I don’t normally write about or even post about work-related stuff—not for any particular reason, really. I do love my job and where I work but honestly it doesn’t usually inspire my writing. Maybe now it will, if I start thinking about it in that way… but anyway. The reason I bring this up is because I’m at a work meeting of colleagues from around the country who basically do what I do at other institutions. It’s the third time I’m at this meeting, which is held annually, and until now I’ve been slowly meeting people and trying to network.
Networking is hard for this introvert. I’m allergic to small talk, I have a hard time thinking of the first thing to say, and I always feel like I’m saying something silly or stupid. Even at meetings like this, where we’re all in the same boat and friendly and there are built-in icebreakers (what is your role / where do you work / what did you think about that last talk?), I still mostly feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin during breaks and at the receptions.
So it takes me a while. Today, as I was sitting in the room early (more on that later), I witnessed others who were reuniting after a year, greeting everyone, and I noticed my solitude at the end of a table, writing some notes. I’m not necessarily wishing I had more extroverted tendencies—I will never be the ultimate schmoozes—but I just observed the difference.
This is what I thought about the most when I joined the panel discussion slated for the first session of the conference. I don’t have much trouble speaking in front of people, which I attribute to the years of lab talks and presentations. I almost joined the speech team in high school before I realized I couldn’t do that and gymnastics concurrently. My nervousness instead had to do with the fact that being on a panel would give me visibility and would make it harder to be invisible.
Yes, the very reasons I wanted to be on the panel were the reasons I was nervous.
I wonder, how many times have I, have any of us, been afraid of the very thing that makes a new challenge worth it? Not of the challenge itself, but of the outcome? A fear not of failure of success—if I do this new great thing, then I’ll have new scary challenges and a new scary place in the world.
How many times have I , have any of us, settled for what is known and comfortable because of the fear of the unknown or the assumption that the new thing will be scary or uncomfortable or not worth it?
I sat on stage for two hours, microphone in hand, trying to keep my voice steady when I spoke.
Three people immediately introduced themselves to me afterwards and I had perfectly pleasant and interesting interactions with them.
I’m about to enter the welcome reception—so yes, I’m hiding now to write this and enjoy a sparkling water in relative peace before outputting more tonight. But, I’m finding that I’m looking forward to it more than I normally would even though I have lost a layer of anonymity that I thought was protection.
Chalk another one up to the power of getting out of my comfort zone.