Today’s question comes from Jenn Foit, who bucked the odds and got my attention in much the same a shiny object fascinates my dog.
Hey Mike –
I have a 1 in 1,443,953 chance of you writing back to me. I am a 27 year old single mom who is about to finally take the step and start in a welding program. I am nervous and would love and appreciate any words of wisdom! Posted by Jenn Foit, 2:14 pm, 7/11/2014
Most friends of this page know better than to ask me for advice, primarily because I’m known to give it. So heads up – while I can offer you a variety of words, I can’t vouch for their wisdom…
You’re 27-year old single mom. You’re about to enter what many still consider to be a man’s field. If you’re not nervous, you’re either arrogant or naive, two qualities rarely associated with great welders, and far more difficult to remedy than the apprehension you feel today.
Nervousness is like sea sickness. It’s a normal reaction to an unfamiliar setting. It won’t kill you, and it’ll probably go away as you become acclimated to your new environment. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Because like nausea, nervousness can turn you into a pathetic pile if ineffectual humanity. So it’s best to treat the condition before the symptoms really jack you up.
The first step is admitting that you’re nervous, and not just on Facebook. When I’m nervous or unsure of something, I make sure everyone around me knows it. Especially the people who are causing me anxiety. The more I try to appear “not-nervous,” the more likely I am to shit my pants. Nervous people who deny their apprehension are like seasick people who deny their nausea. It’s only a matter of time till the vomit squirts through their fingers, as they stand gamely on the Lido deck, trying to pretend that all is well.
Back in 1990, I had just been hired as a show host on QVC, and I was nervous. Very, dreadfully nervous. I had no experience on live TV, no prior training, and no knowledge of how the many products I was supposed to be selling actually worked. Plus, I really needed the job. (In those days, QVC hired anyone who could talk about a pencil for more than six minutes, and put them on live television for a three-month probationary period. The washout rate was 99%, and many of those who debuted on the graveyard shift never showed up a second time. Trust me – it was nerve-wracking.)
On my first night, I was a mess. My palms were sweaty and my stutter was threatening to return at any moment. My first item was something called The Amcor Negative Ion Generator. I had no idea what it did or why anyone would desire a preponderance of negative ions. So when the red light appeared on the top of the camera and the director pointed at me and said, “You’re up,” I looked into the lens and told something very close to the truth.
“Good evening. My name’s Mike Rowe. This is my first time on live television, and frankly, I’m a nervous wreck. Furthermore, I have no idea what to say about The Amcor Negative Ion Generator. So please, if you watch this channel often and have any useful facts about this particular item, call the number on your screen and tell the operator you need to speak with me right away. We’ll chat, and hopefully, sell a few of these things.”
The directors jaw hit the floor, and the lines immediately flooded with calls. For the next three hours, viewers offered all sorts of encouraging words. They explained the purpose of whatever crazy product had been plucked from QVC’s bottomless inventory of and made me feel welcome. In this way, I was trained for my job not by the people who hired me, but by the people who watched me. Interestingly, sales were brisk. And more importantly, my nervousness went away.
Point is Jenn, most nervousness comes out of fear and insecurity, and those things can usually be made much smaller with a big blast of unapologetic honesty. Also, curiosity is a great replacement for nervousness. The things that make people nervous – ignorance and uncertainty – are the same things that make people curious. And yet, it’s hard to be nervous and curious at the same time. Nervousness will keep you from trying new things. Curiosity will force you to. So try to replace your apprehension with a heightened measure of wonder. Be intrigued by the uncertainty before you. Don’t look at your ignorance or your inexperience as the enemy. Look at them as the necessary qualities which allow you to become a more curious person.
Finally, Google women and welding. You’ll feel better. You’re learning a solid trade at the right time, and your gender has some real advantages in this career.