Estimated reading time: 17 minutes and 41 seconds.
I want to be very honest with you and I have to admit that there was a lot of frustration and a huge amount of work behind the whole story below. Originally I had another title in mind:
A story on how I prepared for a challenge that I wasn’t ready for.
I said ‘yes’ to something that I didn’t think I was ready for and my goal with this post is to give you an extensive overview of how I tackled a truly DIFFICULT task, how I got through all of the unexpected setbacks and the mixed feelings I had while doing so.
Although it wasn’t easy, I’d definitely do it again any time because I learned an incredible amount along the way.
Before I start, you must know that this post is NOT:
- a travelogue of my trip to New York
- a philosophical piece of advice
- a promotional post about the course I bought (which was really good but that’s not the point now)
It is much more of:
- a “naked” report on how a productivity blogger behaves in a situation when he really has to be productive
- a very rich (5000+ words) “how to stay calm when in panic” guide
- a post full of feelings, experiences and facts that can be used in practice
To make the post as easy-to-follow as possible, I broke it down into chapters. You can find the links below so if you would read the post in shorter sections, you can easily read on from where you’d left off.
1. You make your own opportunities
When I launched my Hungarian blog “Csináld Meg!” (which means: “Do It!”) I had no idea where it would lead. I just wanted to create an online space to be able to share what I learned and I considered it a private playground where I could write whenever and whatever I felt like. I didn’t have a strategy or a plan, just wanted to wait and see what it may or may not end up being.
I learned a lot by writing lots of emails and creating posts with 3000+ words. But the one thing that helped me the most was an online video course called Zero to Launch (ZTL) by Ramit Sethi which is about building an online business.
It was one of best courses I’ve ever taken.
In the beginning, I had no idea what this course would bring into my life. I was afraid that for all the money it cost me, it might not get me any further.
I had lots of mental barriers in my mind:
“Yeah, it works in the USA but things are different around here…”
“You can’t build an online business on a blog here in Hungary…”
“I don’t even have an idea that others may find REALLY useful…”
It wasn’t clear whether I should sign up for the course until I saw the video of a guy from Slovenia. He was young and lived in this part of the world – just like me. His name was Primoz Bozic and after watching his video interview multiple times, I said to myself:
“If he can make it, I can do it, too!”
I took action and joined the course.
First I needed an idea to proceed. It took me a few months to come up with something which was interesting to people who were not my close friends.
Month by month, I learned about doing research, writing effective blog posts and emails. I put a lot of energy in moving forward and after a few trials and errors, I started to get some results.
I was on the right track and I thought I made a good decision by joining Zero to Launch. Looking back, it was risky to spend so much money on it but it would have been even riskier if I had chosen to stay stuck in my life.
I strongly believe that opportunities tend to come our way when we need them the most. All we have to do is to notice them and take action. We don’t need to see all the steps in advance because it’s enough to focus on our current stage.
My Hungarian blog showed slow but steady progress and I simply shared my achievements with the people in the closed Facebook group of the online course. I was satisfied with what I’d accomplished even though I wasn’t sure what would come out of my English comments…
2. Always share what you’ve achieved
I wrote a short English post about my results with the Hungarian blog – that was all. I didn’t push it, I didn’t want to prove anything, I was simply happy to share what I achieved.
I tried many things with the blog – some worked out well, some had no effect whatsoever and I accepted that. I was in the middle of a long learning curve and I couldn’t expect every single action to bring instant results. By making myself aware of this, I could go on blogging and trying new things without expectations.
Then one day I got an interesting email…
I was VERY excited just by looking at the subject line. It asked if I would be interested in becoming a case study for the online course.
I was shockingly surprised.
“If I were chosen for this project, they would fly me to their New York studio to interview me” – the email said. It was just a possibility then and as a first step I was asked to fill in the attached questionnaire to apply. It was much like a job application.
I wanted to keep it as simple as possible: I honestly wrote down everything I thought might be interesting for them. I didn’t ask an English proof reader to correct it and didn’t show the text to anyone but my girlfriend. I wanted to be myself with all my mistakes, because if they liked me, I’d rather they invited the real me – instead of a perfectly tailored “resume”.
My strategy was to include as many concrete facts as possible. These are the achievements I sent:
- 2449 subscribers. My readers are highly committed, my posts are usually shared on Facebook and new subscribers come every day. Proof
- 500+ subscribers with just one post. I interviewed one of Hungary’s most renowned marketing experts and the post got 1000 likes on Facebook. Proof
- Presentation at one of Hungary’s biggest online marketing conferences (1500-1600 participants). I presented a case study. Proof
- A 3-page interview in a printed magazine. They found my blog and writing style interesting so they Interviewed me. Proof
- 180 new subscribers within 24 hours with less than 2 hours of work.
- 50+ participants at my first meetup. I held my first meetup, which ended with a full house event even though I only published it in my blog’s closed Facebook group. I enjoyed it very much and also got a lot of positive feedback. Proof
- 56 YES votes to my online video course idea. 56 people replied that they would be interested in buying my own online video course.
After submitting my application, I felt very happy.
I was satisfied with what I had achieved and it was a great feeling to have an overview of what I had done. I had been often frustrated during that year. There were periods of insecurity, times when I wasn’t sure if what I was writing was good enough. For a long time it wasn’t even clear who my audience was…
But somehow, I fought all the challenges and I always managed to find a GOOD ENOUGH solution.
After I sent my application there was no response for about two weeks.
I was busy with other projects so I wasn’t worried about it. Then I wrote an email to the project manager and she replied after 2 days that they would like to know more about me. The next step was setting up a Skype interview with the video producer.
Once again, I didn’t know what to expect. I watched a few interviews and other people’s success stories but my strategy was honesty – just as before.
When they called me on Skype, I tried to stay calm because I knew this was the only way I could remain myself. I found it interesting that the conversation was not about me or my achievements – the producer told me about the process of the interview.
“Is this really going to happen to me?” – I thought while we were talking and I could hardly believe that they had already chosen me to travel to New York. When the 20-minute conversation was over I realized:
Wow, I’m going to New York!
Oops, I’m going to New York.
In 2 weeks I would have to be in one of the biggest cities in the world (previously I had only travelled in Europe) prepared for an on-camera interview (I had never made a public speech, a presentation or given an interview in English before). And then there were the unexpected challenges to flight, too…
3. Build a team around you
The preparation period proved how productive I really was. I had two weeks to prepare for the very first English interview of my life, while:
- I found it hard to express my thoughts since I speak English only one or two times a month
- this is the busiest period of the year for my company and we were running multiple campaigns and projects
- I had no idea how overseas travel worked or what I needed to be able to enter the US, etc.
So I built a system that supported my plan to spend the most time with the preparation for my trip to New York. The system included 3 things:
A) I eliminated all of the distractions
At first, I knew that I needed to minimalize the number of random daily tasks to maintain a calm atmosphere.
We work as a small team and I believe we can handle the work of 10 people because we use lots of outsourcing and automation in our business. Even doing so, I wanted to keep the number of emails at the minimum, since without them it’s easier to keep my focus.
I set up an auto responder message to my email account with this text:
Thanks for your email.
I’d like to let you know that until 6 December I am working on a very important project that requires my full focus. Until then I will rarely check my mailbox and will only answer in special cases.
Of course, when the project is over I will read the messages. I may even surprise you with a quick reply before that (an interesting subject line makes it more likely).
Thanks for your understanding and supporting me to get to the next level.
Have a great day!
PS: In case of emergency, please write a short text or call me at [my cell number]
That was it.
With only a few minutes of work I protected myself from a lot of frustration because until I returned from New York I wouldn’t have to worry about others waiting for my response. I only kept in touch with a few of our VIP clients and I had another email address for that purpose. This way I needed only a few minutes a day to deal with my emails.
B) I built a team to support me
The second step was something that had been very difficult for me in the past and I had to learn it: ask for help.
I used to think:
“I can do it on my own…”
And I had managed to get through challenges on my own but I realized that I could make faster progress if I honestly shared my frustrations with the people around me. I really love helping others but now it was me who needed others’ support.
My brother and our assistant ran the company stuff. I told them honestly how important this trip to New York was for me. Of course, they understood me and helped as much as they could – it’s no accident that we had been a highly efficient team for years.
I coordinated all travel related issues with Ramit Sethi’s team. They have an amazingly professional assistant so my only job was to confirm the reservations. They paid for my flights and for two nights at a Hilton hotel (a three-minute walk from Central Park and Times Square) and my taxi from the airport. When I mentioned that I would like to stay a couple of days longer to be able to look around in the city, they extended the reservation without any questions (I paid for the extra nights). It was a great experience to be part of such a professional organization, where everything was running smoothly and efficiently.
My only task was to gather the documents necessary for travelling to the US. I had no idea what document I actually needed so I turned to two of my friends who had been to the US multiple times. I talked to both of them and after a two-hour conversation on Skype, I learned what I had to do before and during travelling and when I landed in New York. I could have spent hours online to find out whether I needed a visa, how to get into the city from the airport and how to get around in New York, but I chose to rely on other people’s experience and this saved many hours that I could now spend on the preparation. (I made a few mistakes before actually travelling, and I’m going to reveal them at the end of the post.)
The next essential member of my “New York team” was an English teacher or coach. I quickly set up a filter to be able to find the right person as quickly as possible. I wanted to work with someone who
- is a US native speaker and who does not speak Hungarian at all (this way I had to make more effort)
- perfectly flexible and available at any time of the day
- experienced in the ways of business and the online world
I reconnected with a few older contacts. My strategy was to check out as many teachers in as little time as possible and keep only the best ones. I was pretty strict: if I felt that any one of them was unable to fully support me to reach my goal, I said, ‘thank you,’ after the first lesson and told him or her that we weren’t the right fit. This way the selection process was very quick, I didn’t waste any time with teachers who might not work out.
NO. I didn’t have to work with those who couldn’t help me. The teacher or coach was supposed to make my life easier. During the testing period I came to the conclusion that most teachers only “teach” because they can’t find anything better to do with their time. I knew that the best ones were out there somewhere and I wanted to work only with them.
I would have been OK working with two or three teachers simultaneously but I found the one who stood out from the rest. I chose a highly inspiring communications coach who had come to Europe from New York a few years back and had worked for major television companies. (If you want to get connected to her, just drop me a line.)
Now with my support team in place, I could start the preparation.
C) I was preparing – EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Let’s stop here for a second and look at what happened from my productivity’s point of view:
- Instead of overthinking I took action. I knew very well that the sooner I managed to create an ideal environment, the sooner I could start the actual preparation process.
- I talked to the people around me honestly and I trusted them. I told the people close to me that I needed their support. I simply and honestly asked for help.
- I mercilessly filtered and set up exact rules. For the best possible results, I needed the best communications coach available. I quickly made a list of what I needed and I didn’t work with the ones who didn’t meet my expectations. I believe that if we want to make progress in any area of our lives, we really do need to put our energy into whatever we do.
And this was exactly what I did. Some days more, other days less. I only focused on things that would get me one step ahead. I had lessons with the coach every second or third day, we worked on my speech together. I re-watched nearly all the interviews with successful alumni of the online course and made a list of my questions.
This is (the translation of) a page from my personal Habit Journal that shows what happened between the Skype call with the video producer and the actual interview:
Maybe the preparation time doesn’t seem too much, but I spent every single minute in full focus. You don’t necessarily have to put 1000 hours into something to be good – I always say scheduling your time is overrated. It is enough to work on the important parts and put the focus on the things that bring the best results.
I made small steps. I started to feel ready for the interview.
4. Beating yourself up isn’t productive
Three days before the interview, I was in New York so I had a little time to get inspired. I spent a few hours to prepare and practice on the 23rd floor of the hotel every day. I imagined what it would be like to stand in front of the camera, how I would feel and what the final video would look like. I was feeling great!
It was quite cool to prepare in this environment
One day before the interview I checked where I would have to go and which door I should look for. I spent some extra time doing it because I wanted to feel more at home in the situation. Also, the assistant had warned me to arrive RIGHT ON TIME, which also meant that I wasn’t supposed to arrive earlier either.
Right from my arrival everything was precisely guided. When I arrived, I was a little nervous and I could hardly wait to get started. I started at the make-up room where they put a lot of things on my face. It was strange but I let them control everything because I trusted them.
Everything was running with great precision, which actually calmed my system-loving mind. The calmness, however, lasted right until I entered the video room.
Half of the room was a neatly furnished living room with a sofa and an armchair and on the other half there stood an entire crew (7-8 people). I was happy to talk to the interviewer in such a cozy place because I thought during the conversation I might be able to relax a bit. But then they briefly told me how the shooting would go…
The concept was totally different than what I expected.
I thought that both interviewer and myself would be on camera at the same time and that the conversation would follow a question and answer pattern. Until then all the interviews in the online course that I had seen had been like that and it never occurred to me that this one would be different.
In the new setup:
- I sat on a chair in the middle of the room. I couldn’t see anything from the nice and warm living-room style background.
- The questions were asked from someone sitting behind the cameras, but all I saw were micophones and cameras in front of me.
- I had to speak (mostly) about my feelings.
I don’t want to paint a nicer picture about it: I was totally stunned.
These last-minute changes cleared out all of the well-prepared phrases and gestures from my head in a second. I told myself: “Everything’s gonna be fine, I’ll sort this out.”
I could barely give a fair answer to the first two questions.
The worst feeling was to see that the crew was also running out of patience. I only hoped that the boxes of Hungarian Szamos Marzipan I gave them before the shooting would make them stay until the end of the interview. Or at least I tried to calm myself with this idea…
They were actually very nice, they encouraged me, but this kind of an interview even in my native language would have been a challenge for me.
I was way beyond my comfort zone, in the crossfire of 4-5 cameras, a lot of microphones, and on the top of all that, some “nice” warm spotlights.
I managed to take out my notes, get a glass of water, take a deep breath, and then came some familiar questions, too, so I started to feel better. I didn’t remember what I was saying. It took about 90 minutes to make the recording.
After finishing the recording, I felt very bad.
I only wanted to go back to my hotel room and look into myself. I went up to the 23rd floor, sat down and started to write. Here are my honest thoughts from my notebook:
Then I took a walk on the rainy streets of New York. It was as dramatic as in a movie and it is burned into my brain. I was aware that I was in the middle of a process and it’s up to me how I look at this whole story.
I focused on how very much I had learned from this whole thing. There were two things that especially excited me:
- I was the only interviewee from Europe – the other four that day all came from the US.
- It was a great thing to work with such a professional team and this inspired me to build a company that could invite people from all around the world for an interview. In fact, this meant a whole new level for me.
I didn’t know when the video would be done and published and what it would actually be like.
5. Stop worrying about things you can’t control
For a month, I hadn’t heard anything about the interview. I didn’t ask either, I just went on doing my job. I created a second meetup for my readers, where I briefly talked about my experiences in New York, we completed some minor projects for our clients, and we were preparing for the upcoming holidays.
I was calm until I received an email from one of the copyrighters of Ramit’s team. He wanted me to approve the text that would appear on the case study page along with the interview.
When I read the email, the feelings I’d had after the interview suddenly returned. I was frustrated because:
- now I will have to face with what I said in the interview
- at this point I can only make minor changes
- I haven’t seen the video yet (I wrote a mail to the video producer, but he hadn’t replied)
I asked for a few days of patience from the copywriter.
I read the text over and over, checked if what I’d said was correct, I showed it to some people close to me and this time I checked it with my English language coach, too. I asked for two minor corrections, which the team approved.
What bothered me the most at the time was that I didn’t have any control at all over what would be published about me on the internet. I didn’t know when the material would be released and I didn’t know what I’d said or how I’d said it.
One thing was sure: lots and lots of people would soon be watching this interview because the launch of the online course was approaching and the company was likely to drive tons of traffic to the website.
I’d been thinking a lot about this and I talked it over with my girlfriend many times. I also recognised a few mental barriers in myself, and step-by-step we managed to break them down. The conclusion was that:
- anything can appear about me on the net in the future and there is no way I can control everything
- the journey and the learning experience are the most important factors here, a possibly good interview is only the icing on the cake
- the most important thing is what I feel and I know that I can use to create value through my Hungarian blog.
After this I found it easier to accept whatever the interview would turn out to be. I trusted others and I believed that they were doing a great job. Of course, I couldn’t completely get rid of my frustration, but Headspace (the meditation app) helped me to let these feelings go and avoid getting stuck in negative thoughts.
When I felt that I actually got over this, there came the test.
One day I was browsing the website where the video was supposed to be published and I found this:
My heart was pumping like crazy.
“Okay, let’s do it!” – I thought and clicked on the ‘play’ button.
I was watching and…
I felt complete peace. I was flushed with happiness because I thought it was actually nice. This was my actual level of English and it’s okay to make mistakes. One idea got through my head: one year from now I will be better and I’m going to improve.
Speaking any language is a skill.
Speaking in front of a camera is a skill, too.
Giving an interview in English and talking about my feelings is another skill.
And these skills can be developed by practice.
All right, I know you’re interested in the interview, so meet Kristian, who has reached 2500 loyal subscribers from no business idea in under a year.
Click on the picture and watch GrowthLAB’s interview.
It was interesting to watch the video again and think about how much work and energy accumulated in this 7-minute material. It really was a milestone for me. The request, the application, the trip, the city, the interview, the frustration – these were all parts of the same process and I know that it’s not over yet.
It’s going to bring a lot of new things into my life and it will also help me to achieve my future goals. Now another process is going to start and it’s up to me what I will get out of it and how I can cope with the challenges that I can’t even see yet.
By the way, challenges. Let me tell you something about the challenges to wind up the New York story…
The setbacks that couldn’t stop me
In addition to the challenges I detailed above, there were a few more setbacks that gave me a lot of extra work. When we are on the move, we sometimes don’t even notice how quickly we get over barriers. Looking back at the entire process there were quite a few things that tested how serious I was about this trip to New York.
Challenge is a relative term, it means one thing for me and something else for you. We are all involved in different things at different levels and there are some things that you find easy but make me suffer – and vice versa. During the past few years, I learned that instead of getting frustrated about this, we need to accept that we have different skills and the way we work is not the same, either. We must be able to ask for help and learn from others.
So here I come with the additional setbacks I had to face.
All my personal data got stolen
In order to be able to travel to New York you must get hold of a document called ESTA. It’s not too complicated, all you need to do is pay a few bucks and fill in an online form. The only problem is that there are quite a few fake sites on the net that look just like the original.
I happened to register at one of these spam sites simply because I wasn’t cautious enough. When I realized that all my data (personal data, my parents’ data, passport number, credit card details) got stolen, I immediately had to take steps.
The point is, if you happen to travel to the US, use this link to apply for ESTA.
I got sick at the time of the interview with the video producer
When we are preparing for something, all too often something unexpected happens. In my case it was a bad cold a day or two before the Skype interview with the video producer was scheduled.
Back then I always blamed such things on myself, saying “why me, how can I be so unlucky, I can’t believe it!” But at that time, I simply accepted this and did everything I could to get well again. We must respect the body, so I rested mine, drank a lot of tea, and focused on getting better.
My passport expired
I did have a passport before the trip but during a Skype conversation with a friend, it turned out that I couldn’t use that one to travel to the USA because it was an “older” type. This problem was relatively easy to solve: I had a new one issued. It wasn’t cheap but it was done in 2 days. Again, I could have done without all the administrative stuff that came with it, but without a passport you can’t even book your flight, so I had to act quickly.
That was the first time I travelled overseas
This might be a nuance for others but it was a big thing for me. Before this trip I had never travelled anywhere outside Europe, plus I had never travelled on my own. I had only had to change flights once so I was a little anxious about having to roam huge airports to find the right gates in a relatively short time.
In both Paris (outbound) and Amsterdam (inbound) everything was clearly indicated, so there was no problem. Of course, I checked everything 3 times and also asked the airport personnel to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. This was another step to make my future journeys (another part of my VISION) go smoother.
A pretty weird taxi took me to the airport
When I left the hotel for home, I asked a Hilton employee to get me a cab. They took me to a private car just around the corner. It wasn’t yellow but I trusted the person from the hotel.
The guy who drove didn’t speak much English but could clearly say two sentences: 1. He came to the USA from Dominica. 2. A few hours before many people were shot somewhere in the country.
“Okay, thanks” – I thought while staring out of the window, frozen.
I was very happy when we got to the airport.
Of course, there were other minor challenges too, but I managed to find a good enough solution to all of them so I could move forward.
It wasn’t easy to go through with this New York project but I really did learn a lot on the way. I summed up in a few sentences what you might want to take away from this post:
- Show yourself. If you can give honestly and without expectations, at a certain point you will definitely get some of it back. I just kept on posting in the closed Facebook group and one day I was hit by an opportunity to go to New York. Always give feedback to the person whose materials and advice helped you to achieve something, even if it’s only something small.
- Have a winning team. Surround yourself with people who help. If you tell them honestly about the challenges you face, you will get a lot of useful things in return. Trust others and assume that they mean well. The ability to ask for help is also a skill that you can improve by practice.
- Accept that you can’t control everything. Control is a good thing in certain cases but sticking to everything too strictly and wanting to control even the smallest elements of life are not. We will all get to the point where we must let go of the control and pass it on to others.
- Honesty is valuable. Being totally honest with ourselves is important. When we get frustrated in a situation we can always ask ourselves WHY are we doing what we are doing.
- Take action before you feel ready. This is a very important point. Leaving our comfort zones can really boost our personal development. There will always be unexpected setbacks on the way but they are there to test us. “Life will test us” – I tend to think when I face a problem that needs to be cracked. I believe tests make us better.
And now I would like to know what you think of this story and what is your key takeaway. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.