Building a writing career requires making requests from people you know and people you don’t know. Your goal is to get other people to help you build your career. Whether you are pitching a potential client, interviewing for a job, cold calling a story source or trying to convince a company’s accounts payable desk to cut you a check early, you are going to have to ask strangers to do things for you. This is a challenge.
It is OK to Talk to Strangers
Fear of strangers is one of the most common fears in the world. Your parents talk you into this fear as a child. They tell you not to talk to strangers. They tell you not to take candy from strangers. A good parent drums a fear of strangers into their kids in order to keep them safe. At five years old, this is a very good idea. As an adult, it is time to put this fear behind you. Sure, the stranger in the dark ally may be a threat, but the one behind the desk or on the phone is the one who can make good things happen for you.
Rejection is not worse than a missed opportunity
The primary fear people deal with when talking to strangers (and even people they know) is the fear of rejection. They don’t send a query letter or call for an interview because they might be rejected. No one likes to be rejected. It is a blow to the ego. In the end though, a rejection is no worse than a lost opportunity. If you pitch a new client and you get rejected, you are still in the same situation as before. You may have lost some time and effort, but you’ve also gained a little experience. In the end, the worst that can happen is usually nothing. Nothing happens.
Good things happen
If you do make the pitch though, one of three good things can happen. The first is the most obvious. They give you what you asked for. The second is also good, they give you something else. They offer a different assignment, a different job, or even just the phone number of another person who might be interested. The third thing that can happen is a little rarer, but still more than a little possible. The person may give you what you want and more. You ask for an article, they assign you a series. You ask for a job and they give you a better job. It happens. It has happened to me. The key is, you have to ask. You have to face the stranger. You have to have the uncomfortable conversation. These are the keys to your success.
Prepare your pitch
One of the best ways to reduce your fear of rejection is to properly prepare for the conversation. Work through your presentation so that you go in knowing what you are going to say. At minimum you should have a specific goal in mind.
Be realistic about the risks (there aren’t many)
There are very few make or break conversations in your life, and I am telling you right now that calling a potential client isn’t one of them. One of the primary ways that people sabotage themselves is by catastrophizing. Catastrophizing occurs when you expect the worst to happen, especially in situations in which the risks are moderate or low and the reward is worthwhile. This can result in a sort of paralysis, keeping you from taking on new challenges or assignments because you can only conceive of failure. All of the negative possibilities stack up in your mind and seem realistic no matter how improbable they are.
If you find yourself doing this, stop and write down the worst thing you can reasonably expect to have happen from a single rejection.
Calm yourself down
Here is a very quick relaxation exercise that you can do anywhere without attracting attention.
- Expand your stomach
- Take a deep, long breath
- Hold your breath for about three seconds
- Exhale slowly and completely as you let your shoulders and your jaw drop
- Picture pleasantly cool water flowing from your neck and shoulders down your arms and legs
Remember that success happens too
Take the time to remind yourself about the benefits of having your uncomfortable conversation. Whatever your goal is, picture how it will benefit your life if you make it happen. There’s a reason why you want to have this conversation.