A couple of weeks ago I met up with Martin Howitt for the first time. We’ve been ‘twitter friends’ for a while so it was good to meet in real life and talk about stuff. At the time Martin was on PS Launchpad and we talked about presentations and introversion (I think we’d probably exchanged tweets about it previously).
During our conversation I said something along the lines of “I like to try and desensitise my introvert”. Saying these words out loud to myself for the first time really resonated with me and i’ve been mulling over a blog post ever since, so here it is.
The Young Introvert
I was very shy when i was young and very quiet. I think a lot of people thought I was rude because i was so quiet. Still today i’m pretty sure that there are people i know and like who think that i’m rude and/or don’t like them because i’m shy.
My introversion used to manifest itself in odd ways.
Once when I was a kid my extended family had a get together at a holiday cottage. We got there late and there was a buffet laid out. I was starving, but the thought of going across a room of people into another room full of people where the food was and possibly having to talk to someone was so scary i just sat where i was and didn’t move until it was time to go to bed.
When i was a kid i did Judo, for a bit. The second grading i had was in a big local sports hall with about 100 other kids and several hundred parents sitting watching the fights. As you can imagine this was not a scenario in which i was comfortable. My first fight was with a much shorter kid. before the fight started i’d decided i would try and lunge forward grab his lower leg and lift him up and backwards onto his back to win.It didn’t go to plan and i somehow managed to get kicked hard in the groin. I cried, but the intensity and duration of my tears was of a magnitude much greater than the pain. The kick had broken the facade i was maintaining of being ok with being watched by dozens of people. The kick had woken up my introvert and now it (I) was crying.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you act like an introvert all the time. sometimes you have a rush of misplaced courage.
When i was 16/17 i was in a band, we were called Battenburg and we got a gig supporting Mogwai. The singer wanted to be damon albarn, the other guitarist wanted to be graham coxon, the bass player wanted to be noel gallagher, the drummer wanted to be in a boy band and I wanted to be anywhere else on earth other than on a stage. And yet, I loved being on the stage. I liken this apparent contradiction to my childhood love of abseiling, whilst being shit scared of height (to the point of being frozen and embarrassingly immobile for prolonged periods whilst trying to climb things). It scares you and it gives you a buzz, adrenalin I guess.
So, we were doing this gig, but we didn’t have enough material for a set. One day during a practice I played and sang ‘Champagne Supernova’ by Oasis and the rest of the band convinced me to sing this during our set as a way of padding out the time.
I f***ed it up completely. About 30 seconds into the song I realised what i was doing and it fell apart. I played the wrong chord, my throat decided it was a good time to try and close itself up, I managed a half recovery and limped to the end of the song and got a charitable round of applause at the end. This story is the reason why there is a picture of Wile E Coyote at the top of this post. because sometimes I make the leap that my introvert wouldn’t let me make and its ok for a bit, but then your introvert finds out you look down and find you aren’t standing on anything, the ledge of confidence you had just peters out.
But guess what, I spent the rest of the night oscillating between buzzing and cringing, buzzing and cringing. This is a pattern I repeat constantly.
The Shower Cringe
Say I’m in a meeting/interview/meeting someone new/out with friends/doing something that involves any social interaction, the next morning i can guarantee what will happen. I’ll get up, have some breakfast, get in the shower and what i said the day/night before will be processed in my mind and i’ll cringe (mentally mostly, but sometimes physically), why did i say that? why did i do that? what was i thinking? what an idiot? and then its gone and i get on with what i’m doing, safe in the knowledge that this will happen next time. So much so that i often have a pre-cringe cringe, whilst i’m doing or saying something, my mind goes ‘oh hang on i’m going to remember that so you can have a cringey shower tomorrow’ and I then pre-cringe ‘you f-ing prat, why did you say that?’
Desensitising My Introvert
Looking back over the last few paragraphs i’m already cringing to myself. what if someone reads this drivel? what if someone i know/like/respect reads this? I’m going to take a deep breath and blow that idea out of my head via my mouth.
Over the last couple of years i’ve started a new hobby and its the hobby that my chat with Martin helped me name, I like to desensitise my introvert.
A couple of years ago I set myself a 10 week challenge to write and record 1 song a week based on ideas submitted on a facebook page. i called it ‘songs as a service’ and its here. It was a lot of fun but also very scary. friends, family, work colleagues were all aware that i was doing it the thought of it filled me with anxiety, nervousness and dread, but i did it and since i did it i feel my introvert is slightly smaller than it used to be.
Over the past couple of years i wrote a few ebooks, one about ‘How to be a dick‘ and one documenting 30 days using Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies at work Both were meant to be humorous and light-hearted, but both required putting myself out there in a way i’d not done before. Again, I feel like my introvert is a little smaller thanks to doing this.
At work, presentations used to give me the same feeling I had when I did the Judo grading, but over the past few years i’ve consciously sought out any opportunity to present, i’m now at the stage where it feels more like the buzz when i sang ‘Champagne Supernova’ but without the f*** up. I see that as an improvement 🙂
Recently a choir has started at work. the thought of singing in front of work colleagues filled me with dread and still does every time i do it. but i get the buzz and I deal with the cringes.
Just this week due to a bizarre mix up a colleague at work was under the misapprehension that I might be up for doing a bit of acting in his local amateur dramatics group. It is not something I’d thought about (except maybe in nightmares), but as he was talking to me about it I thought, this is exactly the sort of thing i wouldn’t do (introvert in my head says ‘run! run for your life!), which i why i’m now going to do it 🙂
Hell is other People
So wrote Sartre. I like people but i am, deep down, quite scared of them. People have written before about how extroverts get energy from interactions with other people whilst introverts give energy to interactions with other people and i think there is some truth in it.
My best, most invigorating days are when I’ve spent the most time talking to people I find interesting about interesting topics and/or collaborating on interesting work with them, they are also the days in which I’m most drained.
Being introverted will always be my default position, I am much more likely to say ‘Hi!’ to someone i know if i meet them in the street and keep on walking, than I am to stop and have a 5 minute conversation with them. But I feel that by consciously trying to desensitise my introvert i’m slowly changing the ratio against the introvert.