On Saturday morning, a beautiful girl stood on the Spark & Hustle stage. She was the only speaker of the 3-day conference to wear tennis shoes and jeans. Her stylish t-shirt proclaimed "Save the Ta-tas."
Julia Fikse's presentation, which was to challenge the 100+ female business entrepreneurs to consider how their companies could contribute to non-profit causes, began with words of vulnerability. She applauded the attendees for their courage in coming to a conference, admitting how hard it can be show up in a room full of strangers. To illustrate that point, she shared an experience from the evening prior that happened to her in the hotel restaurant.
It’s a story I regret to share.
Upon her late arrival to the conference, she approached a table of three attendees during their dinner to inquire about the conference schedule, since registration had already closed. She wondered what other programming was happening later in the evening and what time the conference started the following morning. They answered her questions. She thanked them and went back to her table for one.
What they didn’t know, and what she didn’t say until the following morning, was how much she had wished those three women had invited her to dinner. In that moment of not being included, she joked about feeling like she was back in junior high school days with the sting of wanting to fit in.
The story obviously touched me. Indeed, two days before, in speaking at the same conference, I had shared similar words. Hoping to normalize the experience for all attendees, I acknowledged the courage it takes to come to conferences where we always wonder if we'll fit in. The two of us were the two speakers to acknowledge that fear publicly.
That's what makes this next ironic sentence hard to write: I was one of those three women at that table that triggered her feeling of rejection.
Three Reminders I Take Away
Ugh! I feel embarrassed to admit it. And certainly don't have to, but obviously feel that the learning potential of the moment outweighs my own regret.
- It’s Always Better to Give Her the Option. After she returned to her table, the question was asked at ours: "Should we invite her to eat with us?" We turned around to look for her and saw that she had a glass of wine in front of her and that she was scribbling in a notebook. We concluded "She's working on her talk for tomorrow morning" and decided to not interrupt her. We assumed that we’d be a distraction or that she wouldn’t be interested. In hindsight, what would have been the harm in us asking her anyway? How ironic that she wanted to eat with us and we wanted it too—and yet it didn’t happen for lack of asking.
- Feeling Rejected is Rarely About Us. You need to know—Julia seems like one incredible woman. The kind of person I would definitely want as a friend. I mean, anyone who is so passionate about a cause that she’s willing to sign over half her paycheck to making a difference; and do so in a humorous and fun way—I’d count myself lucky to know her. So here is a clear example that while she felt the rejection, I can assure you, being the other person, that it was nothing about her. It was our own distractions and assumptions that prevented the moment. I know what it’s like on the other side, taking it personal, so it’s good to have reminders that our feeling of rejection is rarely about us.
- Defaulting to Yes! Akin to walking by a brand promoter on the street, only to realize I don't even know what I just refused, I realize that sometimes my default response pushes me to say no before I even evaluate the option. It's often only after passing the moment that I realize I never even asked what they were giving away. We say no so easily. I, in essence, said no to someone I very much wish I had said yes to. My default needs to be yes. My default needs to be looking for people to meet. My default needs to remind me to have eyes to see the potential around me. I wonder how many of us miss moments with new friends for lack of simply not jumping on the moment?
The truth is that we all want to be accepted. No one wants to risk feeling rejected. We often think that it's the shy-est, most vulnerable in the room that we need to be sensitive to, when in fact it's also the well-known speaker who is out saving the world and running an impressive company. No matter who we are, we want to be included.
Julia, I am so sorry. It is my loss. You are the kind of woman I want to know. I'd be honored to take you to dinner the next time you're in San Francisco or I'm in L.A. Or, should we ever find ourselves in a hotel restaurant again-- please know, you are most welcome at my table. :)