Staying positive in a difficult situation is tough. You know what's going on, you might not have control over any of it, and now you need to fight your emotions and stay up-beat. I've been there and it's tough. Fighting through your own emotions to mask what's really happening is just as hard as dealing with what's going on behind the scenes. But I can tell you this, perfecting the positive attitude can be your saving grace.
I recently attended a networking and marketing event. Though I normally dress more professional for these I went in my casual clothes, as 8a.m. was never my favorite time of day to dress up. When I arrived, I was the only one dressed in a t-shirt and capri pants. Everyone else was business casual or in a suit. I've long gotten over feeling weird about walking into a room and feeling like the beginning of Pretty Woman. I found a friend in the group and said hi. She introduced me to a gentleman named Jim, who was dressed very smartly I might add, and we had a lovely conversation. I was happy to talk about my business and how well things have been going this year. He seemed keen to see my work and possibly run into each other at other networking events. We exchanged cards and took our seats for the event.
After the talk, there was another designer chatting to Jim. While she was dressed much better than me, her attitude as pretty bad. Nay, deplorable. She talked at length how terrible things were for her. How she had just gotten into the freelancing world but was woefully unprepared. No online portfolio, no fall back savings, no clients or contacts, just jumped in because she didn't like the company she was working with before. While I can attest to the work situation, I tried to share some of my years of wisdom playing the freelance game. She was closed off to anything I said. She kept holding back tears, or screams, at how she went into a business venture with two other people and how the bank was screwing them over. Jim was visibly uncomfortable, but was stoic and professional. When he asked for her card she didn't have any. Jim gave her one of his and excused himself. Before he left, he gave me a vigorous hand-shake and said it was lovely to meet me.
After Jim left, I tried to get this other designer to say something nice about herself or her work. Aside from being a print designer, she had no excitement. Her situation was obviously tearing her down. I started to feel uncomfortable so I said good luck to her and left.
All I can say is attitude is everything. It's a skill worth devoting time to as it could mean the difference of a good or bad reputation. Cincinnati is a little-big city and the creative field is very much a close community. I've gone to various networking events, hosted by different organizations, and met a lot of the same people. As a freelancer, you must be aware of how you behave. It sounds nerve-wracking (and it is) but it is far more beneficial to stay positive than to be a downer. Leave your personal issues at home and step outside with your professional face on. That doesn't mean you have to be in work/selling mode. Behave as you would in a professional office you're visiting for the first time. People don't want to hear about your sob story. They might sympathize, but they didn't come to an event to feel sad. They won't be interested in it and will be turned off from talking to you at length. You'll also be forever pegged as the one with the sad story or bad attitude.
What do you do then? Ask people more questions. Everyone loves to talk about themselves (admit it, you know you do). You give them the opportunity to lead the conversation and that will reflect well on you. You'll be seen as inquisitive and a good listener. People will take notice and thank you. And if you're still not feeling up for it, fake it.
Fake it till you make it. Cliché yes, but it works. Hence why it's a cliché.
It's difficult sometimes to push myself through a networking event. Somedays I'm not up for it, or I'm stressed, or I'm just feeling anti-social. It's rare that I skip an event if there's any chance I'll make one connection. So when I do go, I don my positive mask and try to keep a good attitude. Trust me, it's worth the effort!