Be yourself, and don’t fall into the stereotype/mold
I remember when I first started my career in the oil & gas industry. There was a stereotype that I thought and believed I had to follow, which was one of clean-cut, slacks, button-down shirts, conservative, serious mode all the time, etc. I would take 15 - 20 minutes to write a four-sentence email before sending it out. I would conduct myself at events in a rigid manner, only discuss business, and try to sound like I was knowledgeable on things I wasn’t (either that was ego or just thinking I had to know what I was talking about). This would be how I operated for the first few years of my career. I was playing it safe. I was fitting into the mold of what I thought the industry expected of me. I was fitting in, more than I was standing out.
Even when I transitioned into a sales role, I still kept certain censorships, I still conducted myself in a rigid manner. However, the problem was, nobody wants to really engage or connect with someone that isn’t genuine or themselves. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I wasn’t being genuine about who I really was. I didn’t know what my genuine self was. Sure I actually cared about the welfare of others, sure I really enjoyed meeting people, and sure I believed that relationships matter. But there was a disconnect between who I really was, and who I was portraying. I was sarcastic, I was silly, I made jokes a lot, I had an ego that I had to chime in and contribute my knowledge to discussions (even when I didn’t fully know what I was talking about), and I was always happy and smiling. But this is exactly where I began to learn who I really was: when I wasn’t happy or smiling.
From the beginning to the middle part of 2015, I was going through a difficult time when I found myself going through a divorce. Like many things in life, during the midst of a storm you can't see a brighter side, but once it's over it was a great thing that happened (hindsight is always 20/20). A divorce that, at the time, I didn’t want, for me, for my daughter. It was an extremely difficult time because I didn’t know what my life would look like, or what being a single parent looks like. It was new waters for me and filled with extreme anxiety. So needless to say, the subject of divorce and what’s next was always on the top of my mind. Of course, during this time I still had to take meetings with customers, engage with them at lunch and afternoon events, and continue to build relationships.
The problem was: I wasn’t present. I wasn’t happy, sarcastic, go-lucky, joking around, or anything like that. I wasn’t in the moment. On the contrary, I was carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders. I wasn’t focused, I didn’t give a shit if this meeting lead to a sale or another meeting. I was just coasting with my head and thoughts on other things. Even at lunches with customers, I would be checked out, or even if I was present during the lunch, that would be short-lived as I would receive a text from my attorney, or a combative message from my soon-to-be ex-wife. But something interesting happened during these times. Something that helped me forge and develop and deepen not only existing relationships but new ones. I began to show my cards, be vulnerable with what was happening to me personally, and be genuine with people about my current mental and emotional state…the thing is: IT WORKED! I began to develop more genuine relationships on a personal level in those 6 months than I did in my previous 5 years in sales.
I realized that people wanted to connect and that people cared. I would open up with my troubles or why I wasn’t present at the lunches, and customers would open up. Providing personal stories, similar circumstances from their childhood, or in their circles of friends. They would offer encouraging words, provide emotional support, and even check in on me. This wasn’t done through selling something, this was done because my “give a shit” meter was broken. I didn’t care about fitting into the mold of who I needed to be in front of current/potential customers. I was just someone who was going through a rough time, and people saw that and wanted to help and support me.
I found this very interesting, and after solidifying so many new relationships into friendships, it began to give me comfort in expressing who I was. So I began to joke more, I began to take the approach that I may be different than your normal salesperson, but you’re going to have a great time getting to know me because I was not like the 30 people you saw that day before me. I began opening up conversations with potential customers with a new approach than how I did previously. I began engaging with them in a different light, taking away the vendor/customer relationship to the person/person relationship. When I was engaging with people I began to not give a shit if they found me favorable or not. If you are trying to please 100 people in a room, chances are 50% will find you dull, and the other 50% won’t have a strong feeling of good or bad. This is not how you stand out and be yourself. If I’m in a room full of 100 people and everyone “likes” me, then I’m doing something wrong. I began to toss away how many shits I gave and focused on just being myself.
Through the next few years, I would build off this individual, take it or leave it outlook. I began an industry podcast where I was very open about not knowing things (even though previously I pretended like I did). I began to grow my hair long and not care about the traditional conservative cut. I began to wear bracelets because I wanted to and I thought they looked cool (plus something sweet to wear from my daughter). Did I get heat and backlash from some people, absolutely. Was I the butt of many jokes that were busting my onions, absolutely. But part of being genuine and yourself is that if you have the guts to stand out and be yourself, you do open yourself up to ridicule and feedback, but this is where not giving a shit plays its part. I would rather get comments about my hair, and be made fun of for my bracelets, because after all: it was a differentiator. Even today, people have approached me at airports, or restaurants because of my long hair asking if I “was the dude with the podcast”. I didn’t realize that my hair would be such a marketing tool until it was.
It’s important to note that being genuine and not giving a shit, doesn’t mean you will be disrespectful, obnoxious, and behave like a traveling tourist would (unless this is really who you are). Being genuine is actually realizing who you are, and who you want to be, and behaving in ways that highlight this. It’s being honest with yourself so you can be honest with others. It’s showing your values and ethics without falling into the pressures of our industry or groups. If everyone is going to a strip club, and you really don’t dig strip clubs and aren’t comfortable with them, do you still attend, or are you comfortable passing on that because that just “ain't your scene”? A good friend of mine who likes the finer things in life was selling rigs. One day a company man called him to ask how much weight he can pull on the top drive. My friend could have come up with a response that he knew the answer but had to confirm, etc. But rather than that he showed who he was in a genuine way. He responded with “Buddy, you got the wrong guy. If you want to know where the best steak in Houston is or where to find a great old-fashioned, I’m your guy. But for that answer, I’m going to have John Smith reach out to you.”
That right there did two things: it showed that he was not going to bullshit you (allowing trust to be built), and he connected him with the right person who can speak to what he was asking in more detail (problem-solving). The customer liked his response so much, they actually formed a very strong and tight relationship. Even if they weren’t cut from the same cloth, they both formed a great friendship.
What about not giving a shit? Does that mean putting your feet up in someone's office, or being rude just to be rude because you “don’t give a shit”? This doesn’t mean having teenage angst and fighting the power, it’s more of having an attitude of “if it works, great. If not, no big deal”. This is the attitude of having courage without the fear of what other people think. From starting a new endeavor to trying to get in front of a new customer, to putting an event together for the first time. It means regardless of how you THINK people may see you, you’re going to do it anyway. Of course, doing it anyway doesn’t mean putting yourself, your company, or others in harm's way. It means that you have the tenacity to try new things regardless of what you think people will think of it. It makes you stand out as taking chances, or someone that builds something new.
So to be genuine, you first have to know who you really are, what you know, and more importantly what you don’t know. It’s being vulnerable with people, it’s connecting with people on a deeper level than “shop talk”. It’s about caring for others and those you engage with on a daily/weekly/quarterly basis.
To not give a shit, you have to be willing to believe in yourself, and take the chances you believe in. It means not worrying about the outcome, because it’s the process of building something or trying something new that is more important. It’s not worrying what others think of you, as long as you are being genuine with yourself. It’s not worrying what the other people will think if you don’t go to that strip club, or think putting something together for the first time has already been done before by others. It’s rolling the dice and diving into something, from a conversation to a startup, and not worrying what others may perceive of you.
Be genuine and don’t give a shit.