In 2014, I lived for 6 months in Shanghai and while at the beginning, I liked it, I ended up really wanting to leave this city. It just didn’t fit my personality so I wanted to leave it as quickly as possible.
Yet, after going back to France, I had a dream in which I was back in Shanghai and extremely happy to be there again. I woke up certain that I was back and it took me a minute or two before I realized I was in France and not there. The moment it finally hit me, I got sad to be in France.
It then took me the whole day to comprehend entirely the awkwardness of it. I had complained about Shanghai numerous times and at the end of my stay there, I kept on saying how much I was looking forward to go back.
So why did I dream about being back? Why would I be happy to be back to a place I wanted to leave? Why was I disappointed when I realized I was in France?
Well I believe the reason is because of how much my experience there had changed me without realizing it.
So I dug deeper. In which way did I change? What happened over there that had a strong impact on me?
I was in Shanghai for an internship as a Business Developer. It meant that I had to go look for new customers and then, attract them in buying the software we were selling. I had never had any sales experience. Having a customer-oriented mindset, I was good at keeping a customer happy and making them even more satisfied than they already had imagined originally. Yet, the action of creating the need for our software was incredibly difficult for me. I tried selling the “carpet-salesman way”. This means pushing the other to buy our software by listing all we could do and how great it was compared to the competition.
Obviously, this didn’t work well. So my manager taught me through a bunch of metaphors how selling was supposed to be done. I needed to act like a doctor. Analyze the prospect’s troubles and hopes in order to then demonstrate how we could solve all of those.
Furthermore, if he/she wouldn’t give me any information and would reply with a question, I needed to return the question back to them in an open way. Playing like a tennis match, I needed to return the ball until I got the information I was looking for. This way only I could position myself as the doctor and fix the prospect’s problems.
Yet, many people over the phone are silent when asked questions about how they do their jobs. This meant that I had to learn how to be comfortable with silence. Asking a question and not getting an answer would originally push me to ask a more precise question and then another, and then yet another. Ending up with just part of the information I hoped for.
I remember my best cold call.
The person on the other side was not very open to my questions and wasn’t giving me much to go on with. So I went back to my first question: “How do you handle your R&D data?”. It is an extremely wide question to which it is difficult to answer with a simple sentence. So, as expected, I got a silence as a reply. But I waited. I counted as the silence grew longer. The uneasiness grew stronger as well. But after 30 seconds of silence over the phone, he began talking. Explaining me in details how they had been doing, what troubles had occurred, what had been tried to fix those, what his team was hoping to be able to do in order to save time, etc. He talked for 20 minutes straight. I had the information I needed and it fitted what we could do. So I replied and explained how we had the solution. I got the meeting and we were able to sell them our software. It was one of my biggest contracts. I hung up the phone and inhaled deeply. I had done it. The pride that was going through me was overwhelming.
In the weeks that followed, I started applying this in my daily life, trying to be more comfortable with silence, asking more open questions to my friends. My friendships grew stronger as I was listening more to my friends.
Outside of work, I also became more understanding of massive culture differences. At that point, I had lived in France, Spain, Korea and Japan. All those countries, in some respect, were polite and “clean”. Being surrounded with people spitting on the ground, screaming easily and so on was complicated at first and I hated it until the end. But after coming back to France, I missed it.
The image we try to give to others is almost always a facade. In China, apart from some areas, people were honest with who they were. Not caring much about the others. This has its downsides too obviously but it is important to remember that we are not who we show others. We are who we are. If you hide yourself to the rest of the world, you won’t be able to really evolve the way you could.
Finally, while in Shanghai, I tried things. I went to a public speaking group a few times, started to learn Salsa, went to clubs despite me not liking it originally, went to some meetups outside of my comfort zone and even fell for a tea scam which turned out okay due to luck. (This may be another story to tell.) I was open-minded and saw opportunities all around me. Opportunities that could help me become a better person, a better salesman, a better friend.
I trust that this is why I dreamed about being back in Shanghai. In just 6 months, so many things happened. My whole personality had been challenged and going home had stolen this habit I had gotten of going outside of my comfort zone and discovering so many things.
Since then, I lost many personality traits I gained there. But I can feel most of them rest calmly within me, waiting for their time to spur out once more and make me an even better human being.
While not having a real impact at the moment, being aware of what I gained allows me to notice the opportunities I can get and know who I am as a person.
Try to think back to a strong experience, whether positive or negative, and note to yourself what made it the way it was. How it felt. How you handled it. How you changed. And then…
Remember who you are to become better than who you were yesterday.