Guest post by Patty K.
Do social events and networking meetings put a little knot in your belly? Do you find yourself on the outskirts of the meeting, holding a drink and feeling too nervous to approach people? When you’re chatting with someone, do you find yourself tongue-tied and worried that you’ll say the wrong thing?
Many people think that these signs mean that you’re an introvert. I used to think so myself.
In truth, these are signs of shyness (or even social anxiety)…which is a completely different animal.
Hello! My name is Patty and I am an introvert. I am *also* shy.
But not nearly as shy as I used to be.
I used to dread going to events where there would be lots of people and small talk. I’d scope out the exits and know exactly where the washroom was so I could hide out. I’d hover around the edges of the room and if some poor soul came over to talk to me, I’d give nervous one word responses. Then I’d leave early.
One day I took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator…and oh happy day! I discovered that I’m an introvert. I immediately (and erroneously) connected my introversion with my shyness. To me, they were the same thing.
It was nice for a while: “I’m an introvert, so I don’t go to networking events. I’m an introvert, so I don’t talk to people on the phone.” My new label became a “get out of uncomfortable social stuff free card.“
I worked from home in my spare bedroom. My husband did the grocery shopping. (I’m an introvert, I don’t like crowded stores.) We didn’t go out and socialize. (I’m an introvert, I prefer quiet evenings at home.)
Then I lost my steady client who provided 90% of my business. Suddenly, I wasn’t really self-employed anymore. I was effectively unemployed. I could either look for new clients or a j-o-b.
I tried to attend a mixer at the Chamber of Commerce. Only trouble was – I hadn’t left the house in *months*. All day long, I paced the hallway, my heart beating faster and faster. I was terrified. I couldn’t make myself go through with it.
I decided it would be less scary to get a job. So, I brushed up my resume and sent it off to a few places.
I was invited to an interview. Woo hoo! I got dressed up (suit, pantyhose, pointy shoes) and felt the fear wash over me. I ended up collapsed on the floor by my back door, bawling my eyes out because I was too afraid to leave the house. My shyness had morphed into full blown social anxiety.
Four years of therapy and two “real jobs” later, I’m back in business for myself. I sometimes feel a bit shy when meeting strangers, but I’m no longer incapacitated.
It’s possible to “get over” shyness (and even social anxiety). Social skills can be learned. With repeated practice and exposure, socializing (even with strangers) gets easier and easier. I’m currently attending about three networking meetings per week. This was nerve-wracking at first, but now I enjoy myself. I’m often bubbly, enthusiastic and outgoing.
Sometimes you hear people say things like: “I used to be an introvert, but I got over that. Now I’m an extrovert.”
The thing is: introversion isn’t something you get over. It’s simply how you’re built and there’s nothing wrong with it (or you).
I suspect what these people mean is that they got over their *shyness* – and were either extroverts all along…or, like me, they mistakenly believed that shyness and introversion are the same thing.
I’m still an introvert. I need to think before speaking. I find socializing tiring, even when it’s enjoyable. My energy gets drained by being around a lot of people and I need quiet time by myself in order to recharge.
However, I’m not nearly as shy as I used to be.
About Patty K
Patty is on a mission to motivate and inspire home-based entrepreneurs to overcome their fears and get on with doing their “Thing.” She’s a blogger, motivational speaker and pajama wearing nonconformist. Find out more at: www.pattyk.com
Want to hear more from Patty? Listen to our conversation on The Introvert Entrepreneur Podcast
LaVonne Ellis says
Good timing, Patti, thank you. I’m going to BlogWorld next week, the first social event I’ve been to in over 10 years — first plane ride in 15. I leave the house to go grocery shopping once a week, but that’s about it. So yeah, I’m getting a little freaked out. I have this vision of me hiding out in my hotel room the whole time, lol.
Patty K says
I had no idea – I never would have guessed from how outgoing you seem on your blog and on twitter. Good for you for going! (And I’m pretty sure Catherine will make sure you don’t stay in the room. Bringing your own personal extrovert is an great plan!)
The post really hit home. I too am an introvert and after prolonged office work, I have to drag myself to events. When I get there I’m fine. When I get home, I am tired but a few quiet moments helps me recharge.
I think your point about not hiding is important. We all have things that are outside of our comfort zone. When we explore those, we can grow. But inertia can set in. Our goal is to take those steps, daily if possible to keep growing and learning.
Ooh, fabulous post. SO glad someone spoke out about this! For years I used to think I should be self-confident, and that that meant being loud and gregarious. But that's not me. I have other charms 😉
I've learned to embrace my introvert self, but I am less keen to embrace my social anxiety. Just speaking for myself here, but it comes from feelings of depression and low self-worth, so while I think exposure to difficult situations is essential, it's important to have emotional support, and even medication if necessary — strategies to cope and heal. I know when I'm less depressed, I can enjoy life more and happily talk to other people, so I'm working to get to that stage on a more regular basis.
In the meantime, I just started an evening class. I don't ask myself to make friends or even talk to anyone, but being in a room full of people once a week is good exposure therapy for me. (It's scary as hell, but I'm doing it.)
Patty K says
@Jen – Inertia – great word for it. I need to keep a careful watch that I don't fall into the "I don't feel like going out" trap…it so quickly becomes a habit. And 9 times out of 10…even if I don't really feel like going somewhere, I enjoy myself once I'm there.
@Dianne – I hear you. I've wrestled with depression and low self-worth myself – and yes, it's not just a case of suck it up and get on with it. Yay you for going to a class! (And for not pressuring yourself to talk to people and make friends right away. I've found this "one small step at a time" strategy to be enormously useful.)
Judy Dunn says
I can so relate to this, Patty. It definitely starts to snowball and the more you tell yourself that your introvert self is to blame, the easier it is to think you have a legitimate excuse.
I'm like Jen. When I get there, I'm fine. And what's more, I even find myself enjoying it. It's the thinking about it before I go that can make me reluctant to venture out into that scary world.
Oh, and LaVonne, I'll be at BlogWorld, too. I'm @CatsEyeWriter. Send me a tweet and maybe we can say "hi" to each other!
And Patty, I so admire your work. Thanks for the intelligent (and fun) post.
Many an extrovert is actually introverted away from the madding crowd!
Patty K says
@Judy – Yeah. The (over) thinking about it is what always gets me. Funny how the *actual* experience is never as awful as what I imagined. Wish I was going to BlogWorld too. Would love to meet you and LaVonne!
@loannetter – hmmm. Sounds like an outgoing, social introvert to me! 😉
I think our society chooses the “extraversion” as the norm which sadly makes us introverts outcasts most of the time. This leads to alot of introverts to change themselves to suite what others say or change themselves so that they are accpeted by their peers which really does more damage.
“introversion isn’t something you get over. It’s simply how you’re built and there’s nothing wrong with it (or you).” I absolutly agree with you.
Very interesting post PattyK. 🙂