Success Starts with Being New
To achieve almost anything in life you have to put yourself into new situations. To have a successful career, you often need to change jobs and join new organizations. You get promoted into new teams. Sometimes you’re transferred to unfamiliar cities and countries. Outside of work, you’re new every time you go back to school for more education or join a new health club to get in shape. You’re often a newcomer every time you take up a new hobby, go on a vacation overseas, or check one more thing off your “bucket list.”
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything meaningful and important in life without at some point having to meet new people, learn new things, and take on new roles. And as a newcomer, how you think and act in those first few seconds, minutes, hours, and days matters. What you do when you’re new often determines whether you will find the success, satisfaction, and happiness that drove you to be a newcomer in the first place.
The secret to newcomer success is no secret at all. It mostly comes down to our willingness and ability to do five key things.
#1 Introducing Yourself
- Accept the awkwardness, but introduce yourself anyway.
- Tailor your opening lines and initial conversation to the kind of relationship you expect to develop.
- Create a good first impression by making the other person feel heard, valued, and respected, not by touting your own accomplishments.
- Thank the individual for the conversation, and ask for permission to talk to that person later.
- Write things down after the introduction.
- Re-introduce yourself when necessary.
- Practice, reflect, and practice some more.
#2 Remembering Names
We often have trouble recalling names, but you can get better at it by:
- Relaxing. Most of us are bad with names.
- Committing yourself to pay attention to the name before you meet someone new.
- Repeating the name once you’ve heard it and using it during the introduction to ensure you’ve stored it in your short-term memory. Mentally test your recall to make sure it’s there.
- Writing the name down as soon as you can.
- Using vivid imagery techniques (during the introduction, if possible, and especially afterwards). Periodically test your recall ability, and “prime” yourself by reviewing names prior to meeting people again.
- If you forget a name, you can re-introduce yourself, search through your lists and files to help you recall the name, or simply apologize for forgetting and ask again.
#3 Asking Questions
When we’re new, asking questions is often the only way we can quickly get up to speed and be a successful newcomer. To overcome your reluctance, before asking a question:
- Build a relationship with people you might have to ask questions of before ever having to ask a question.
- Consider what you want and why you want it.
- Determine whom to ask and if the time is right. Ask yourself: Who might be helpful? Who seems friendly and approachable? Can I interrupt right now?
- Cultivate the art of asking questions; remember to keep it short, explain why you’re asking, demonstrate you’ve done your homework, avoid multi-part questions, ask follow-up questions (but only if needed), say thank you, and don’t overstay your welcome. Also, remember to close the loop, if needed, by letting the person you asked know the outcome.
- Last but not least, find a buddy who can guide you when you’re new.
You will become more comfortable and confident if you just get out there, ask lots of questions, and mindfully reflect on your experiences. Don’t expect you’ll turn into a confident question-asker overnight. It takes time to rewire your brain and unlearn old habits and assumptions, but you’ll get there!
#4 Starting New Relationships
When we’re new, much of our success and happiness is determined by our ability to start and develop new relationships. But our fear of rejection makes us reluctant to approach and interact with relative strangers in ways that create positive, productive relationships. You can become more comfortable and confident starting new relationships if you:
- Realize that both the risk and downside of social rejection is usually much less than your Stone Age brain and early childhood experiences lead you to believe.
- Approach new situations with a clear idea of the mix and type of relationships that may get you what you want and need.
- Start positive, productive relationships by focusing on others’ needs, showing interest, staying positive, and interacting in ways that help others gain energy.
- Take the time to reflect and uncover your underlying assumptions, expectations, and habits around starting relationships.
- Find opportunities to practice starting, maintaining, and developing new relationships.
#5 Performing in New Situations
In the end, success and happiness only come through action, and often this means performing new things in front of unfamiliar people. We’re hardwired to fear the rejection and loss of social status that comes with making mistakes and having a less than optimal performance, and we also learn at an early age to focus more on “being good” than “getting better.” This not only makes us anxious but it often causes us to make the very mistakes we most fear. However, you can become more comfortable and confident performing new things if you:
- Adopt a scientist’s mindset and focus on learning over performing.
- Clearly identify what you want to achieve from your performance and what’s new and challenging about it.
- Assess your current abilities and create a reasonable expectation of your upcoming performance.
- Realistically assess how much others will pay attention to your performance, and how much a less than perfect performance will actually impact you long term.
- Mindfully reflect on how you approach performing in new situations, and adopt the strategies that help you focus on “getting better” over “being good.”
Get Out There and Succeed
It’s inevitable that as a newcomer and beginner you will likely stumble. Recognize that it’s normal and expected. In most social situations you’re not the only one who is anxious. One newcomer put it this way: “Others probably feel the same way as you do. Put yourself out there and introduce yourself and take on new challenges. You really have nothing to lose. Sometimes it’s really hard, but with new challenges you feel better after you do it. It’s one more thing you’ve accomplished in your life.”
In the end, the advice of one more newcomer beautifully sums up the message of this book: “Smile a lot. Imagine that other people are just as awkward. Don’t focus on your fear, focus on theirs. Show them that you’re interested in them. Be helpful and appreciative. Don’t worry about being funny or entertaining, just be kind.”
Put yourself out there, try new things, meet new people, and seek the success, energy, and joy you deserve. Have fun!