Four Rules for New or Anxious Situations


I don’t like change.

And I especially don’t like doing anything for the first time.

And I’m a dad which means I have to teach my kids how to handle change and doing things for the first time.

But I do like rules.

Here are the four I use to deal with change.

I’ll use three situations as examples as I traverse the rules:

Situation 1 — It’s your first day of college and your worried about finding your classes.

Situation 2 — You are traveling by yourself for the first time.

Situation 3 — You are interviewing for a new job.

Rules 1 & 2 cover 90% of the situations so pay close attention to them, but I’ll summarize them all at the end.

The Rules

Rule 1 — People much stupider than you do this every day.

Example 1: It’s your first day of college and you are worried you won’t find your classes.

There are millions of college students and every year 20 to 25% of them are freshman, many are more stupid than you and yet they manage to find their class (at least eventually).

Example 2: It’s your first time travelling by yourself.

Do you know who else travels in America?  Every one. Eighteen year olds, potheads, drunk eighty-year -olds.   If you made it to the airport in a friend’s car, you’ve already survived the hardest part of the trip.  Look around the airport and in ten seconds you’ll find at least one person that you’re sure that you’re smarter than.

Example 3: You’re interviewing for a new job.

Remember that the people giving you the interview are terrified that they are going to hire someone much stupider than you.  Think about the kids you graduated high school with.  Make a list of ten that were dumber than you.  Realize it’s going to be okay.

Rule 2 — Trust the Experts

The key thing to remember here is that experts do the same thing a hundred times a day.  Whatever you are doing might be new to you, but there are experts who can help you if things go bad.

Example 1 — Looking for your classes

How often do you think RA-s, teachers, administrators and security guards go to (for example) Metzger Hall where your class is?  Try every day, maybe multiple times a day.  You see a guy in a suit or wearing some sort of identifying badge or just an attractive upper class man? Stop them and they will get you straightened out.

Example 2 — Traveling alone for the first time.

When I was going to India for the first time in 10 years, I got to the airport early, walked up to the ticket counter, handed the agent my passport and ticket and said, “What do I do?”

I didn’t even try to figure it out.

She probably talks in her sleep about how to board a flight to Bangalore.

Example 3 — Interviewing for a new job

The internet is full of expertise to help you out.  You probably have parents, teachers, maybe even a friend or two.  You know that annoying guy who always is talking about the new job he’s landed.  Ask him what to do and not do.  Lots of experts.

Rule 3 — Tell them you don’t know what you are doing

People love to be smart.  Do not be afraid to start a conversation with “Pretend I’m the stupidest person you’ve ever helped” and then launch into your question.  In a similar vein, I start my conversations with dental hygienists with “Pretend I’m your eight year-old niece and clean my teeth with that level of gentleness.”

Example 1 — Looking for your classes.

The day before classes start, find your RA or someone you know who goes to the school and tell them, “I’m the worst person you’ve ever met with directions can you tell me exactly how to find Metzer Hall.”

Example 2 — Traveling alone for the first time

Check in with an agent instead of doing all the fast check-in.  Tell them, “My friends say I’m the most ditsy person they’ve ever met.  What exactly do I need to do to find my plane.”

Example 3 — Interviewing for your first job

DO NOT tell the people interviewing that you are dumb, but DO TELL the people who are helping you prep that you’re afraid you’ll screw it up.  Spend some time online reading about the worst interview stories ever to reassure yourself that you won’t be the worst at it.

Rule 4 — Think about how you would do this if someone promised you $1000 not to screw it up

If I offered you $1000 not to screw up the thing you are anxious about, what would you do?

Get creative.

Example 1 — Finding your class.

a) Find it on a map

b) Walk through all your classrooms before school starts.

c) Take chalk and mark a path from your dorm to your class.

Example 2 — Traveling alone.

a) Research the time it takes every step of the way.

b) Research the layout of the airport.

c) Pay a friend who has traveled $500 bucks to go with you (of course, then you wouldn’t really have traveled alone).

Example 3 — Interviewing for a job

(Here I pay you the $1000 if you don’t screw up the interview not if you get the job).

a) Buy pizza for seven employed friends.  Have each of them prepare five interview questions for you.

b) Google on line about how the company you work for likes to interview.

c) Think about the job you are interviewing for.  Think about the person hiring you.  What problem is that person trying to solve?  Think of answers to the problem they are most likely trying to solve and be ready to slide those answers into questions.

d) Join LinkedIn.  Search on LinkedIn for friends who work at that company.  Ask them to tell you what their interviews were like.

Summary of the Rules

Rule 1 — People much stupider than you do this every day.

Rule 2 — Trust the Experts

Rule 3 — Tell them you don’t know what you are doing

Rule 4 — Think about how you would do this if someone promised you $1000 not to screw it up

If you like taking action to change your life then you might like my novel The Biographer which is about three people who decide to change their lives since they don’t like how they’ve turned out so far.

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