Trapped in a mosque; how NOT to start a career.
Every day, I ask people in our business and our clients (solopreneurs and OMB innovators of accountancy businesses) to move out of their comfort zone, break the status quo and try something new, to do a Diagnostax.
Well, for all those people who I’ve asked to move out of their comfort zone and break through the fear of failure/fear of embarrassment barrier, here is my own very personal, certainly comical, and very, very, embarrassing work story:
One of the biggest lessons in my career came early on.
I’d just joined the business.
It was a business development role, and I was told that I’d be shadowing the managing director, out on the road.
Now, this was a guy who was incredibly charismatic. Someone who I looked up to, not only for his sales skills but for the way he was able to make people feel; the relationships that he was able to build.
I wanted to learn as much as I could from him.
If I’m honest, I was nervous around him.
Perhaps it was because I was so eager to impress.
One of our first outings together was a 4-week trip to London. It was an eye-opener for me, being driven around by his chauffeur, and we had a lot of time to talk. He’d offer me advice, tell me stories of his past or give me feedback on previous meetings we’d done together.
One of the topics we broached one day, while driving around the busy streets of the capital, was religion. My managing director was a Muslim, and we discussed various faiths and beliefs at length. As the conversation drew to a close, he turned to me.
“Have you ever seen the inside of a mosque?”
“No,” I said.
He told me that, given that we were in London, there was no better place in the World for my first experience of a Muslim place of worship.
“I’d love to see it,” I said.
We pulled up next to this huge building. Even on the outside, the architecture was impressive. I have to admit, as we ventured inside, I became increasingly uncomfortable. It was a brand new experience, and I was scared of embarrassing myself in front of this guy I looked up to.
Here comes the first problem in this story. When you’re nervous, your mind goes into overdrive. It’s difficult to take anything else in when all you can concentrate on is the army of kamikaze butterflies colliding with the inside of your stomach.
Let’s say, specific instructions went in one ear and out the other.
So, I follow my boss’ lead and take my shoes off as we enter, making our way through to the main part of the mosque. It’s a stunning place, with incredibly high ceilings, curved arches and long pillars.
The prayer area is quite full at this point.
He turned to me and said something like, “I’m going to the front to pray. Just relax, and I’ll meet you once it’s over.”
That’s not word for word but, as I said, I was nervous, and I can’t for the life of me remember what else he said to me. I stood around awkwardly for a moment, then moved towards the back.
Now, we’ve already established that my nerves were causing me to over think this situation.
There was no doubt I looked out of place and, when you look out of place in any position, other people are bound to notice that you look out of place too. I was getting a few funny looks, which was doing nothing for this ridiculous scenario I’d created in my head.
So, everyone’s talking and greeting friends and family, and the atmosphere is nice and relaxed. I’m still uncomfortable, but I’m starting to settle gradually.
Then a gong sounds. People begin moving forward and the doors close at the back.
My heartbeat starts smashing against the wall of my chest and my brain is screaming, “ABORT!”
What I did next still makes no sense to me. I’ll probably never know why I made the choice I did.
The one thing that I had in my mind going into the mosque was that, above all else, I had to be incredibly respectful. My biggest fear (which was heightened by the fact that I was now on my own) was doing anything that could be in any way considered discourteous.
It’s also important to note that I’ve always been the sort of bloke to get involved. To try and immerse myself in any experience or opportunity.
My nervous, awkward, respectful little mind decided it would be a good idea to move forwards with everyone else. I didn’t want to look rude.
So, there I am, in line, with absolutely no idea what’s about to happen next. At this point, I’ve still got a chance to escape the ridiculous situation I’d plonked myself in. There was no one behind me. I glanced behind a couple of times, contemplating moving to the back of the room again, or even out of the mosque.
The doors open, and another crowd pile in, forming lines behind me. I’m boxed in.
If you thought I was nervous at the back of the prayer lines, just imagine how nervous I felt when I suddenly found myself in the middle.
Now try to imagine how bad those nerves became when I felt when the crowd standing around me suddenly changed levels, and begin praying on their knees.
The room literally dropped.
I’m standing there, in a suit, in this incredible mosque, in the middle of a crowd of people praying. I was having worse heart palpitations than KFC’s logistics manager during #ChickenGate.
I’m looking around frantically and, in that split second, I had to make a choice.
Either I go down the potentially disrespectful route of climbing over people, or I go to my knees and join in.
In my eyes, there was only one choice.
Yup. I joined in.
The thing is, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had to continuously glance from side to side, like that one person who doesn’t know the moves to the Macarena. What the two people next to me thought of this weird, jittery youngster in a suit is beyond me.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take me that long to get the hang of it. The nerves died, my heart slowed, and I began to experience a little of what Muslims practice on a daily basis.
When prayer time was finished, I was greeted by smiles and nods, many acknowledging the fact that I’d gotten involved, but also confused as to why.
My boss approached, a bewildered look on his face. When I told him all about my experience, he was in hysterics.
If you ever find yourself in a situation that is awkward, embarrassing or just plain strange, think of me. And even if things seem hard right now, you can always grow from the lessons you learn.
But, on the off chance, you would like to read about some other businesses and business owners that have overcome some hurdles we have that covered too, check out 8 companies who turned their failures into success.