Friday, July 5, 2013

Introvert to Extrovert Converter

It's only a few days till the NetHui and I've found myself a touch concerned. While I think of myself as a bit of a social butterfly at these things, I've got my best friend coming along with me (afterwards, I'll get to see Baillie! You remember her right? She used to write here). He and I used to go to parties dressed all in black with a bottle of horrendously hangover inducing, cheap bourbon in hand. And we'd sit in a corner and talk to each other...

Things have changed. For me at least. While I'm still awkward at a lot of events, within the geek community, I'm pretty well out there. I talk to people and find out what's getting them excited and what sort of things to watch out for. It's all networking. Meanwhile, this friend of mine is talking about spending some time in the hotel room doing some drawing. For my money, I never find the time at conferences. It's either at the conference listening to someone - whether that's someone I'm talking to outside of sessions, or in sessions hopefully gaining an all new perspective on something - or I'm outside of the conference having a meal or drink with people.

Quite a few years ago (am I really that old?) I found myself at a party kind of wishing my friends would go away just so that I could meet some new people. There's a kind of ... trap here. If I know too many people at an event, there's the risk that I won't meet anyone new. If I don't know anyone... there's a better than not chance of finding myself feeling horrendously uncomfortable. That is unless I'm able to break the ice in some way.

Am I an extrovert? A friend of mine is curious about whether it's possible to go from being an introvert to an extrovert. A couple of days ago I was in a school counselor's office doing some work on a student's computer and that student was saying that she wished she was a geek. The counselor said something about how she was better at other things. They asked me about my background.

It's worthwhile noting that things have changed significantly in the school yard. Being a geek doesn't have the same stigma on it as once it did. I don't know to what extent this is true - there's a pretty good chance there are still kids getting picked on for being above average.

I was a question mark i.e. I walked around with my shoulders hunched looking at the ground all of the way through high school. I didn't really talk to anyone as I was aware of the laughter that would follow me. The bullying was something I'd just kind of learnt to cope with (that is until when one day when I just lost it and threw what was rather a lame punch - I got punched back and it hurt like a hurty thing BUT I never got bullied at school again). Computers were a refuge. Something you could predict the behaviour of. Escapism just like reading a book, getting drunk or taking drugs. All things to get away from the suckiness of life in general.

By my last year at school people were less inclined to pick on each other and it barely happened at all when I got into tertiary education (though there was one guy in my year of electronics who was picked on mercilessly and even called up a radio station for advice).

The point is, you can grow. You can change. Do I believe you can stop being an introvert? Not entirely. I struggle a lot with it. There is the inclination to go to a corner. I can't handle situations where I can't see the end of people such as the lantern festival, or a dinner a couple of years ago where they had smoke machines around the edges so I couldn't see the walls (I ended up starring down at the table and when it got too much, outside for a cigarette). If I don't know anyone, I still seek out a corner (which is why I do better at geek events rather than teacher events) etc.

There's something here to be said about what we say to kids about bullying. Asking a bully to stop doesn't do much. Talking the bully's own language i.e. not being intimidated by them - is much better. If you need to throw a punch... make sure you only have to throw one because there's a pretty good chance you're going to have to face some consequences - either in terms of the bully fighting back or someone catching you at it. As it is, when I was 12, I did punch someone and was caught. The funny bit is that I hate violence and it takes something from me - So I punched this someone and then started to cry. I got called over by a teacher who had seen it - an older guy who I didn't really know. So while I'm trying not to sob, he's telling me it was a half way decent punch.

As adults, we know that sometimes, in the school yard, you have to stand up for yourself. I'm not advocating violence.... I'm just saying that it's better to get one punch out rather than.... it reaching critical i.e. it's not one punch anymore and is instead a cracking of someone's skull on the pavement or, those kids who never get reported on (I knew of one of these who a few years after I'd known him, he took drastic measures. While I probably wasn't the worse - I was way too shy for that - I still felt like crap for my part in his end to it).

Okay... so that was a tangent. But it ties in. Honest it does. There's a benefit to standing up for yourself. I know of a person who I don't think ever stood up for himself and instead has become a full sized adult who's horrendously over sensitive. i.e. don't ever jokingly pick on him.

So becoming an extrovert (or dealing with being an introvert better) - step one. Stand up for yourself. Those same insecurities you're feeling are probably felt by those around you. Your life isn't like a 16 year old's bad poetry. Your experiences are shared experiences. You're surrounded by a whole lot of people with a whole lot of empathy and so even if they haven't had the experience, they're trying to understand you. Standing up for yourself allows them to see you as one of them. You're no longer this lame creature. You're an actual person.

Step two - Challenge yourself. Don't always go for the most comfortable course. Do what you've always done and you'll get what you've always gotten. Switch things up a little. I'm finally getting haircuts that I like. It isn't a style thing but just how I feel about the cut. This was done by offering the hairdresser a coffee. The next time I bumped into her on the street she stopped to talk.

Step three - if you view every interaction as a flirtation, people respond amazingly well. You're telling them exactly what you like about them and your interaction with them. They're more likely to respond in the same way. You're giving them the attention they want - though this can work against you at times. The other day I was doing something when 3 woman stood there trying to get my attention. It was an incredibly inappropriate time to do it AND what they wanted was outside of my scope (there's a whole other blog post here about how I'm feeling about volunteer work when comparing the expectations on me to those on the commercial vendors).

Step four - it's going to take a crapload of time. Don't expect over night results. It's a bit like... well... anything you do. A friend of mine was saying the other day that he knew a whole lot more than he thought about something. I'm kind of the same. I never really realise just how valuable my skills are because it's all just this really simple progression. It's nothing to throw together a quick webpage. Or customize an image for someone. Or audit a server to see what services it's providing etc. One day you kind of just realise that those situations you used to really hate just don't seem to bother you any more. They're nothing! In fact, it's probably hard remembering why those situations terrified you so much.

I guess there's likely to be a follow up post to this one. Something that talks about the comparison. How I'm seeing myself in that great big scary world full of other people compared to how I perceive that friend's position in the great big scheme of things.... which really just saves me from trying to find a conclusion for this post...

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