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