Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone: Reflections on attending ITB Berlin

Last week, I visited ITB Berlin. The first ‘public event’ where my name tag said Holdbar and not Truestory.

It’s always a bit overwhelming, attending events like this; the amount of inputs you get bombarded with, and all the information to ingest and process. But it’s also part what makes it so interesting; to attend something, that’s so different from your daily routine.

As a “technician” I’ve never really had to go “out there” to try and sell a product. Sure, I worked as a lone consultant in the past, which of course included an aspect of selling, or to convince a potential client to chose me.

But this time, at ITB, was probably the first time in my life where I tried actual cold canvassing: walking up to a complete stanger, trying to decode if there’s product-fit without being pushy, and also performing the “elevator pitch” of a brand new product, like Holdbar.

This was quite an intimidating challenge, accompanied by a bunch of uncomfortability and anxiety. As an otherwise rather introvert person, the thought of walking up to strangers and trying to make conversation, is a daunting task.

As I stumbled through the words of the first few chats, things got better. It still took a lot of effort actually walking up to someone and initiating a conversation, but actually having the conversations got a bit easier. And of course, after the initial barrier of starting the conversation, the longer the went, the more at ease I would become.

However, one thing I noticed, was that in every conversation I was performing my ‘pitch’ differently. And I realize now that part of the anxiety was not about talking to people; but not knowing exactly what to say. Not having a clear message to convey.

This can be related to many things in life, as I’ve realized in the past:

Anxiety tends to happen, when the process or the goal is unclear.

It can happen when scoping a software development project, where you get overwhelmed because you don’t know exactly what the outcome is, or how to get there. If you don’t feel you completely understand the task.

It can happen when learning a new skill, like woodworking where you’re using machinery that you’ve never used before, and have no idea on how to start.

Or it can happen when simply making conversation, but where you don’t have a clear image of the message you’re trying to send.

The anxiety of doing something new or uncertain will always be there. But as a wise person recently told me:

It’s important to acknowledge that it’s there. But it’s even more important to not let it dictate your actions and decisions.

If you constantly focus on the anxiety, trying to get rid of it, you won’t actually be focusing on the task at hand. It’s like you want to go from A to B, but you end up going from A, to E, to G, to Y and hopefully at some point you’ll reach B.

But then you realize you spent so much time and energy trying to get rid of something that you couldn’t really do anything about; and instead you lost track of the actual path.

It’s one of these things that seems completely obvious. But one of those things that’re very hard to actually succeed in doing. As with anything, it’s a skill that needs to be learned, and it most definitely won’t come easy. When learning about our own emotions and understanding of self, it’s more about incremental than radical change. The same applies here; don’t expect to just be able to push the anxiety aside from now on, but remind yourself what the goal is, acknowledge the anxiety is there, but don’t let it steal your focus.

One last thing that I think is important to emphasize; this is not about ignoring or suppressing anxiety. It’s about understanding why it’s there, knowing it’s a part of our self, but taking control of the emotion.

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