From January 1997 until September 2001, I was a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. In my first role, I served in your father’s Peace Corps: I was sent to live in a remote African village where I spoke dialectal languages, dug wells and taught about sanitation and agriculture. After that tour, I immediately went to a developing Eastern Europe to teach high school English. Oddly enough, after all of that decidedly non-military work, I came home and landed a job in the defense industry.
The job was in international sales and was housed in a company which builds missiles and weapons systems. While I was hired for my international and cross cultural experiences, I found the day-to-day of what I was doing to be completely foreign. I, unquestionably, had my work cut out for me.
After being on the job for about four months, I was sent to represent my team at an industry conference. My job was to talk to upper-ranking officials across various branches of the U.S. and foreign militaries, finding out what sorts of systems they felt they were lacking in their…well…arsenals. In addition to these duties, I was to man our company’s information booth and field questions about our company’s core capabilities.
Piece of cake.
After checking in, I went up to the conference’s main floor to inspect our booth. I stepped off the elevator and stood in the booth-lined hallway, sweating in my business suit and childishly twisting the security clearance at the end of my lanyard. Just stand up straight, I thought, suddenly wondering why my boss had sent me off with such confidence. I started walking down the hallway. Stand up straight…keep going…you’ve got this. I made my way down to the area where people from the conference’s tech department were setting up our booth. When they saw our company name on my name tag, they immediately asked me how I wanted them to put together our booth’s electronics and layout.
Fake it till you make it…
I hesitated for a second, but then I said: “Do A for this and B for that…and…and please put C and D here because XYZ is the most important message we want to relay to our current or potential customers.” And the tech people with the questions nodded and started moving things around as if they trusted completely what I’d just told them.
I continued to walk down the hallway, shaking hands and talking to attendees, and by the end of the conference, I had made an impact. I still have no idea how I did it, but for two and a half days at that one Florida conference, I just kept thinking: “This is my job. I’ll fake it till I make it. I can do this.”
And that worked.