It took me 37 years to figure out that I am an one of “those people”. I was an introvert in hiding. With all of the negativity associated with the characteristics of an introvert, I spent most of my childhood and adulthood running from the obvious. I have built a fairly successful career in sales and sales management, but I have never really quite fit in with the sales crowd. You know, the partiers, the hell-raisers, those fun-loving, larger than life “capsules of persuasion in a suit” kind of people.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them…most of them, and I have made some great friendships along the way. Those characteristics may not fit your idea of a salesperson, but that is exactly what I pictured as a 22 year old who wanted to make something of himself and find success in the corporate world. I needed to be exuberant, flaunt charisma, and look fear in the eye on a daily basis! I HAD to be like those that I envied in order to be successful (at least I thought so).
I was abhorrently shy growing up and did my best to hide it because I felt that it was an inferior trait that needed to be banished from my list of personality traits. Of course, this was easier said than done. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of me being gently prodded by my parents to mingle and play with the other kids at parties and social gatherings. Listening to conversations and watching others as they played and mingled was far more enjoyable to me than actually participating in the activities.
As I grew older and set my sights on climbing the corporate ladder, the “Justin, go play with the other kids” from my childhood turned into “Justin, you need to speak up more during meetings” and “I would like to see you engage more with senior leadership”. For years, I wrestled with trying to figure out what held me back. Did I have an inferiority complex of some sort? Did I fear saying something stupid or inappropriate? While these thoughts occasionally crossed my mind, there was really no substance to them. So, if not this then what?
Was I afraid of something, or did I lack something? The answer to both of those questions, as I would eventually find, was no. The truth is that I have no problem speaking in front of large groups of people and I have zero qualms with making others feel at ease. People often tell me that they appreciate my straightforwardness and candid style. I am a relational person by nature. I am much more interested in learning about people than just their name and what they do for a living.
When I really sit down to engage with someone, I could care less about their job title. I want to know where they grew up, how they ended up in their career, where they went to school, how many kids they have, what their hobbies are, and the list goes on and on. While I prefer one on one conversation, or at least a smaller crowd, I can also entertain larger groups but there is a big difference. Being with large groups and talking to more than six or seven people in depth drains me. Not because I get bored, but because it takes more energy for me to interact with a large group of people.
Extroverts thrive on being in the middle of a large group and striking up big conversation. Introverts prefer a small corner sofa with one or two others, or even alone. Extroverts recharge by seeking out people and action, whereas introverts recharge by seeking out alone time to process their thoughts, or by reading a book. There is no right or wrong, there is just being what you are.
It seems simple, but it is far from it. Trying to fit in and working diligently to understand why I didn’t, has been one of the most depressing and frustrating aspects of my life. I sincerely believe that if I had known and accepted myself for who I was fifteen years ago, my life up to this point would be drastically different. Not that my life is bad, not by any stretch but finding my purpose earlier in life could have made a significant difference in my relationships and professional life.
Enough is enough! I have made a commitment to myself to be open and honest with myself about where this newly discovered road will take me. I refuse to continue forcing myself to be something and someone that I am not. I have no idea where this road leads, but that is part of the fun in life, right? If we knew everything that was ahead of us, what would be the point?