Are You Too Comfortable?

Photo of the author, Gary Thomas, on stage.Earlier this month I had an amazing opportunity to address an audience of my peers on introversion. Yes, I am an introvert. Now I now what you are thinking: The photo above (which is of me) seems to contradict my pronouncement. But the truth is, at my core I am an introvert. I’m also an engineer by degree, training, and vocation. Now it may come as a complete surprise to you, but the engineering field tends to draw a lot of introverts. I know…you’re shocked, but it’s true. So when I was asked if I was interested in doing this talk I jumped at the opportunity. But it really forced me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve never really had an issue with public speaking. I’ve heard more people cite public speaking as their number one fear (over death, spiders, and snakes). Not me. I still remember the very first speech I ever gave. The subject was the mechanics of flight. And it was an excruciating FOUR minutes in length. Four minutes was an eternity as far as my seventh-grade self was concerned. Since that time I’ve given hundreds of presentations. I got nervous before almost every one. Interestingly I found that if I’m not nervous, the talk doesn’t go nearly as well. I need to be on that edge of comfort.

Back to my talk last month. I addressed a crowd of mostly engineers. There were likely some planners and other technical specialties in the room too. They may have been expecting a typical conference session where a panel of people talk about some aspect of engineering followed by some Q&A. That is something I have done more times than I can count. Instead, what I treated them to was an hour and fifteen minutes of changing their way of thinking and acting. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone!

While introversion is my status quo, I’ve recognized that you can’t let it be your only state of being. Introverts can learn to be extroverted when the need arises. Even though it can take an enormous (or is it ginormous now) amount of energy, I still think it is easier for an introvert to venture over into extrovert-land than the other way around. All it takes is some practice.

That means you can’t use “I’m an introvert” as an excuse or an avoidance technique. Introverts don’t get a free pass. You can be an outstanding leader in your profession, in your community, in your church, and in your home. You just need to recognize when to put away that invisibility cloak for a while. Even if just for a short time.

I’ve brought out some extroverted qualities by doing community theatre where I live (hence the photo). It has given me a great opportunity to break out of my nice little comfort zone. There are a lot of other avenues to achieve this such as joining Toastmasters, volunteering to speak at schools or local organizations, even starting a blog. However you do it…just do it.

Photo courtesy of Alan Bryant.