now? I could keep moving forward and pretend to trip and fall to the right of him. I could cover my mouth and cough and pretend I have a cold, although it was the middle of July. I took a deep breath and put the smile back on my face and embraced him in one of those uncomfortable embraces. You know the kind where you put your arms around someone while your behind sticks out and you really don’t touch much except for maybe on the arms. That kind of hug. He seemed to accept that, and we then moved on to talk about business.
What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger
I almost forgot about this experience until one day, while trying out a new hair salon, I noticed every customer who walked through the door received a great big welcoming hug from their stylist. I laughed as it reminded me of my first consulting job. I had come a long way from that first initial awkwardness of hugging our clients. As a matter of fact, I hug almost everyone I meet. It’s like the new handshake.
I thought about it some more as I sat there in the chair and recalled all the people I had hugged just in the last week. Some I barely knew. There was, of course, Joe, my husband, and Wyatt, my one-year-old, who gets at least 50 hugs a day and our parents who had just been visiting for a couple of weeks and had left to go back home to Chicago. Then there was my next-door neighbour and her two daughters, who we had only met one other time before. I also hugged my son’s swim teacher who invited us to her two daughters’ birthday party, which they celebrated at the same time. There was our daycare provider and the woman whom I had just hired to clean our home.
Giving Hugs Not Handshakes
I realized that the uneasy feeling I used to get when meeting new people had almost completely gone. I had tried something new, giving it a chance to work, and after all this time, it had become like second nature to me to give hugs instead of handshakes. I actually enjoyed it.
Sitting in the chair watching Lisa in the mirror blow-drying my hair, I realized that you may not like reading about everything I have to say in response to your questions. You may experience that same level of uneasiness I did on my first consulting job. That’s OK. What matters most is that you give it a chance. And I don’t mean just one chance.
It Takes Time to Find Comfort
The uneasiness doesn’t instantly go away. It takes time to find comfort. There will be bumps in the road and many mistakes made as you start to grow. If you really give it a chance to work, that uneasy feeling starts going away, and the confidence starts to set in. Until maybe one day while you are sitting in the beauty salon, and realize that you have conquered that fear and are the master of your career.
I thanked Lisa as she spun me around in my chair and handed me the little mirror. I looked at the back of my hair as she told me about how she layered it here and thinned it out there. I told her I thought it looked great. She removed the cape, and as I got up, I asked her about some products I needed and proceeded to pay at the counter. I then leaned over, told her I would see her next month and, of course, gave her a hug.
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