If you’re not nervous, you’re in the wrong room

This is the last part of a III-part series. You can read part I, Don’t dwell on your losses, and part II, Whatever you’re doing, be 100% in it, here.

“My philosophy is this: If you’re not nervous when you walk into the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

I sat on the phone with my old manager Amanda, thinking back to my first job out of college. On one particular soul-sucking morning, I went into a conference room, laid my forehead on the glass table, and CRIED. Two months in, I still didn’t have the faintest idea what exactly it was the company did.

If you made it this far in life without smearing snot all over a conference table, I tip my hat to you. If you never thought, “My future is doomed,” between the hours of nine and five, congrats! You are awarded five more points in the game of life.

To the rest of us, consider this: Maybe the butterflies and thoughts of being a complete failure are a good thing.

They show you give a flying fuck about your job. And how could that possibly be bad?

“My greatest fear is letting someone down,” Amanda said. “I have really high standards for myself. I feel really lucky to have continued to work with really smar,t talented people who accomplished a lot.”

I can remember being twenty-one years old, and going over to Amanda’s cubicle every time I hit a bug I couldn’t fix. I would literally lay down on the floor and stare at the ceiling, thinking out loud about every feasible way I could tackle the problem.

Amanda was twenty-five at the time. Six months into the job, she was tasked with carving out an entire department—a pretty heavy lift for someone just a few years out of college. I distinctly remember one afternoon of laying on her floor, when she finally interrupted my conversation with myself to say, “I just feel like I’m letting everyone down!”

I don’t think those feelings ever go away. I think every time we face something we truly care about, we will always retreat inside our own head and doubt ourselves.

That’s what a challenge is.

It’s looking at something that seems impossible and thinking, “There’s no fucking way I can pull that off…But how cool would it be if I did?”

I get butterflies every time I’m faced with something I care about. When I was in high school and college, this meant being nervous—to the point of vomiting—before every race I ran. As challenges shifted from sports to the workforce, my nerves followed me to every interview or presentation.

My twenty-five-year-old manager who once created a department out of nothing, became a twenty-seven-year-old traveling across the country pitching Fortune 500 companies. Can you imagine? A five-foot-two girl in her twenties, speaking directly to brands we all dream about?

I think I would shit my pants.

“When you meet with these huge name brand companies, of course it’s intimidating,” she said. “The people you pitch to are really accomplished and really experienced.

“But to everyone over the age of 40, they have this stereotype for millennials. They think we’re lazy. And it feels really, really good to prove them wrong. Whenever I walk into that room, I’m going to show those people I’ve done my research, I’m prepped, and I’m ready.”

Some might argue nerves and self-doubt show a lack of self-confidence. To that, I call bullshit.

I can name a hundred competitions, job interviews, and company meetings where I walked in without a shred of nerves in my body. Because I didn’t care about the outcome. I didn’t prep, make sacrifices, or practice dozens of times because I knew life would go on, regardless.

The times I didn’t care if I won or lost, I was in the wrong sport. The times where I didn’t care about my review, I was at the wrong job. The times I didn’t rehearse for the presentation, I was clearly putting my energy into the wrong project.

“There are times I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” Amanda said. “But if you’re not excited about what you’re doing, it’s emotionally draining. The times you’re excited to get out of bed—that’s when you’re fully invested.”

More about Amanda: Amanda was the first manager I ever had in my life. At just twenty-five years old, she carved out a brand new department (with me as their intern!); and before age 30, she was pitching Fortune 500 companies. For the past seven years, she has worked for the fastest-growing company in Iowa, which has grown from just north of 100 employees in 2011 to nearly 800 today. 

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For All the F Words
You have flaws. You f-up on a daily basis. And that should be ok.