New Year Challenge 4 of 4: Make Yourself Really, Really, Shockingly, Nauseatingly Uncomfortable

This is the final part of our 4-part series on the challenges we’re posing for ourselves in 2015. Join us by challenging yourself to the same things. (See Challenge 1, 2 and 3)

The first conference I ever spoke at was Microconf Vegas in 2013.

I went on right after lunch on Day 2.

So I essentially starved for two days…

…because who could keep food down knowing some 300 startup founders were sitting – in long rows in a long conference room – waiting to stare blankly at you for approximately 7 seconds before realizing that, nope, they don’t give a damn about copywriting and that they really ought to get back to their programming, emailing, keeping their businesses charging toward The Hockey Stick, etc.?

Before my talk, I was standing backstage with Rob Walling. I must’ve looked crazy-nervous ‘cos he gave me this arched-eyebrow look and said, “Um, are you gonna be okay?”

That’s the last thing I remember.

Not ‘cos I passed out or anything.

Just ‘cos I was really, really, shockingly, nauseatingly scared of that stage. And of those people.

And That’s Precisely Why I Had to Do It

I didn’t know at the time what speaking at Microconf would do for me and my biz. I didn’t go into it expecting to get anything out of it. Some street cred, I guess. Obviously a ton of nausea. But nothing more.

Nearly 2 years later, take a look at what I got out of it:

If you look through that – and you should – you’ll see that speaking at Microconf was, like the Jelly of the Month Club, the gift that keeps on giving. Except for real. Not just in Cousin Eddie’s eyes.

I owe so much of what Copy Hackers is today to that single Microconf talk. I’m not saying Microconf is the only thing that’s helped us; rather, would we be where we are today without it?

(Putting down on paper how much I owe to the people who’ve given me a shot just further reinforces my need to stop believing my own BS – I am a necessary but small part of the Copy Hackers equation.)

Each and every conference I’ve spoken at has produced an incredible number of contacts, opportunities, content to market and general goodwill. My Twitter followers go up when I speak at a conference. I hear lots of nice things after the conference. I get to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. It’s an honor to be invited, an honor to be allowed to teach, an honor to meet all the people I do.

But Speaking Scares Me Sooo Much,
I Told Lance Not to Let Me Say “Yes” to Another Conference

This past September, I spoke at CTA Conf in Vancouver on a Friday and at Business of Software in Boston the next Tuesday. As someone who’s neither what you’d call a “good flyer” nor the type of bouncy-cheerleader-thing that does a backflip out of bed at 4am, this was a challenging period in my life. It was all the more challenging, methinks, for the poor soul that’s stuck with me for life: Mr. Lance Jones.

After Business of Software ended, I was sure I’d never speak at a conference again.

Sure, I love the high that comes from being on stage and in the 2 or 3 hours that follow a talk. Deep down in there, I actually really like speaking and teaching.

But here’s all the bad stuff that came with conference season for me:

  • I found 10 grey hairs the morning of my BoS talk – ten
  • Because I use a ton of data in my talks – people will look at the screen when there are numbers on it, and that buys you time – I spent the entire summer running split-tests with Jen Havice just to collect data for my talks
  • Thanks to the Summer of Gluing My Eyes to the Monitor, I looked tired enough for about 5 months that everyone – everyone – commented on it
  • I eat almost nothing in the days before and days after a talk
  • If I wake up in the middle of the night, my brain jumps straight to how much I need to do to prepare for the talk

Then there’s the good stuff that comes with it. Everything in the mindmap above. And stuff that’s come out of more recent speaking engagements, including meeting some of the people I’ve been dying to meet, including the entire Unbounce team, Joel from Buffer, Des from Intercom, Chris from Wider Funnel, Peep from Conversion XL and very nearly Chris Savage from Wistia (I was skerred of him).

So what do I do? Let the grey hairs get to me? Cry about puffy eyes? (That’ll only make them puffier.) Give up on doing something that’s clearly good for my business just because it might make me uncomfortable?

The Only Way to Do Something Remarkable
Is to Make Yourself Uncomfortable – Or That’s My Hypothesis

I said on Wednesday, with the launch of Snap, that I was willing to make myself uncomfortable to see Snap succeed.

I think the truth is that, in 2015, I’m going to make myself really, really, shockingly, nauseatingly uncomfortable because there’s no other way to grow.

My fourth and final challenge of the year was almost called “Just Say Yes.” Because saying yes has brought me so much.

But an increasing number of opportunities come your way the more you put yourself out there. (Surprise, surprise.) My friend Jason at Techzing calls this a Luck Surface Area – my luck surface area increases the more I say yes. BUT! But, at the same time, there’s a lot more to say yes to, and I won’t kid myself that I’m some sort of Robo-Girl. I know the idea is that startups pull crazy-long hours, but I already do pull crazy-long hours, and there’s actually no more to give.

So I can’t say yes to everything.

But I can and should say yes to the things that scare me.

I KNOW that’s a cliche.

I don’t care if it’s written on the side of the Lululemon reusable bag.

You should do things that scare you.

I’m going to speak at conferences. And I’m going to put myself out there like I haven’t before. If it’s terrifying, it’s going on my list.

(Ack! That’s so scary! Stop committing to this, Joanna! Why are you saying these things?!!)

This year, I’ll be speaking at Microconf, Bacon Biz, Mozcon, CTA Conf and a few others. You should join me there.

Once Again, Here Are My 4 Challenges for You and Me in 2015

1. Loosen the reins. Stop taking yourself more seriously than anyone else takes you.

2. Build something that solves a problem for people you know. This is the low-hanging fruit in the world of creating solutions – from courses to SaaS. Don’t just solve a problem; solve a problem for your network so you can actually see their problems solved.

3. Stop building things that don’t solve problems for people you know. Unless you really love pissing away a ton of money getting your name out there only to piss away even more money trying to sell a solution without a problem. Even if you feel you’ve invested too much to stop now, stop now!–before you spend more of the energy you’ll need to build a fab problem-solver for your circles.

4. Make yourself really, really, shockingly, nauseatingly uncomfortable. Your business will thank you for it.

You’ve gotta do at least one of them.

Which will it be?


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Hi Joanna! Just stumbled across your blog thanks to the E-Commerce Influence Podcast with Austin & Chad, and your recent chat about the importance of writing good copy and where to source it (not within yourself!)

    Initially, didn’t seem that thrilling of a topic but you made it engaging & funny, with relatable story-telling and completely motivated me to step up my GAME with my commerce fashion label. I thought I was above average as I try to be creative with my copy, but took it a step further and put a note out to my client base to have THEM describe what ‘job’ my jumpsuits do for them.

    Thank you for the valuable insight, and turning something that is typyically boring into an exciting exercise. I will plan to attend one of your upcoming conferences and also take part in your 4 step challenge even though I’m joining a little late.

    Oh and also, I think it shows incredible character how you respond personally to each and every comment left below. Keep being awesome! Stacie

  • I remember watching you before your talk at Copyblogger and thinking, “She seems really nervous. I get it, cause it’s pretty scary talking in front of all these people. But, she’s so crazy talented and personable… she’s going to rock this thing.” And, you did.

    Then, in Vancouver, I said to Lance right before you went on, “Joanna seems a lot more relaxed than she did in Denver.” So, even if you weren’t, you hid it well.

    It’s about finding that balance between pushing the envelope, dealing with the discomfort, putting in too many hours for all that it can bring and not driving yourself into the ground.

    Just remember that life is way too short. So keep challenging yourself but make sure you’re having as much fun as you can along the way. I remind myself of that daily.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Aw, thanks, Jen. It was so crazy at Copyblogger — I was wicked-nervous, standing at the back of the room, knowing I had to walk down that long aisle all the way to the front, with everyone watching. But Darren Rowse from Problogger was standing next to me, and he was seriously such a calming presence. I don’t even remember what he said to me, but it relaxed me quite a bit…

      …and then I had to basically run down that aisle! Ended up out of breath. Nearly passed out from lack of oxygen. Somehow survived. 😉

  • Being uncomfortable definitely gets the blood pumping and the adrenalin flowing (which is fabulous for creativity, risk taking and being brave in general). The adrenalin surge after the nausea is like nothing in the world. Kind of addictive. In my case, there is also no down-side to losing my appetite either. Particularly post Christmas/ New Year.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      You’re totally right: adrenaline is great for a lot of necessary but hard-to-do things. I didn’t even think about it that way. Nice one!

  • Love this challenge, Joanna, and totally accepting it! Thank you!

  • Stefanie Grieser

    Jo, you are amazing. Your CTAConf talk was brilliant and so are you. I have to admit that I hate reading how stressed out you get before going on stage. I definitely don’t want anyone to feel that way. Heck, you don’t want you to feel that way. It’s shitty! And it’s why you said first said no when I as well as a handful of others asked you to speak and teach. And it’s understandable. I am going to brainstorm and research how we can help you with that from a conference organizer prospective. Even if it’s something little. Or even if it’s just getting speakers together to talk about the nausea. I think you can Oli could probably share similar feelings about it. He even wrote a Medium post about it called, ‘It’s Okay To Puke when you’re a public speaker.” Anyways, I am glad you’re putting yourself out there and making yourself uncomfortable. But I really hope that uncomfortable feeling goes away or at least decreases. Let me know if and how I can help! Always in your corner, Jo.


    • Joanna Wiebe

      You’re so awesome! I’m just being whiny. I know that EVERY speaker gets stage fright before they go out there. Honestly, you did such a stellar job on CTA Conf – there’s nothing more you could have done short of shoving valium down my throat. …Hmm…

  • I only recently started following Joanna and Copy Hackers but I’ve really enjoyed this four part series. Thank you for sharing! I am actively working on #2 while simultaneously trying to avoid #3. This is already making me feel #4. I’ve bookmarked the articles for 2 and 3 so I can refer to them again when I think I’ve narrowed down my idea for a productized service. It’s so tempting to come up with greenfield ideas but I know I will do better if I focus on the people I already know I can help. As far as #1 goes, I actually think I need a dose of the opposite medicine – I find it easy to just coast along, I think digging in and getting serious is just what I need right now.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I too find it easy to coast along with some things. This series is all about my business and not about my personal life, but I *know* that I need to be less coast-y with my friends and family. I’ll dig in there; you dig in with getting serious about your biz stuff.

  • Pieter Baecke

    Great challenges Joanna, especially this last one. I get uncomfortable asking people for advice, even calling for appointments makes me nauseous and anxious, even with people I know.

    Have to stop thinking it’s about me. And start to become more uncomfortable so I get more used to.

    Thanks for the eyeopener Joanna, will try do implement this one for sure!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      We watch a lot of Shark Tank, and you hear all these stories of business owners going into, like, Whole Foods and asking to speak to a manager so they can pitch their product… only to get turned down… and then go do it again and again and again. It’s clear: making yourself uncomfortable – whether public speaking or calling for appointments – is the toll we pay to cross the bridge.

  • Matthew Newton

    That conference talk also lead to our podcast interview! (I saw a video of your talk during 2014)

    Maybe not such big cheese compared to the rest but yeh, so what.

    PS. Thanks again for being so great with all that went on in making that episode happen.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Ah! So many great outcomes. I started keeping track of it all in a notepad after Microconf… but then I moved and packed that notepad away – and now it’s somewhere in storage. Our talk was more recent than that, of course, but, yeah, TONS of amazing shizzle has come out of speaking at every single conference I’ve been invited to.

      PS: Did Mel end up agreeing to be on the show?

  • Puranjay

    You’ve been on a roll. The last post was eye-opening. This was mind-changing.

    I know a lot of writers struggle with socializing, public speaking…all that extrovert stuff. I know I did (still do). I’d much hammer out a thousand words in my home office than speak 10 words before an audience of a hundred people.

    So congrats on making that move. I know it couldn’t have been easy, but the fact that you’re posting it here is a source of real inspiration for the likes of me.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Oh my gosh – totally. I barely touched on that in this post – actually, I may have edited it out now that I think about it – but it is doubly difficult (I think) to stand up and talk when you’re someone who feels extremely safe working in quiet isolation. That said, I know that glossophobia is the #1 phobia in America, so I’m sure it’s very difficult for non-writers, too.

      Thanks, Puranjay! Gambatte to you as you think of getting away from the computer and up on the stage. 🙂

  • Cliff Brown

    Hi Joanna! I heard you speak at that MicroConf. I’d never have guessed that was the 1st time you’d done something like that. Your talk was one of my favorites. Hope you’ll continue to speak even after it gets “comfortable” for you.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Cliff! I can only hope and pray that speaking gets comfy for me — although, I’ve heard that it’s the nerves that keep you on your game during a talk, so maybe things would get crummy if I wasn’t totally nervous before a talk.

  • Wow – impressive! I guess I need to start going to more conferences too. I love how you created a mind map to explain the great results! Keep up the great work – I mention you to my clients too 🙂

    Rich Page: Website Optimizer

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Rich! That mindmap was a really great exercise. I’d been thinking about how much I get out of conferences for so long, but actually writing it out kinda made my jaw drop.

  • Jonathan DeVore

    Great advice! I love your 4 challenges and I really want to implement all 4 of them because… well… that would be REALLY uncomfortable.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      hahaha! Amen!

  • Terence Sawtell

    Love it Jo!!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Terence!

  • John Bonini

    So much of this is relatable for me. I spoke at HubSpot’s INBOUND in Boston this past September and remember thinking, “what the hell did you agree to get yourself into?”

    But I also remember repeating to myself “being uncomfortable means you’re growing, John.”

    Now I’ll be at Unbounce’s traveling conversion conference in Boston this June and most likely INBOUND again. : D

    Kudos, Joanna!

    • Aaaand your talk was one of the best we saw at INBOUND 🙂 So yay!

      • John Bonini

        Whaaa?! That means so much, Tia. Especially considering the other great speakers there. Youdabest : )

      • Joanna Wiebe

        Congrats, John! That’s awesome for you. I’ve been asked to speak at Inbound, so perhaps I’ll see you there? We can coach each other to be cool being uncomfortable.

      • John Bonini

        Hah. I’m in!

    • Stefanie Grieser

      John. I remember seeing you in the speaker lineup at Inbound and saying, “I have to hear John speak. I’ve been reading his amazing marketing content for over a year now.” And you did not disappoint. Your presentation lived up to the content you write. I loved how much time and effort you put into your presentation and how it really dug deep and pulled out beyond the basic information. And I can’t wait to have you speaking at our event in June! Hopefully you can come to Vancouver to see Jo speak at CTAConf 2015 as well 🙂

      • John Bonini

        Thanks for the kind words, Stef! It was great connecting with you in Boston. The start of great things to come!

  • Joanna – you did a fantastic job at CTA Conf and truthfully speaking you were the main reason our team even bothered to go (and Peep, of course!).

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks so much! It was really fun. I was talking with the other speakers at CTA Conf, and they all told me how sick they get, too, which made me feel much, much better. I mean, if everyone’s scared, then it’s not quite as scary — safety in numbers or something.

  • Chuckling… can you get what I mean when I say that I’m currently enjoying and yet terrified in the midst of a opportunity that has me shockingly, nauseatingly uncomfortable? 😉

    Love the post, though. It’s sadly so freaking true. The only way to grow in the areas I want to and get more comfortable with said skills is to consistently do them. It’s a bit like praying for patience. The only way to become more patient is to actually work to develop it. Who in the hell thought of that one?!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Never pray for patience! Never ever ever.

      As for your underlying point about what you’re afraid of: message received. 🙂 Glad you’re pushing yourself!

  • Hmm…between “just ship” and “speak at conferences,” I don’t know which is scarier. But since you don’t actually scale away from the time-for-money model until you create a product, think I’ll take challenge #2. My biz (and my schedule) needs it.

    Congrats on the early wins for Snap! Excited to see where you go with it. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks, Jeni. And good on you for choosing #2. There are elements of all 4 challenges in #2 – and, for me, it’s the one I’m most excited about. But I won’t realize #2 if I don’t do 1, 3 and 4. So perhaps they’re all one big challenge. …Which messes everything up. …Or makes it all very simple. Hard to tell. 🙂

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