Write on indeed. Yes, I am holding a pen.
It is the other week now and a rainy morning and I am on the eleventh floor of a building that is eleven floors high. I am holding a flat white and I am feeling grumpy because I have been made to go on an all day assertiveness training course. This is because when I am on the desk and people ask for things that they are not allowed to do, I say, No, and if they ask again I say, Oh go on then, because it easier than arguing with them.
The view out of the window is quite good and in the distance I can see the building where I used to work and I think about how I miss it but also how I am glad I don’t work there any more because it was a Nightmare. There are already six other people in the room but no one is talking and it is eerily quiet. At the front a woman who looks like she should be the Sexy One on The Apprentice is writing things in felt pen on a flipchart.
In order to get to a seat I have to scooch behind people and as I do this I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry, and I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry and I think, Ugh, a whole day with people like me. This will be unbearable.
Like me, everyone has brought their own pens and notebooks. In the quiet we all smile sheepishly at one another, and slowly more people start to enter the room, apologising as they scooch, and sit in silence.
Eventually the quiet becomes too much for me and I say, Isn’t this weather awful? And this makes everyone giggle in relief because someone has finally spoken and a woman (we are almost all women in here) starts to reply when The Apprentice lady says, Right! And we know it is about to begin.
At this point I get a few butterflies because I have been on other training courses and this is when the trainer asks us all to introduce ourselves. This is my opportunity to say, Hello, I am Amy and I work part-time here and outside of work I am a writer and my book is coming out in January. People are impressed at this point and so they will ask me what it’s called or how I ‘got in to that’ and I will tell them, It’s called Red River and I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. This is great because it means that I am the Centre of Attention and that’s the best part of the day.
But instead, this lady asks us to write down our first impressions of the person opposite us.
Well, this is terrible. I may not get to mention my book AT ALL today!
I glare at the nice man opposite me and I write down:
Brought own pen
Then I wait while everyone else finishes their own lists. There is some confusion as to who is opposite whom because of the way the desks are laid out and so it is some time before everyone has put their pens down.
The Apprentice woman introduces herself as Sunita. She tells us she is a Business Psychologist and I think that is pretty much perfect. As she talks she paces back and forth and I am distracted by how well her hair stays where it is supposed to. She says, Now when we got in here you were all very quiet and I was waiting to see who would speak first and I believe it was you, (here she points at me and I feel like the person being chosen to assist a magician at a children’s birthday party), who said something about the weather? Well, she continues, I stopped you there and had you all do this exercise because I didn’t want you to get too comfortable with each other.
What is this Derren Brown nonsense? I think to myself. I will be on edge for the whole of the day now, wondering what is a test and what isn’t.
Sunita tells us about the day ahead and promises us that if we only take half an hour for lunch instead of one hour then we can leave half an hour earlier. I cling to this as I write my name in colourful felt tip pen on a white label and stick it to my chest.
Then she asks who would like to be the first to read out their first impressions of the person opposite. Predictably, not one of us raises our hands and I think again of what a long day this will be. Eventually, Sunita resorts to picking people and when they read out their first impressions I realise that I have done it wrong. They are saying things like, Her body language suggests that she’s an introvert but I can tell from her eyes that she’s kind.
I cross out ‘Smartly dressed’ and ‘Brought own pen’ and write, Looks approachable but not as though he would readily approach people. Seems well organised (has his own pen). Why am I so obsessed with him having a pen? I wonder. I have sweat on my brow. I decide it would be better to get this over with and so I raise my hand to speak next. I find myself babbling a little because I feel like I haven’t said enough and need to fill the silence. People laugh when I say things that are supposed to be funny and so I only act up more and then I am overexcited and find it hard to listen to other people when they speak.
It comes to the person opposite me, Asif, who says, When I first saw Amy I put down that she seemed friendly and shy but now that she’s spoken-
He thinks I’m horrible! I say and everyone laughs.
No, he says, Now I don’t think you’re shy.
I am a terrible show off, I think to myself, but it is too late because now I am everybody’s favourite and I cannot let them down.
The morning continues with various exercises. We are asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 0 – 10, 0 being passive and 10 being aggressive. Most of us have written ‘3’. We are asked what we believe ‘being confident’ is and everyone has a very hard time describing it including me. The best I can come up with is, Not being nervous and sweaty all the time.
At break I look at my phone and out of the window and I think about what freedom feels like and I feel strung out as the adrenaline from being Centre of Attention wears off.
Now, Sunita says, We are going to do some role playing. Everyone in the room goes red and tries to turn invisible. She continues, I know you’re all introverts and this will be like drawing blood from a stone but these exercises are fantastic for building your confidence.
I wonder if I would die instantly if I jumped from the eleventh floor or if it would be slow and painful.
Sunita tells us all what an Elevator Pitch is and then says we will be Speed Networking
Picture of an elevator with words ‘elevator pitch’.
for five minutes at a time. Then she becomes distracted and asks us all if we’ve ever seen the Amy Cuddy TED Talk. No, we say. Or rather we all shake our heads and silently mouth the word No because none of us want to commit to anything unless we know the whole group is saying the same thing. Stand up, Sunita says. She explains the concept, about body language and influencing the way we feel by using poses. How does Wonder Woman stand? She asks so I cross my arms like it’s the X-Factor until I realise everyone else is standing with their hands on their hips and apparently that is the right answer so I quickly change my position.
She makes us hold this for a long time until we feel sufficiently powerful enough to start our role playing exercises. I am still DREADING this and have noted the windows do not open just in case people throw themselves out. Touche, architect.
What I’m going to ask you to do, she says, Is talk to the person opposite you for three minutes about what your greatest strength is and give us examples of how you’ve used this strength, how you’ve succeeded with it.
I perk up. Until now, there hasn’t been an organic way to mention my book and how great it is but now…yes. Yes this might work very well for me.
When the time starts I say, Hello, I’m Amy and my greatest strength is my creativity. In 2016 I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition…
My monologue continues for three blissful uninterrupted minutes. The person opposite me makes impressed noises and their face does all the things I want it to. At the end they are allowed to give me feedback on my pitch and they say they want to know more and they can’t believe how great it all is.
I have perfectly masked my extreme narcissism with enough modesty that they tell me I should be MORE PROUD of my achievements and not diminish them. Ha-ha, I think, but I am proud! In fact I think I am SO great and even more great because you fell for the fact I don’t think I’m totally great!
The best part of this is that after our time is up and I have listened to their pitch (we will skip that bit here as it’s not as fun for me to recall) I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN. I get to do it about 5 times but at the end of the exercise there are still 9 people in the room who do not know about me and Red River and this bothers me until Sunita says, Now did you all hear what Amy said? And asks me to repeat it for the whole class. I pretend like this is slightly embarrassing but that I am rising to the challenge in spite of my great humility. People gasp and say how wonderful it is. I say, It is a dream come true.
Evolution in three simple images. Man expressing my thoughts exactly.