MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
I am an introvert. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me, but turns out I’m just an introvert. This doesn’t mean I’m shy or meek or don’t like people. Just the opposite, I love people – I just love them in a different way. When I tell people I am an introvert, they look at me and say “wow, I had no idea, you are so engaging and communicative and not shy!”
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are a socially awkward shut-in; it just means that you get your energy from different sources than extroverts. Being at large networking events where I am “always on” exhausts me. Being in small purpose-filled groups, talking about things I’m passionate about with like-minded people energizes me. Being able to spend some time with myself and my own thoughts re-energizes me daily – it’s my ying to the yang of spending my days with extroverts.
I am not shy. I have very strong ideas and I stand by every one of them. I enjoy lively debate, exchanges of ideas, and meeting people with those ideas. I do not enjoy communicating for the sake of filling silences and I rarely start conversations with people for the first time. It’s funny how awkward first conversations are for me – unless we already have some kind of a common connection or a common purpose. Social media and online communities has actually helped me tremendously in this regard, by allowing me to have the first meeting online, asynchronously and on my own terms.
If left to my own devices, I’d just study, write and read on my own. I enjoy these moments of getting into my own brain. This is where deep thought comes from and this is where my energy comes from. All of my best blogposts – the ones that have had the power to shape my career – they all came from deeply solitary, sometimes even soulsearching experiences. This is where I shine. I’ve been like this since I can remember. One summer, just a couple of years into studying English, I ventured into reading a few books in their entirety. I did it by looking up every single word I didn’t know in the dictionary (my native language is Russian, in case you didn’t know). That same summer, I wrote a few poems in both languages and read an entire dictionary, while other kids played outside.
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy carbon-based interactions – quite the opposite. Just like solitary thought energizes me, so does meeting people who are driven by the same passions as me. I come alive when that happens; at other times, I fall flat. Fortunately, I select my jobs and friends carefully and only do jobs I am passionate about. Perhaps knowing how bad at life I am when I’m not passionate has allowed me to pay more attention to internal signals of dissonance.
“But you talk to people online all day long!” people say – and they are right. My job building and managing communities and making them successful – and this takes lots of social interaction. Social media and online communities have been rather fortuitous for my career precisely because I am an introvert, not in spite of it. Instead of awkward first conversations, I can now help find people — and be found by others — on the basis of common interests and passion. Online communities are only sustainable when members are driven by a higher purpose, by working together on something; being part of these experiences is personally meaningful to me. When I have an opportunity to meet in person people I know digitally, it’s not stressful or awkward at all! Because I form relationships online through social media and online communities, I can now jump into deeper conversations during the first meeting.
As a community manager, I am a huge believer in extending online communities to the offline world – I think by blending the two, maximum impact is reached. I thrive at events where I have a purpose, where it’s not just loud noise with people trying to stand out, and me trying to stand out amongst them, collecting business cards. I am there to connect with people around shared interests, learn their stories and create something amazing together. After events, I take my time to unwind, and I usually tend to tap out at the end – and I limit events to just a couple per week. Conferences are hard because events bleed into each other, but I just make sure to take a few breathers in between and try to meet people (and rekindle friendships) through social media prior.
Check out this inspiring TED Talk by Susan Cain (thanks to John Hagel for the tip!) that clears up a lot of the misconceptions about introverts. Her talk brings up great points about the bias that exists in our society towards extroverts, with our schools and workplaces set up in ways that favor extroverts. This bias is pretty deeply hardwired into our culture, and we don’t even realize that it’s happening. When I was just starting out my career, my Myers-Briggs type always started wit “E” — I had subconsciously convinced myself that I exhibited extroverted behaviors, behaviors that are generally lauded in business.
Because, you see, we introverts are not shy or socially awkward — we just process the world around us a little differently. Heck, you may even want to hire as many of us as you can because we don’t micromanage — we let people run with their ideas and don’t feel threatened by them. As more organizations become more open and participatory, these types of leaders will be more and more in demand. The real win is for introverts and extroverts to develop a deeper understanding of how the other works and thrives and create the conditions that plays to the strengths of both.
Photo source: moriza