Oh, How Times Have Changed
If there’s one consistent thread running through my life, it’s the fact that I’m an introvert. I have never, in the whole of my life, wanted to draw attention to myself.
When I was in the middle school spelling bee, grainy video evidence shows that I speed-spelled my words and raced back to my seat. Imagine my horror when I won in 7th grade and had to do it all over again at the county level. In high school, I would have gladly opted for elective surgery to avoid any sort of oral presentation. In college, I sat quietly in class, taking volumes of handwritten notes and only conveying my thoughts days or weeks later, in the form of papers and essay exams.
I’ve never been the type to want to call attention to myself. Maybe it’s because of my height; you can’t be a 6’1″ female with glasses and freckles and expect to fade into the woodwork. But I tried. Oh, how I tried, for so many years.
There are lots of people who see me now — serving on a board of directors, speaking at conferences and events, networking with colleagues — who think that I’ve been magically “cured” of a fundamental personality trait. “You’re not an introvert!” they say. “I saw you on stage!”
Hahahaha. No. Wrong.
I’m still just as much of an introvert as ever. But I’ve come to embrace the fact that I stand out from the crowd, no matter what I do. If people are going to notice me anyway, why not do what I want?
Several years ago I stopped shying away from the spotlight. I proposed talks about topics that I wished conferences had covered when I was getting started. I got more self-promotional on my LinkedIn profile. I blogged more (for a while, anyway).
I joined Team in Training and became a Captain, taking on a volunteer leadership role for the marathon team. I started wearing running dresses to work out in; few things capture attention quite like running in a dress. I polished my nails in bright colors. I tried buying clothes and shoes and scarves that weren’t black, white or gray. I had my headshot taken in a colorful jacket. And sometimes I put purple streaks in my hair.
But of course, none of these things change how I respond to the world. I’m still the one who would rather stand on the sidelines of the party, holding up the wall, than make small talk with strangers. Sure, you saw me on stage, and then I went back to my hotel room and crashed. Hard. And if you saw me in board meetings, you’d know that I’m not the kind to jump into a discussion. I’m more likely to listen carefully, maybe even conduct some research on the topic, and then make my informed opinion known. All of this is perfectly normal introverted behavior.
So what’s different from 20 years ago? In the last few years I’ve learned how to channel my social energy in small doses to make the speaking engagements and “on” time work for me, knowing that I require significant amounts of downtime before and after. I’m getting better at scheduling myself to factor in for the time I need. And I’ve learned that if people are going to notice me anyway, I might as well make it count.
In 2018, I hope to have several opportunities to speak with other introverts about how they can also channel their social energy, and explore opportunities that they previously thought impossible. Stay tuned for updates to my list of speaking engagements.
Are you an introvert? Do you think that introversion helps or hurts you professionally? What are some topics you’d like to learn about regarding personality, temperament, and professionalism?