Imagine you had the ability to travel back in time to my high school years, and you’d probably observe a wiry blonde-haired teenager with terrible clothing taste either practicing the piano, doodling in a sketchbook, or studying for the next school subject. All of my focus was typically spent on the task at hand or researching the stuffing out of something that grabbed my interest (Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Batman, etc.). As a result, I didn’t put much effort into social skills. Being naturally introverted (Myers-Briggs: ISTJ), I didn’t like socializing anyway, so why bother?
Over the past several years, I’ve learned how helpful social skills can be in the marketing world, especially as a self-employed artist.
Obviously, I didn’t begin conversing with random strangers overnight. While I have improved since those high school years, I still have a lot to learn. What I’ve learned so far, however, is what I’d like to share with you.
It all began when I donned a pair of khaki pants, a navy blue collared t-shirt, and a name badge. That’s right, your friendly Kroger cashier.
Once I graduated high school, I enrolled in online art classes at what is now known as Bethany College Applied Arts. I worked at Kroger to pay off my part-time tuition and grew, not only in foundational art skills, but also in social skills. When I first started working, I was an unsure and confused bundle of nerves. Everything was new and therefore scary! After several years of interacting with strangers on a weekly basis, however, I became more confident and engaging to the point where interaction felt routine, in effect, comfortable.
As a cashier, constant interaction with strangers made the unknown known. Feelings of fear and dread now gave way to new levels of confidence that could be applied to similar scenarios.
It’s February 7, 2014. In a few months I will have left my cashiering job, but right now my adrenaline-pumped hands struggle to hang paintings and arrange lights along with 50+ other people. This is the first art exhibit I’ve ever applied to and gotten accepted to attend. After double-checking my booth setup, I could’ve settled down to wait for the crowds to come. Instead, I worked up the courage to introduce myself to several artists including the featured guest, Rick Casali. When I found he was friends with Michael Shane Neal, a renowned portrait artist I had long admired, he introduced me to Mr. Shane and I was given the extraordinary opportunity to connect with and learn from him.
Fast forward almost 2 years, and I’m grateful to still be connected to those first friendships as well as developing new ones. The community at the Lipscomb Art Event continues to do a fantastic job at creating a rich environment for artists to connect with, learn from, and encourage each other.
Because I consistently practiced jumping the mental “hurdle” of initiating conversation with strangers as a cashier, I was able to use those same muscles with less dread when talking to new people at the art show. As a result, conversations happened that opened doors I could never have imagined possible.
I hope this story encourages you. It IS possible to move past your fears and put yourself out there! The thing I often ask myself when making fear-based excuses goes something like this:
“What’s the worst thing that could happen? Will I die?”
If the answer is no, it’s best to forego protecting the ego in favor of becoming interested in another person for another person’s sake. Forget the “what if’s” of potential embarrassment. Humility is the best character quality to don in life, and I believe that quality shines best in such circumstances.