While researching her new book, “Presence,” Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy interviewed a number of venture capitalists about what personal qualities successful entrepreneurs demonstrate.
Perhaps the most striking observation she collected was this: “I don't mind if they're a little bit nervous; they're doing something big, something that matters to them, so it makes sense they'd be a little bit nervous.”
In the book, Cuddy outlines two key reasons why a moderate amount of nervousness can be helpful in stressful situations.
For one, anxiety can be an adaptive response that keeps us alert to danger and things going wrong. Sometimes, Cuddy says, nervousness can also signal respect for the person you're interacting with.
Additionally, “some nervousness can even signal passion to others,” she says. “After all, you wouldn't be nervous if it didn't matter to you, and you can't easily persuade an investor or potential client to buy into your idea if it's not clear that you care deeply about whether or not it succeeds.”
In other words, if you're not nervous at all, the VC you're pitching or the interviewer you're meeting with might get turned off by your apparent lack of investment.
In a recent talk at the 92Y in New York, Cuddy used an example from the TV show “Shark Tank”:
“The people [entrepreneurs] who I find most compelling are not the ones who come in super-energetic. They're actually quiet and sometimes they're nervous. You can be nervous; that's okay. In fact, it sometimes signals that this is a serious thing and you really care about it.”
The idea that it's okay to be nervous is closely linked to the concept of “presence,” which Cuddy defines as being attuned to and able to express your full potential.
Of course, as many of us already know, getting overly anxious can hurt your performance. The key to letting your nerves help instead of hurt you, Cuddy says, is to “avoid clinging to your nervousness.”
In other words, try not to get anxious about being anxious.
Cuddy writes: “Notice it and move on.”
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