I stood awkwardly in the small room backstage, clutching a handful of coffee creamers in one hand and a pitcher of hot coffee in the other. A jittery ball of anxiety, I cursed myself for gulping down two cups of coffee in the last hour as my heart thudded rapidly against my chest.
“You’re on your own,” says the guy who was nice enough to help me sneak backstage by letting me pretend to be a conference volunteer serving coffee to the speakers. He gives me a nod of encouragement and leaves.
I feel my heart beating even more furiously as I try to look casual while event organizers in their bright orange shirts emblazoned Hustle Con move in and out of the two rooms and small hallway in the backstage of the old theater. I stand conspicuously in the hallway, looking very clearly not like a speaker nor a volunteer in my black heeled boots, my silk blouse and jeans, wrist adorned with an orange wristband.
I duck into the bathroom, passing by Amanda Bradford, one of the speakers, with whom I exchange polite smiles trying to look as if I belonged backstage.
At this point, the old me would have stalled indefinitely, waiting for the perfect icebreaker before I made a move, coming up with excuses why I shouldn’t bother him when he’s preparing, why I’d better just turn around and leave so no one would kick me out for having snuck backstage.
But emboldened by my stealthy jaunt backstage, I decided to act. I’d come this far. It was too late to back out now. I’ll do what I always do, I found myself thinking. I’ll just lead with complete sincerity. It’s worked before, it’ll work today.
“Hi. Andy?” I ask, as I step into the speaker’s waiting room where he and one Hustle Con volunteer waited quietly.
“Hi!” He looks up.
“Hi Dulma. How are you?” he says warmly. No look of confusion, no suspicion. Just a welcoming demeanor. I relax.
“I just want to say hi, it’s really nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” he smiles.
I pause. I take a deep breath, softening my shoulders. I look him in the eye.
“So… I told my friends that my one goal for this conference is to meet you.”
At this he looks surprised, his expression a mixture of amusement and interest. “No way.”
“Yes,” I smile, surprised at my own boldness. “And I was trying to think of what to say to you, but now that I’m here I’m not sure what to say. But I’d kick myself if I didn’t at least say hi.”
There are many qualities I respect, but I find that they’re rarely found in one person. So on the rare occasion that one person seems to exhibit these traits, I’m often inspired.
Andy Dunn, insofar as his writings reflected him accurately, seemed to fit the bill for the kind of entrepreneur I admire.
His insights were poignant, inspiring. His perspective was often infused with self-awareness and humility. His writings exhibited humor and warmth, and some of his interests, like international development and travel, revealed a certain conscientiousness I respected.
And yet the soulfulness was blended with success. His journey as founder and the pedigrees of his career suggested both immense drive and the capability to act upon it.
Add to that a first-generation immigrant origin story and a love of creating great brands through innovation and craftsmanship, and you had someone who was leaps ahead of me on the path I aspired to. I was intrigued.
And so I resolved to meet Andy Dunn on that Friday by the end of the conference. Sometime between morning coffee and danishes at 9AM when the doors opened until the end of the after-party (if he didn’t leave sooner), I’d have to find him, meet him, and get his contact information.
There are a few keys to the art of making shit happen.
From getting into Brown and Google to the many serendipitous opportunities I’ve had since I left Google, I’ve learned a few things about this art, also known as the hustle.
First, I have to know what I want. Most people go to conferences with hazy goals of “learning” and “networking.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I get more these days from challenging myself with specific goals (if you haven’t noticed).
I didn’t want this conference to pass me by as a blur of exchanging cards and attending talks, fueled by coffee and free booze. I wanted to make it purposeful (and fueled by coffee and booze).
I happen to love great brands, innovative business models, and people who do things with great love, driven by values. So meeting the founder of Bonobos, an exemplary Silicon Valley brand, seemed compelling.
Second, I’ve learned to broadcast my desires to the world, boldly and with passion (and so relentlessly that my friends cave and decide to help me). It helps that I’m surrounded by people of ingenuity, generosity and hustle. If I hadn’t gone around the better half of Hustle Con announcing to friends and strangers alike that my goal was to meet Andy Dunn, my architected stroke of serendipity would likely not have been possible.
Third, I’ve learned to act before I’m ready. There were three separate moments in that brief backstage adventure when I wanted to back out: when a friend suggested I sneak backstage, when I actually got there, and when I said hi to Andy Dunn.
Clearly, my comfort zone is a small, small space.
The things I do aren’t out of fearlessness, but more usually a stubborn determination to act in spite of shaking Jello legs and clammy hands. And so much good has come to me because I decided to put one Jello foot in front of the other, doggedly forging onward in pursuit of a more beautiful vision.
Sure, this may seem like a smaller example in a situation where some may not even feel any hesitation. But for me, it was definitely an act of courage-building.
I like to say that ever since I’ve started blogging more, I’ve become slightly braver. I want to do scary things to feel free, and I want to share those stories of incrementally expanding freedom with my friends so I can show them how easy it can become.
My life would be far less colorful if I let the edges of my comfort zone dictate my path. Instead, I’ve learned to love the thrill of pushing these boundaries wide open against the urgings of my smaller self, staying true instead to my silly, daring, joyful dreams.