Throughout the majority of my life, I’ve lived with an extreme level of social anxiety – like projectile-vomit-all-over-Brooks-Brother’s-suits-at-an-industry-networking-event level of anxiety.
I love meeting new people in small settings and learning about other’s life stories, but a tech conference filled with abrupt, in-yo-face “Let’s connect!”, “What’s your valuation?”, “Who’s on your client list?” makes me want to ditch the whole event agenda, hole up in my hotel room, and Wikipedia local historical sites.
It’s that bad.
I began my entrepreneurial journey in the era of boom or bust tech-based startups. The markets had crashed, national employment was in the crapper, and this thing called the internet was exploding almost overnight.
The popular business gurus hailed as the poster boys of success were the extremely extroverted, snake oil salesmen peddling “success” to all of us nearly-bankrupt professionals like a crack dealer cruising Beale Street.
I, along with many of my other entrepreneurial peers, began to believe this strategy of the always-on, at-whatever-the-cost “hustle” was the only way to build a successful company.
Networking through the Startup Scene
Convinced maniac extraversion was required for entrepreneurial success, I attended confidence building workshops, hired a coach that gave me regular pep talks, and even sought out professional counseling in hopes that a couple months of therapy would erase the social anxiety that kept me from being the next big thing.
Over time, I learned new strategies for working a room, developing a professional network, and making the arduous pre-negotiation small talk; however, I still hated it.
Every networking event I forced myself to attend, for the “sake of my company”, I’d end up cowering in the bathroom, plotting the most inconspicuous way to exit the event.
A couple years passed. I kept attending industry conferences, and my company’s client list continued to grow. I liked my work, I just hated “getting out” and felt the urge to gut punch colleagues that kept insisting lack of near-constant “face time” was holding back my career.
While my company generated enough money to support my family and attain my goals, I always felt like I was “doing entrepreneurship wrong” or was “in the wrong line of work” due to the nontraditional, non-used-car salesman strategy I kept returning to for business development. Networking events left me feeling insanely drained, and I disliked meeting strangers for coffee; instead, I enjoyed volunteering with various nonprofit organizations and connecting with (not pitching to) people in fun, non-work settings.
Networking as a Millennial Caregiver
Then the war happened, and while I’d worked hard to overcome much of my social anxiety and participate in conferences and work-related events, I was physically unable to give my business the face time modern hustlers would deem it warranted. For months, I found myself running my business out of a hospital waiting room, completing clients projects after days of neurological testing, and realizing that I hadn’t updated my clothes (much less my LinkedIn status) in quite a while.
I recall discussing my professional fears regarding my inability to “get out there while stuck in here” with a family therapist assigned to my case at the hospital. Her response was to recommend I shut down my business, apply for unemployment, and try to get hired by the government using my spouse’s veteran’s preference.
I spent following hour crying in the bathroom.
Determined to not give up on my entrepreneurial dreams, I maintained my business from the 10th floor of a VA hospital, cutting some of the higher-maintenance clients lose, and focusing my networking strategies to things that would work with my current situation. Initially, I lost a lot of income; however, over time, I was able to maximize my professional relationships with compatible organizations and utilize my unique experience as a millennial caregiver to advocate for others within our veteran community.
Even though my business eventually leveled out, I still felt like a total oddball in the world of go-go-go entrepreneurs, until I read Morra Aarons-Mele’s latest book Hiding in the Bathroom: an Introverts’ Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home).
A New Type of Networking Strategy
In Hiding in the Bathroom, Aarons-Mele talks openly about FOMO, panic attacks, stress-to-income ratios, going niche, and many other must-knows about being productive in a highly competitive market (without telling you to “get out there more”).
Unlike the 24/7 hustle gospel of the startup culture likes to preach, Aarons-Mele reminds us that there isn’t one type of entrepreneur, nor is there only one way to successfully grow a business. Everyone – those with social anxiety and those without – can put their own spin on entrepreneurship and create an original definition of self-employment success in accordance to their individual preferences and capabilities.
No, I no longer throw up at networking events; however, I’ve given myself permission to leave early (before reaching panic attack mode) and even to not go at all (without feeling guilty) when it strains my schedule. Thanks to the helpful strategies outlaid in Aarons-Mele’s Hiding in the Bathroom, I’ve identified alternative business-building strategies that are much more accommodating to my current stage in life than another name-dropping, Silicon Valley bro fest power networking event.
If you’re interested in starting or growing a business, but feel like anxiety, caregiving, introversion or other challenges prohibit you from pursuing your dreams, I highly recommend taking Hiding in the Bathroom for a spin. Aarons-Mele’s book is guaranteed to challenge your perceptions (or misconceptions) regarding business strategy and while empowering you to embrace your originality and engineer a work environment that works for you.
Click here to order your copy!