Social expectations are well known to the introvert: one is expected to be confident during public speaking, comfortable around people, outgoing, and cheerful. Shyness is retro. Companies look for extroverted individuals. While I’m not an extrovert to meet these expectations, I’ve found my own ways to navigate the extroverted world.
Christmas celebration in the kindergarten. The room was full of proud parents waiting with excitement to hear their kids praise Santa Claus. We were standing in a row and each kid stepped up to chirp about the holiday spirit. It was my turn and I felt a tsunami of shyness falling over me. I couldn’t do it! I hid behind the kid next to me and mumbled the text. At the same time, I wasn’t shy to secretly have an extra dessert during lunch. Not sure how proud my mother was of me.
Recital in primary school, a full house. I didn’t hide this time but stared at a random dot in the distance and focused on getting rid of the words numbing my mouth. We got rewarded for this torture with thick books.
Before the blackboard in school. Every time the teacher called my name I felt a dagger pierced me. I prayed to hear the sound of the bell, my savior, and get back into my comfortable shell. All those eyes felt like needles in my skin and I couldn’t be happier when it was over.
Job interviews. I am very well prepared, don’t stutter, keep eye contact, my voice is calm and hopefully pleasant to the ears. I can think on my feet and know what to ask. Yet I look forward to my escape and taking the mask off.
Presentations. Similar to interviews, I plan my escape and a panic button is activated somewhere inside me. I rehearse and time myself, keep it concise, and answer all the clever and not-so-clever questions from the audience. I believe in what I say and usually have good arguments to convince them. Rise and shine!
Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is among Americans’ biggest fears. Before and during public speaking, feelings of judgment, embarrassment, or rejection are triggered. To me, it’s the feeling of being judged, the stares and anticipation of what I’d say.
But there’s more to that.
Phone calls. I love speaking with my close ones on the phone, I laugh, joke, and don’t think much about what I say. The situation turns upside down when I need to speak with a stranger and that feeling of being judged through my voice and whatever comes out of my mouth.
Video work meetings. Me on video with a stranger? The horror! I’m too serious, focused, no jokes, low voice. Is this me? I no longer care. I overcome it through practice and boring meetings with all these strangers who didn’t even devour me through the screen.
Networking. Those strangers again, packed in a room, pretending to be happy and professional. Interestingly, I don’t feel judged in such situations. Instead, I wonder what to talk about with people who at first sight are not my blood type and there’s an obvious lack of chemistry. I developed a strategy to forget about the weather as an ice breaker, avoid personal stuff, ask questions but don’t interrogate, and focus on the person instead of myself. It took me some practice to find the balance, however, I often find myself in hour-long conversations, no gossips involved.
Ambivert is neither an introvert nor an extrovert. Something in-between, the best of both worlds. I consider myself an introvert, however, depending on the situation and the people involved, I could have extroverted outbursts: I love being alone yet I enjoy meeting others offline; I can handle social settings but get tired of crowds; working by myself or with others is equally fun for me; I can be really quiet, pensive, and mostly listen yet I could talk ardently for hours.