Looking back at it, I’m fortunate that the receptionist paged her boss and not security or the police when I showed up in the lobby. I saw the fear and uncertainty in her eyes, and I couldn’t really blame her. I looked like I just tumbled out of a slasher movie.
Two hours earlier, in my haste to get on the road, I tripped over a curb and landed on my left shoulder and cheek (the cheek on my face) in my office parking lot. The pavement was wet with melting snow, dirt and the snow-melt compound that the maintenance guy had put down. When I landed, I ground all of that into my face, hands, shirt and pants. For good measure, in stunned unawareness, I wiped my freshly bloodied knuckles on my pants.
Seconds earlier, I had looked fairly good in my new black shirt and freshly pressed khaki pants. I was on my way to win business from people I had never met in person, and I was full of confidence. I didn’t look so good now, I thought to myself, as I looked in the rear-view mirror and wiped blood and dirt from my face with an old rag I found under the seat. I considered postponing, but it would have been weeks before I would be able to get all of these guys in one room again. My competitors would loom during those days.
Because I had just enough time to make the drive, I wasn’t even able to stop by a bathroom to perform triage. I was going to have to go in raw and mangled, hoping to use confidence to overcome the obstacles my appearance presented.
Many of life’s pivotal points come in moments like these, when our confidence is shaken at precisely the moment we need it the most. How we respond often determines our life direction, at least for a while.
Doubt and feelings of inferiority often flash into our conscious when we have an unexpected opportunity to assert ourselves. Maybe a boss asks for our opinion in a meeting. Maybe we have an unexpected opportunity to volunteer for an important task or meet an important person. Rather than living with regrets, we should seize these unexpected opportunities for exactly what they are – opportunities.
On my very first day of student teaching, in my very first hour, I learned that my cooperating teacher had called in sick and the substitute teacher had absolutely no idea how to teach the material. Instead of a day spent observing and getting comfortable with my surroundings, like I expected, I was thrust in front of a classroom of high school students for the first time since I was a high school student myself, three years earlier. I was nervous but it went well, and I developed courage under fire.
I was fortunate that my life had prepared me for situations like this. For about 35 years now, I’ve dragged around a mostly non-functional leg, so I’m accustomed to people struggling to suppress inadvertent stares when I walk into a room of strangers.
When I was younger, this bothered me tremendously, and I did everything I could to avoid walking in front of strangers. Even in college, I showed up early for classes and snuck away after the room cleared, in an attempt to make my first impression from a sitting position. I wanted people to know and like me, before letting them in on my handicap. I didn’t trust others not to judge me, and I hadn’t developed self-worth.
Now, as a motivational speaker, I sometimes walk across an auditorium stage in front of hundreds. I’m able to do this, because I no longer worry about what conclusions people make when they see me for the first time. I know that the people who matter could care less about how I move from one point to another. In fact, I know that if I don’t let it bother me, they won’t let it bother them.
Back in my truck after my client meeting, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and smiled. My cheek was swollen now, and a rivulet of dried blood ran from the corner of my eye, but I killed it. My heightened confidence helped me compensate for my Freddy Kruger appearance. I had not only won the account, it’s been our biggest piece of business year to date.