Dear Extroverts — Please Don’t Worry When Introverts Are Quiet

don't worry when introverts are quietYou know how sometimes an idea keeps presenting itself to you in various ways until you feel it’s a sign of something? That’s how this post came about. In a couple of other blog posts I’ve read lately, the idea of silence as a negative kept popping up. So here’s an open letter to all extroverts on the topic of introverts and silence.

Dear Extroverts,

We know it’s of great concern to you that introverts are sometimes — or often — quiet. For some reason, this kind of freaks you out. I think you have some misconceptions about what it means to be quiet.

We aren’t upset. Or angry. Or depressed. Or scared. Or nervous. Or any other negative emotion you can think of. We aren’t talking because we’re probably doing something else. We’re thinking. Or listening. Or watching. Sometimes we just don’t have anything to say (which may be hard for you to believe, but it’s true). We need to take in an enormous amount of data before we can output any data. Please don’t mistake silence for problem. That’s almost never the case.

It’s not a reflection on you. I know some extroverts who seem to think that introverts being quiet means something is wrong with them (the extroverts). Please don’t take it personally. We aren’t being quiet to offend you. It’s just the way we are.

We’re thinking about what to say next. Sounds silly to you, probably, but our brain pathways are much longer than yours. It literally takes us longer to come up with a thought and then put it out into the world. Here’s your process:

1. Thought
2. Mouth

Here’s the process for introverts:

1. Thought.
2. Is this what I really think?
3. Is this something I really want to say out loud?
4. How should I say it?
5. Waiting for a lull in the conversation to get a word in.
6. Wait, maybe I should rephrase that.
7. Okay, now I’m ready.
8. Mouth

We know you have the best intentions when you are worried about us. You are genuinely concerned and we love you for that. But when you start asking questions like “Are you okay?” you imply that something is wrong. And sometimes — when we lack a little bit of confidence or are in a new or unfamiliar situation — we might start to believe you.

Imagine what an introvert child will think when parents or teachers are constantly asking, “Why are you so quiet?”  The child may grow up thinking that there is truly something wrong with them.  In fact, quiet is a natural state for introverts.

So — don’t worry. We’re fine. When we fall quiet, just let there be silence for a moment. Experience it. Observe yourself in silence and see what it’s like. You might learn to like it (well, at least a little bit.)


Introverts everywhere


Image credit: dirkercken / 123RF Stock Photo


Life Lessons

So I was hoping that after taking my unplanned blogging break, I could come back to you with all sorts of lessons learned and serene outdoorrealizations arrived at and I would be able to report that I’d figured out the meaning of the universe.

Sorry to say, that didn’t happen.  I’m not exactly sure what to call what I went through; for now, I’m just calling it a funk.  I don’t think it was as extreme as a midlife crisis.  But it was definitely more than just an average bad day or two.

I think we all have these times occasionally.  What I did differently this time was just to allow it to unfold without fighting it.  I wallowed.  I did the absolute minimum that I had to: my client work and enough shopping to keep food in the house.  I read, watched TV, played games, slept.  The only thing I tried to consciously do every day was not to feel guilty about what I was doing.

As I relaxed and accepted the way I felt, I started to think about what I wanted to do.  And then I started to write it down.  Messy, at first, random ideas jotted down quickly.  The more I wrote, the more I wanted to think.  The more I thought, the more I wanted to organize what I was creating.  It was very organic and free flowing (and really, nothing about me is organic or free flowing – maybe that’s why it worked).

Slowly, each day I started to do a little more.  I made plans, I set goals.  There were no big changes; I did not suddenly wake up one day and feel that everything fit into place.  I feel much better than I did, but I still have days where I feel like everything I do is still very pointless.

But I try to put those days behind me when they are over.  I just resolve to try again tomorrow.  It’s really that simple.  Just try again tomorrow.

A few of the things I realized:

I am enough – I am far too embarrassed to tell you the amount of money I spent last year on courses, ebooks, lessons, etc., to learn how to blog better, how to “find your passion,” how to “live the life you’ve always wanted,” blah, blah, blah.  So much of the self-help industry is built upon a depressing fallacy: there’s something wrong with you and I can fix it.  I just got tired of constantly feeling like I was inadequate.

You know what? I am enough.  I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay.  But I’d rather figure them out on my own than pay someone to sell me a bunch of clichés.

I don’t work as fast as other people do – I’m an introvert.  I’m slow and deliberative.  I have to think a lot about something before I do it.  That’s just the way it is.  I’m going to stop beating myself up for not producing as fast or as much as others do.

There are some things I will never be – I’ll never be the life of the party.  I’ll never have a huge network of people to call on for help at a moment’s notice.  I’ll never be that person everyone’s eyes turn to when I walk into a room.

Yes, despite my preaching about how wonderful it is to be an introvert, I still sometimes feel like I should be things I’m not.  More outgoing, more “proactive,” more … something.  But there’s just no value to thinking that way.  I am what I am.  And I am enough.

Doing new stuff is hard – Everybody blogs.  Everybody uses social media.  Everybody is a producer of some kind.  So it gets easy to think that because everybody is doing it, it’s easy and should be easy for you too.  But doing new things is hard.  Blogging, writing ebooks, developing courses, building a business – it’s all hard.  And not letting myself accept that fact was only making me miserable.   So I accept – it’s hard.  I just need to keep trying.

Planning works – I used to be an excellent planner.  As a museum project manager, I once successfully managed a 5-year, $8 million dollar project – on time and under budget.  But around the time I started working out of my home, my planning skills seemed to atrophy.  I blamed it on a lot of things – working out of my home was a new experience; the nonprofit I worked for was so small I was the only staff member, so planning was less important; I didn’t have a planning system that I really liked.  All excuses.

So I pulled out David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity to refresh myself on his system.  I don’t use all of  GTD, but much of it is helpful.  I found an Android task management system I really like.  And I did what I do for my clients: I came up with a content plan for this blog and my business blog.  It covers blog posts, ebooks, courses, etc. for the entire year.  It’s all mapped out in one place.  And I feel enormously more settled with that work done. (And I try to ignore why I never before followed the advice I give my clients.)

Don’t let what is undone or what happened in the past weigh you down – I suspect this is true whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.  Although since introverts think so much, I wonder if this affects us more.  But I can’t let what isn’t done bother me; it just wastes energy and doesn’t produce anything useful.  And with a better planning system, I think this will be less of a problem.

The past is the past.  If yesterday wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped, I just try to let it go.  Tomorrow is a new day.  There is another opportunity to try again.  Because, really, what other choice is there?

Thank you for sticking with me if you’ve made it this far.  As I said, there are no grand lessons here; it’s mostly just simple common sense.  But I find we can forget common sense, sometimes, as we get caught up in the rush of life.  I hope you found something here that strikes a cord with you.  If you have some advice for getting through the bad days, I’d love to hear it in the comments.


Why We Need Structure for Understanding

Structure du pont Corneille

I got a bit of a reality check last week.  My sister read the draft of my ebook that I thought was pretty close to a final draft.  Turns out – not so much.  She made a lot of really great points; because of my closeness to the subject matter, I made a few too many assumptions about what readers would understand – and how the information was organized.  It got me thinking a lot about structure.

When I was teaching my social media course earlier this year, one of the things I struggled with was putting structure around such a massive, often shifting topic.  Obviously, in teaching, structure is important.  But I also think it’s something that we instinctively look for – and not just when learning a new idea.

Structure means affirmation.
Chris Brogan wrote a post last week about plans and permission.  His premise is that when we’re looking online for ideas, what we’re really looking for is a plan for how to do something or permission to do something.  In the sense that plan = structure, he’s right.  We are looking for someone or something to tell us – yes, you’re doing this the “right” way.  Now, I’m not sure there’s always a “right” way to do something.  But I think it’s a part of our human nature to follow the pack; it gives us a sense of comfort.

Structure means it’s knowable.
Structure means that you can wrap your head around something – that it’s finite (or almost finite) and there’s a pattern or process that can be recognized.  It’s a step toward saying, “Okay, I can get my head around this if I try.”

Structure means it’s understandable.
Which is different than knowable.  If knowable means I can wrap my head around it, understandable means I can learn it, reproduce it, even modify it for my own needs.  When I learned French in high school, it was a very traditional method: you learn the French equivalent of English words, you learn the French equivalent of verb tenses, etc.  It’s based on something you know.  Several years later, I took a college-level course in French, which was based on total immersion.  All the lessons were in French – the theory was that you picked up what you needed based on context.  Maybe it works (I’d already learned the traditional way so I can’t say for sure) but the total immersion method seems tougher because the structure is much more loose.

When structure is lacking or not clear, we get tense, confused, uninterested.  The sense of overwhelm is huge.  Although I find mind mapping still a bit too loose for me, I’m going to try using it to help me arrange my thoughts on the ebook a little more clearly.

What do you do to try to put structure around the unclear things?

Things I’m Afraid To Tell You

There’s this small but growing movement called Things I’m Afraid To Tell You.  It started with Jess Constable of Makeunder My Life and then turned into something bigger with a life of its own via Ez of Creature Comforts (click through to see the list and read some of the entries; they will amaze you).  The idea is to share something with your blogging audience that you’re afraid to put out there.  It’s pushing your comfort zone – either a little or a lot.

I try to be open and honest when I’m writing here, but I’m not telling the whole story.  Really, I don’t think many bloggers do. It’s not necessarily that we’re trying to hide anything – but you usually are getting only a slice of a blogger’s life when you read their posts.

So a few things I’m afraid to tell you:

  • Sometimes I absolutely hate living alone.  Most of the time, I don’t.  I am rarely bored and can always find ways to keep myself occupied.  But coming home regularly to a house completely devoid of people – or even pets – sometimes really, really sucks.
  • I hate being a homeowner.  It was fun for awhile, when it was new.  But I’ve been living in houses – and taking care of them by myself – for nearly 15 years.  And I’m done.  The outside of my house looks like crap and my basement is a mess.  I’d give anything to move to an apartment and get rid of 2/3 of what I own. But my house is worth far less than what I owe, so I’m stuck here whether I like it or not.
  • I talk rather vaguely about my work background, mostly because I don’t like the way it looks on paper.  In my 28 years of working, I’ve had 11 jobs at 8 different companies – and working for myself is actually job number 12.  I usually talk about how much experience I have and how I’m very good at learning new things – but most of the time I’m afraid people are going to think I’m flaky and indecisive.
  • I have this terrible fear that I’m not living up to my potential.  I can’t state it any more clearly than that.  Just that I’m going to look back at my life at some point with regret for something I didn’t do.  I’m trying to get better, but it’s something I struggle with every day.

The irony is that this is the fourth post I started today.  And somehow it was easier to write and came together much better than the previous three attempts.

What are you afraid to tell?

Don’t Be Afraid of “I Don’t Know.”

What ?
I started teaching last week.

It’s a tiny class, just five students.  It’s what I’m calling “a gentle introduction” to social media for the local adult and community education program.  It almost didn’t happen.  When I proposed the class, I set a minimum number of students.  The day before the program, there were still only two people registered; I sort of figured I was off the hook! But as of 9 am that morning, we reached the minimum of five.  I scrambled the rest of the day to put together my presentation.

In some ways, that worked out well.  If I’d known it was definite a work before the first class, I would have spent a lot more time being nervous.  With spending most of the day actually working on the presentation, I didn’t have too much time to be nervous.  Not until just before I was ready to leave.

And things couldn’t have gone worse.  My technology failed (projector didn’t work); there was no support at all from the program – the only staff in the building were the janitors.  So I had to speak through my whole presentation, which mostly consisted of charts (demographics of the major social media networks).  Maybe it was the universe’s way of telling me not to use PowerPoint and that people hate charts anyway.

But I got through it.

Probably one of the biggest things we introverts fear is not knowing what to say.  I’m reasonably confident on the topic of social media, and the class was aimed at beginners.  So I thought I was pretty safe.

Still – what if I couldn’t answer a question?  Would I lose my credibility?  Would they wonder why I wasn’t saying anything?

The key, I think, is not to be afraid of “I don’t know.”

No one wants to say “I don’t know.”  It seems to suck all the confidence out of you.  You could make something up, or stumble around and feel silly.  Either way, it’s just yucky.

Or you can say, “That’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer.  Let me find out and get back to you.”

If I had been afraid of “I don’t know,” I never would have proposed the class in the first place.  I would have been too afraid of every potential question that I didn’t know the answer to.  Given how large the topic of social media is, there was a pretty good chance I’d get at least one question that stumped me!

And I got a few.  And I told them I’d come back next week with the answers.  They seemed to think that sounded just fine.

Don’t be afraid of “I don’t know.”  Don’t be afraid to get up in front of a group of people because of what they “might” ask.  Don’t hide your talents and skills and fabulousness because of what might happen.  The reward is well worth the risk.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I’m toying — very cautiously — with the idea of becoming a personal coach.  I need to learn more about it so I can decide if it’s something I really want to do.

I’m reading a book I picked up a month or so ago: Becoming a Professional Life Coach: Lessons from the Institute of Life Coach Training (affil link).  As the author is introducing the concept of the coach-client conversation, he makes a statement about the stories we tell ourselves — about everything: our goals, our desires, our relationships.  And how sometimes those stories aren’t necessarily the truth.

I read so many tweets from introverts who put themselves down, who call themselves “loners” and “anti-social” or claim that they “hate people.”  Honestly, those tweets make me sad.  Because it’s my belief that these people haven’t fully embraced who they really are.   And because the stories they tell themselves aren’t the same as the truth.

So what is the story you tell yourself about your introversion?  And how has that story been influenced by our extrovert-dominant culture?

Are you really anti-social?  Or do you just prefer solitude?  (There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way.)

Do you really hate people?  Probably there’s a small group of friends and family and you’re quite close to them.

Do you really suck at parties?  Or is that you prefer to have a deep one-on-one conversation with someone as opposed to working the room?

Sometimes you need to step back and look at the stories you tell yourself.  Make sure you’re being honest with yourself.  Make sure you aren’t judging yourself by the standards that extroverts judge themselves.  Make sure you cut yourself some slack on occasion.

I think confidence starts with fully embracing yourself and accepting who you are — warts and all.  Just make sure they really are warts before you beat yourself up about them.  They may in fact be your greatest strengths.





Taking the Leap

So I’ve done something either very foolish or very smart.  I’ve mentioned many times that I’ve been searching for a new job for most of the last year.  My hours were cut to 30/week in February and the job has no benefits.  Not only was it no longer financially feasible to stay, but in many ways I had grown out of the job.

So just before Thanksgiving, I gave my notice.  My job ends as of March 1, 2012.

And I don’t have another job lined up. See? Either very foolish or very smart.

I’m an ISTJ.  We are not known for relying on our intuition, preferring facts and logic above all else.  And fact would tell me that even a low-paying job with no benefits is better than no job at all. But something about leaving now just felt right.  It was difficult for me to believe in that feeling, but I finally took the leap.

I know what I want to do: provide consultation to small and mid-sized museums on their online strategies — web sites, social media, e-newsletters, etc. (Know one? Send them to my  business web site!)  It’s risky, to be sure.  I don’t have any clients at the moment.  And small museums are usually short on money and may not be able to pay me for what I can do.  But I have great contacts, a good reputation and a lot of skill; and what I don’t know I learn quickly.

In the past, I would have kept this dream of mine secret, too afraid to say it loud and definitely too afraid to share it with anyone; too afraid of being judged not capable of running my own business or for choosing an industry that isn’t exactly overflowing with money.

Right now, I’m telling everyone I know what I want to do (hello, Internet!).  And every time I tell someone, I feel just a bit stronger, just a bit more confident.  I’m throwing my dream out into the universe to see what comes back.

Who knows what will happen?  It’s easy to think it will end poorly.  And it takes a bit of work to think it will end well.  I’m choosing the latter.

How To Overcome Overthinking: Tips For Introverts

Your only limitations are those you set up in your own mind, or permit others to set up for you.

I saw this on quote from Og Mandino on Twitter today.  And the quote (at least the last part) is finally prompting me to write a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

I mentioned in a post recently about the next phase of my life.  I know I want to work in social media; and since I have a background in museums, I’d like to start doing some consulting for small and mid-sized museums who need help with their online presence and using social media.  Most of these places are small and chronically understaffed – yet I think they’ll be missing out if they don’t get involved with social media to engage their audiences.

I mentioned this to a quasi colleague – someone else also starting their own business – and a seed of doubt was planted.  Let’s just say that my social media skills were called into question on some pretty flimsy evidence.  I tried to brush it off at first.  But in typical introvert fashion, I felt the the words bouncing around in my brain.  For too long.

So I’m making the effort to get past those words. I’m trying to get past the emotions involved and look at the issue more objectively.

First, I recognize my chronic over-thinking.  Topic doesn’t matter – I can over-think anything!  But I can recognize it for what it is:  simply the way I process thoughts and ideas.  Because I do it all the time, it’s not an accurate way of judging the outcome of the over-thinking.

Second, using cold, hard logic.  To be blunt, I have a better social media presence than this other person.  Not just a higher follower count, but a more engaged following.  I’m more active across more platforms.  I’m hardly an expert (in fact, given the newness of social media, I don’t think anyone should call themselves an expert), but I do know more than the average person.  And I certainly have something to offer the audience I’m targeting.

Third, I recognize the context of the words.  I have a feeling this colleague lacks a certain amount of self-confidence.  And that their inept comments came from fear and uncertainty about themselves – not necessarily about my skills.  Understanding the context takes away from the power of the words themselves.

I have confidence that I can do what I want to do.  I have confidence that I know how to do it and will do it – maybe in my own slow, cautious, introvert way – but I’ll get there.  Nobody can stop me but me.