Can you be an introvert, and still make connections?
We introverts are ambitious, smart, and intelligent people. So why does it feel like we can’t always break through? For people who prefer to be alone, who are shy or socially anxious, the world of networking can feel impossible, both online and off. What if introverts had their own way of getting out there and making connections? What if you could meet people and achieve success, without compromising who you are?
Morra Aarons-Mele is the founder of award-winning social impact agency Women And Work, and she host the podcast, “Hiding in the Bathroom.” She's also the creator of the influencer network the Mission List. She was founding political director of , and has written for the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, the New York Times, and many other publications. Her new book is, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There.
I recently interviewed Aarons-Mele for the LEADx Leadership Podcast, where we discussed how introverts can still achieve their biggest goals. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: What's the big idea of your book?
Aarons-Mele: The big idea of my book is that you should find, choose, and create a work life that is right for you, and the right level of success that's right for you. I really wanted to write a book for ambitious introverts, but not just introverts. People who might have social anxiety, people who, like me, are hermits who frankly love working in their home office, really being able to control their time. You're ambitious but you love to be able to control your time, you love to be able to work at home, you hate the idea of going to endless networking events, you like to eat lunch alone.
You might ask yourself, “How the hell can I be successful?” My book actually provides a roadmap to do that. There are so many of us out there, we're super ambitious, we're good at what we do but we refuse to live a life of being “on” 24/7 shmoozing and networking, constantly being on social media, partaking in this achievement porn culture. I wanted to really lay out the roadmap.
Kruse: Give us introverts some practical tips.
Aarons-Mele: Look at you, Kevin, I mean you go out and you speak in front of thousands of people, right? I would assume that that's really draining and stressful, but you get up there. You practice, you know your stuff, you've done it a million times, and the muscle memory takes over. That's really important.
I would also wager that before you get on stage or before you get on a plane to fly to a convention, you are sitting there and thinking to yourself, “I don't want to do this but here's why I'm doing it: I got to put my kids through college, I really love my work, it's important, people relate.” You tap into the meaning of why you do it and you were able to be a professional, do your job, and get out there. It is written nowhere that introverts are less ambitious or less successful than anyone else.
A lot of people hate networking events. The key is knowing why you're there, how to do your job in the room because you are working, this is not middle school. You don't need to make people like you. Whether it's making X many contacts, or it's meeting a person you've been trying to meet. If you don't have a goal, if you feel it's a waste of your time, then leave.
Know when a networking event or convention is going to make your career. I think that many of us aren't strategic about how we use our time and how we use our biz dev and even how we use our social media presence, which is also really draining for introverts. I would say to people, before you do anything, always know why.
If you feel like you need to go to a conference because your boss wants you to, did you go last year? Was it worth your time? Is there another way that you can get that sales lead to convert to a client that's more friendly to you? Be super strategic.
And I would also say I'm like a dog, if I have a job to do I'm very happy. Probably like you, if I'm giving a talk or if I'm at an event, I know exactly why I'm there. I've practiced, I've rehearsed, and when my job is done, I go. I know that sounds basic to people but it is so empowering: know why you're in the room, do your job, leave.
Kruse: Sometimes after work events we feel pressure to stay, on the off chance we may make an important connection.
Aarons-Mele: I just want to point something out which is I think really practical for our listeners—and also I understand not everyone is giving big talks—but imagine then if you left and you created a great little video highlighting your talk and put it on your Facebook page. You wrote a quick blog post, you did a Q&A on Quora.
Think about the potentially thousands whatever millions of people you could reach in that amount of time that won't drain you, that will live forever because it will be findable in the internet. I mean, I feel the same way about social media interaction that I do about networking. I could tweet an Instagram and engage in a fun way all day and it would provide minimum value. I could write a killer article or Q&A or do a podcast or video and it will be an annuity that furthers my reputation and my brand. Again, it's all about like you said, ROI and making use of your time and managing your energy because we only have so much energy.
Introverts can often feel at a disadvantage, but there’s no need to work against our nature. As Morra Aarons-Mele suggests, become aware of why you are doing something, and set specific goals. If something doesn’t feel worth it, then it’s ok to leave.