Use an Informational Interview to Overcome Mental Barriers

Less than a year ago, I was stuck. I knew I wanted to start a side business that had potential to grow, but I had no idea what to do or how to do it. I was feeling stagnant, suffocated, and tired of dreaming about possibilities, but never making progress.

In hindsight, it's clear that I was spinning my wheels. I was optimistic one day, bursting with ideas and plans, and then the next I was deflated because I thought of 20 reasons why an idea wouldn't work, or someone made a negative comment that made me believe it was better not to try. Wouldn't want to waste my time if it won't work out in the end, right?

The risk of doing nothing
Our barriers, or excuses, always seem legitimate when we're creating them. Here are a few of mine that I can recall:

  • “I can't start a business without a website.”
  • “I have a full-time job. Maybe if I didn't have to work I could do it.”
  • “No one can make money doing XYZ. So-and-so knows someone who tried it and failed.”

None of these excuses hold water. Everyone has a life situation that might make their goal more difficult — family demands, kids, lack of money, lack of education — but if you focus on those, you'll do nothing. And if you think going after your goal seems risky, doing nothing can be even riskier. Susan Su wrote about the risk of doing nothing at I Will Teach You to Be Rich:

‘Nothing' is not innocent. It can carry huge potential risks. Remember opportunity cost from basic economics class? There are opportunity costs with everything that you're currently doing — including nothing. Doing nothing might be your most threatening risk precisely because it's so invisible. It's invisible, but we can still measure it.

Doing nothing seems to be completely unrisky — it's sort of like hunkering down in a bomb shelter. What could possibly happen to you in there? Probably nothing. But even ‘nothing' has a cost. If you do nothing — or if you hunker down in a bomb shelter — you're probably safe, but you're also missing out…on a lot.

While most people create barriers against earning money on the side (“Oh no, I have to make business cards!”), their biggest fear should really be continuing to do what they're already doing, and nothing more.

It's worth reading the full post to see her numbers-based example of how doing nothing can cost you money.

Now, I want to pause for a moment here to point out that this isn't just about earning money or starting a business. That was my goal. Maybe you share it, maybe you don't. The bigger point is that we all have things we want to do and reasons why we aren't doing them. Maybe you want to pay off your credit card debt, but it seems impossibly large. Maybe you want to see Thailand someday, but you've never been overseas, and you think it's a pipe dream. Maybe you want to understand more about investing, but it's so complicated and you failed 8th grade algebra. Doing nothing will cost you.

Another use for the informational interview
It took me awhile to figure out my path (I'm still working on it, and probably always will be), but one thing that helped me to get started was the informational interview. I wasn't interviewing people as part of a job search, though. I was interviewing them to break down my self-imposed barriers.

For example, last summer I was trying to decide if I should sign up for a yoga teacher training program. I was hungry for the knowledge I'd get in an intensive course, and I thought it might be a good business, as well, since it's something I love. Unfortunately, my bubble would burst when I'd mention my interest to someone, and he or she would make one of the following statements:

  • “There's a lot of competition; there are so many experienced yoga teachers in this town.”
  • “Yoga teachers are lucky if they can pay the bills.”
  • “[Local studio] barely pays new teachers anything, and it's impossible to get on the teaching schedule.”

I probably took these statements to heart because the person was voicing a fear I already held, and in the past, I might have stopped right there and given the whole thing up. But luckily I really love yoga, and I also happened upon an interview with a yoga teacher who was making my salary and working less hours. I bookmarked the article and would read it over and over again, looking for both advice and inspiration, but I had questions, as well. One day, I worked up the courage to contact her through her website.

I was hoping I could e-mail her a few questions, not wanting to take up her time. She wanted to set a date for a Skype call, and she wanted my questions in advance so she could give each one enough consideration beforehand. I was floored that she would be so generous with her time. As the call came to an end, she asked that I keep in touch to update her on my progress. Lesson: People usually want to pay it forward and help others who are serious about reaching their goal.

Motivation, inspiration, and networking
I started to use the informational interview to break barriers by finding people who were doing the very thing I wanted to do, and talking to them instead of listening to random comments by other people or even listening to myself and my excuses. I still review the notes from that Skype call for motivation and inspiration, and although I'm more focused on my writing business at the moment, I finished the yoga teacher certification in May and plan to start teaching regularly.

The informational interview is powerful tool because you get an audience with someone who has already accomplished your goal. If you're a single mom who is struggling with debt, find another single mom who paid off her credit cards. If you think you're too old to start a new career, talk to someone like Helen Small, who received her undergraduate degree at the age of 87 and her master's degree at age 90. Even more important than the interview is making contact with people you can lean on when you're creating barriers to your own success.

Finally, if you setup an interview, send your interviewee a thank-you note immediately after, and send useful information or articles every now and then. Make sure you're putting in as much as you're getting from the relationship, not making contact only when you need something.

I don't know what took me so long to reach out to others, but I've learned that most people want to help. When negative comments, either from others or yourself, are holding you back, it's time to meet new people.

More about...Psychology

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Justin Popovic
Justin Popovic

Great timing for this post! I had totally forgot that this was one of the goals for my blog. To interview people. I have been so wrapped up in other ideas that I forgot about this one and it is potentially one of the most interesting ways to deliver content. People love conversation and they love Q & A. A side note about the whole idea of “doing nothing” seeming unrisky. I used to be like that until I changed my ways. I now get very ancy and almost agitated when I’m not in action and trying new things. I… Read more »

Chett
Chett

Great point April, I mean who would want to keep blogging after reading, “Blogging is no way to get rich quick. Sure, a few of us are lucky and are able to make full-time incomes doing what we love. But most bloggers work long hours for very little return.” Just kidding 🙂 Most people blog because they have something to say want to share it with a larger audience. The recipe seems to be 4lbs of hard work, 3 lbs of great content, 2 lbs of style or voice, and a sprinkling of luck and established contacts. I’ve found the… Read more »

John Squire
John Squire

Long time reader (over 2 years!), first time commenter. This is a perfect example of why I love Get Rich Slowly – a realistic portrayal of a part of life combining motivation, practicality, self discovery and an interesting anecdote. I’m at spot in my life now where this is perfect advice – a higher duties position has just ended and it really does feel like going backwards. Where will I be taking the next step? Talking to people who have been in my position before will be invaluable about where I’ll be focusing my energies from now on. The article… Read more »

everyday tips
everyday tips

Very motivational post. I have never understood the naysayers. Especially since your ‘dream’ seems quite reasonable to me. There must be something about human nature that makes people want to see other people fail sometimes or something. I think perhaps your dream made others realize they were not reaching for their own dream, I don’t know. But I have tried to get the downers out of my life. The interviewing suggestion is a fantastic idea. It is much better to get info from someone that has found success than from one who has found failure. Thanks for making me think!

Tawra@Living On A Dime

One thing is to be sure that after the interview you do what the person suggests and then ask questions.

I always have people ask us on how to self publish their own book but after talking to them they keep coming back and asking for more and more but don’t do the first steps that I suggested.

I’m not saying you have to what I say but don’t keep bothering a person if you aren’t going to be moving forward in some direction.

Other than that, most people like me are more than willing to help someone just starting out.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.

The key phrase to me in your article is “…help others who are serious about reaching their goal.” While I am not at the highest levels of my field, I do have enough serious credentials that I have been approached multiple times for informational interviews. (Most of my closest colleagues have also reached that level of success as well.) Without exception, we all enjoy going out of our way to help people who are serious about entering our field. We answer any questions they may have, put them in touch with people that may be a better mentor match due… Read more »

NancyV908
NancyV908

Great post (& comments)–thank you. I would like to do some informational interviewing soon for a career change I’m exploring, so this comes at a great time for me. One thing I always wonder, though–& I guess it’s really an excuse for inaction–is if it ever seems threatening to the interviewee. What I mean is, do they see the interviewer as potential competition for their business? I’d love to speak to some local people, rather than do it long distance, for the most accurate picture of the market I’d be in. But I do worry about that. Of course, I’m… Read more »

Wayne Mates
Wayne Mates

There is an excellent book, “Excuses Be Gone!” written on this subject by Dr. Wayne Dyer. He discusses the 18 excuses we use to sabotage our lives and avoid achieving our dreams. They include excuses such as “I am too tired”, “It’s too hard”, “It’s not in my genes” and many others. He writes about what they are, why they are and how to overcome them and vanquish them from our lives through real examples. I highly recommend it. I read his book in January and have practiced his principles (not always faithfully) and it has made a huge difference… Read more »

Patrick J.
Patrick J.

This is a very inspiring article. There are several tough decisions ahead of me right now and part of me just wants to pretend they don’t exist as a means of coping with the stress – liking renting out my home for less than the mortgage payment – OR, like you, identifying and starting a side business.
Doing nothing is costing me an opportunity to fail, but what’s worse is that it is costing me the opportunity to succeed.
Thanks for sharing.

Tyler
Tyler

You need to be able to distinguish between a truly negative voice trying to dissuade you (“you will definitely fail if you try this “) vs. a friend trying to help you by giving data to use in your endeavor (“It’s very difficult for new yoga teachers to get on the schedule without experience, see if you can strengthen yourself in that area”).

Chickybeth
Chickybeth

Thanks, April for this truly inspiring post! Lots of people talk about making extra money or starting their own business, but with no concrete steps to start with. It’s easy to tell people “boost your income” but for most people, it is hard to jump into something without experience or direction. I really appreciate the guidance and I hope you get to accomplish your goal!

mdp
mdp

a) This is so exactly where I am – thank you! b) re: the informational interview and networking in general – when I was in school and early in my professional career, I felt very shy about reaching out to others for information and contacts. I had the usual fears, not wanting to annoy people by interrupting them or taking up their time, as if they had any reason to care about helping me anyway… But once I got a little experience, and younger folks were coming to me for the same reasons, I was always happy to help them… Read more »

Megan
Megan

Thank you for this post! I am currently trying to plan a very low budget wedding on a graduate student budget and I have found a lot of paralells to your process. Initally when ppl found out my weding budget, I met a lot of naysayers(everyone has an opinion right?) saying that it couldn’t be done or at the very least it couldn’t be done and not look like a kid’s party at Chuckie Cheese. After a lot of doubt and questioning myself, I used your advice and sought out (mostly via budget-minded blogging gals) people who had planned lovely… Read more »

Rob
Rob

Taking no action is most definitely a sure way to fail. I would much rather fail while trying than not trying at all. And that is where I am right now (the trying part). Great post.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

I commented on yesterday’s article and said that people should periodically ask for raises at work. Someone responded to that thinking I was absolutely crazy for suggesting such an idea. This person seems to have been doing the same thing, at the same job, for the same salary, for years and years. She needs to come back and read this article, and stop using, “I could never do that in a bad economy” as an excuse, and maybe talk to some of the tens of millions of people who *are* making more money now than they were three years ago… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen

I always regret the things I was too scared to try. People who are afraid to take risks themselves like to discourage other people. It makes them feel that they’re right to sit there, complain, and do nothing. The trick is to recognize their aversion to risk for what it is, and do your own evaluations. Risky to them might not be risky for you. Perhaps even more important is finding smart, positive, and optimistic people to hang out with. I’m at the point where I need to start doing some informational interviews about a few directions I might go… Read more »

Lainey
Lainey

The informational interview thing is a great idea! I always used to say I would like to start a business, but I can never figure out what kind, so I never really did anything with it. Any tips about settling on something? Also, when you speak about discouraging people, my mind immediately goes to my grandma. She loves to shoot people down, and I often wonder what my very creative an entrepreneurial grandpa could have accomplished if she hadn’t been like that. But you can’t always just remove yourself from the person–even if I do something and don’t tell her,… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

Agree with #10, Tyler. I often find myself in the position of the “it isn’t going to be a garden of roses.” A lot of people have very idealized views of potential future positions and it is important to know both the pros and the cons of something before leaping in. I get this a lot with students considering PhD programs with a dreamy idea of what it’s like to be a professor. A PhD program might be right for them or it might not, but it’s not something you want to spend 5+ years of your life doing unless… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1

Re: discouraging words: people often *do* shoot down ideas because those ideas arouse their own fears – of failure, of competition, of looking silly, even of success (because if you succeed, things change, right? And change is scary!).

I call it the “crabs in a bucket” phenomenon. Someone is trying to climb out, but the others keep grabbing her by the legs.

Nice article, and I really liked the highlighted comment re: delivering substance as an interviewer, and not expecting a one-way information street. I am CONSTANTLY dealing with people who bring absolutely no preparation to their professional conversations.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett

People usually want to pay it forward and help others who are serious about reaching their goal. We get in the habit of thinking that people will only do things if they are compensated in some way. But no. The most important work is done by people who receive little or no compensation for it. People don’t get paid for raising children. Entrepreneurs don’t really do it for the money — that’s just for keeping score. They do it because they have a gift and want to put it to use. People cannot not help other people. We have something… Read more »

Sini
Sini

April,

Thank you so much for this post! You opened my eyes to something really important. Doing nothing for the fear of this, that and the other thing is the major hurdle between me and everything. You gave me so much hope and much needed kick on the pants. This will be the post I will be reading over and over again to seek encouragement and inspiration. Thank you again.

Rachel C.
Rachel C.

Thank you for such a great, and timely, article. I’m facing a lot of these same challenges as I work to get my business off the ground and I’m glad I found this information today.

Gomez
Gomez

To do nothing to move forward, in any aspect of life, is to deny your own potential. The people that tell you that you will not succeed are the people themselves who have not succeded, and they should be ignored!!! Years ago I had the opportunity to purchase a 4 unit apartment building and every one, including my wife and my father, told me I was throwing my money away and I was a fool for even considering it. I took the time to speak with a few people that owned rental properties and did my homework. Today I own… Read more »

Peter
Peter

What a great post. This reminds that the cost of inaction is so much greater than taking the risk. It is human nature to avoid pain in a self preservation type of way, however knowing that I will be worse off if I do nothing is motivation in itself.

I also agree that having friends and mentors that you can lean on is vital to making it through the first couple of humps.

Thanks again!

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

I needed this today. My blog seems to have become a little stagnant and I was questioning myself a lot yesterday and today (whether I was just wasting my time or not). I’m going to keep up what I started 4 months ago…no slacking off. Thanks.

Nicole
Nicole

More devil’s advocate… My uncle-in-law bought a pig farm from a scam artist. It was always his dream to have a farm with pigs. The scam artist builds the barn, provides financing, provides the contractors, provides the baby pigs, provides the pig feed, and buys the pigs back once they’re big. There’s no competition in the market, nobody else provides pigs, feed, etc. If the sell the barn, the only market is the same guy. The scam artist is rich. Everyone told him not to do it, not to follow his dream. He bought it anyway. They’ve lost large amounts… Read more »

Kj the great
Kj the great

I think informational interviews are great! I spoke to several great people the last time I was looking for new work and I’ve also used interviews informally to find out about local opportunities (for hobbies, not work). Having said all that, I’m also very aware that I’m in a fallow period here – I don’t want to make big changes right now because I’m still recovering from the last round. I really believe these things – changes, information, and the call to action – come when you’re ready for them, but may not be rushed.

TosaJen
TosaJen

To the devil’s advocates:

There’s a big difference between the people who point you to good information and help you ask the right questions and the people who shoot down every idea they hear.

It’s smart to listen to the former, but not the latter.

DH and I just invested in a business, and we’ve encountered several of each kind of people. We listened to and researched every concern we hadn’t already thought through, and ignored most of the blanket, information-free negativity we heard.

April
April

I agree with TosaJen. If someone is only pointing out the negatives and has no real experience or knowledge of business (or your business idea), they aren’t helpful. There’s a big difference between a coworker who has never owned a business saying to you, “I would never leave my job because I need the insurance,” and a self-employed person saying, “Insurance can be a problem, but here’s what I do about it, and here are some options for you to consider.” As for buying into a scam (@Nicole, 26), that is a really unfortunate situation. If I had a friend… Read more »

Meg
Meg

April, Oh my goodness. I just got off the phone with a telephone company about what it would cost to have a 1-800 for a business I want to start. I then logged on to see what was going on at GRS, and your post was there staring at me! And I’ve been doubting myself and the business for weeks! “I need a website, I need business cards, I have to wait to get business cards until I find out if I want an 800 number, etc. etc. etc!” There is pretty much NO competition with what kind of business… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

Like I said before, I agree with #10 Tyler. “You need to be able to distinguish between a truly negative voice trying to dissuade you (”you will definitely fail if you try this “) vs. a friend trying to help you by giving data to use in your endeavor (”It’s very difficult for new yoga teachers to get on the schedule without experience, see if you can strengthen yourself in that area”).” It’s important to take measured risks, not just risks for the sake of risk taking. That’s something a lot of the previous comments seemed to be missing in… Read more »

Phyllis
Phyllis

Thank you for this. Perfect timing. I have been working on starting a new business and it seems that everywhere I turn, I have been running into naysayers. Lately it seems like no one except my best friend thinks I can make money and I’m feeling discouraged. Ironically, making money isn’t the main reason I’m starting this business, though I do need to make some. I also want a creative outlet and to kick my environmentalism up a degree. Your message is very timely and I will definitely persevere. My instincts are good and I know I need to trust… Read more »

Tiffany
Tiffany

Great advice here! Thanks for sharing! I’ve never considered “interviewing” a peroson that has gone through “the struggle” before me”.

J Brown
J Brown

Have you read my mind during the last 18 months? Prior to reading this post, I emailed a long time family friend who is doing the career I am researching. I asked for her input and thoughts about me taking the leap. In addition, I have asked a trusted mentor for a meeting time to discuss his thoughts about my goals. I am somewhat tired of waiting for the magical answers to appear in either books or posts. I have figured out that I need to search the answers out. In the end, I need my questions answered, which shall… Read more »

Bridget
Bridget

Excellent post – I did the same before I started my own business. I wanted to start a business in an area that I had expertise, but I was unsure about the ‘business’ aspects. I had researched through books, but wanted to speak with people who were successful in the type of business I wanted. I interviewed three people for about an hour each. I still have the notes from those phone calls. It was very valuable. They each had different ideas, but the themes were the same. Although I knew I wanted to pursue the business idea beforehand, I… Read more »

Nacho Jordi
Nacho Jordi

“I probably took these statements to heart because the person was voicing a fear I already held”.
This is oh so true. Like the pregnant woman that only sees pregnant women. Our mind plays such tricks on us…
Very inspirational post, in fact I can’t wait to start networking… people are keen to help when they find someone who values the same that they love.

Dave Sohnchen
Dave Sohnchen

This could not be more timely advice. I actually have an “interview” set up tonight and most likely I wouldn’t be as intentional with my questions as I will be now.

Fear and negativity are powerful things and I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one trying to overcome them.

Thanks.

Jon Strocel
Jon Strocel

Fantastic Post. In my experience, I’ve found the more successful people are the more willing they are to help other motivated people. People generally get successful by getting along with others, and we all remember the people that helped us along the way. Being able to help others the same way we were helped is so gratifying.

Write that email or make that phone call today!

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