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My terror of phone calls: A story

"Find 100 people and talk to them." is the advice I give the most, especially when searching for a job, changing careers, and starting a business. A common objection, shown in both words and inaction, is fear and lack of confidence in talking to people.

People assume I've always been confident when reaching out to and talking to people. Not true. To explain, I have to take you back to 2013.


It was 2013, in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Manila, Philippines. My fingers were so cold that I could barely type. Yes, because the aircon was on super high. But also because I was terrified.

His name is Sebastian Marshall. He is my hero. Almost every night, from 12am to 3am, I would be laying in bed either reading his blog posts on my phone or his book on my Kindle. He was everything I aspired to be — a writer, an entrepreneur, an American who was living the location-independent life.

I imagined how much I could learn from him, if only I had an opportunity to work with him. It would change everything.

One night, hitting send with eyes shut and nothing but “this won’t work anyway”-ness, I finally emailed him. Essentially, I said that I would like to work with him for free. Maybe someday, when I am no longer a useless piece of shit.

He replied. “Let’s get on a call and discuss the possibilities.”

It’s now 14:15, fifteen minutes until our call.

I sure don’t feel ready to be talking to my hero. Like with all calls I’ve had thus far, I spent the previous 8 hours agonizing over it and giving myself pep talks.

My amygdala screams at me to flee. Your spoken English is bad! You eat your words! You have an accent! What are you going to talk about! What were you thinking!!! Maybe I should reschedule? Or just cancel it? This likely won’t be useful anyway…

Too late. Without asking for my input or if I’m ready, the clock showed 14:30.

Almost involuntarily, I join the call.

It was… Fun. Useful. Productive. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. It didn’t feel like I was being judged nor rejected. No hint that I was wasting anyone’s time. In other words, nothing at all like the threats my amygdala was screaming at me about.

That call I almost didn’t join? First, it became an online collaboration. Then it became a cross-country speaking tour in the US. Today, it’s an eight-year friendship, one of the friendships I consider most valuable.

I’ve had many calls like that since. Calls that have turned into jobs that have brought me everything I dreamed of — location independence, financial security, the life-changing opportunity to live and work abroad.

They are the same, every one one of them. I accept impetuously, join reluctantly, then later recall with so much gratitude and relief.

Whatever was I so afraid of?

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