I hated talking in front of people, and I hated talking to people only slightly less than I hated talking in front of them. Before we would go out with friends my wife would make sure my favorite beer (Coors Light – I grew up in the west, and of humble origins) was on hand, because after two beers I could socialize at a dinner party and enjoy it.
Before two I would find a reason to spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I’m sure some of my wife’s friends and my acquaintances were positive that there was something gravely wrong with my digestive system.
Then something in me changed. I started to like talking to people. I began to enjoy talking in front of people. I started to like having friends.
Maybe it was getting older that made me more outgoing. But the end result is that I began to enjoy Coors Light for the taste (it’s true), and not just the social lubrication.
Here’s what changed for me:
1. I got comfortable being me.
I don’t like guns and I don’t really like cars. Both have their uses, but the uses of them are not interesting enough to me to sustain a conversation. However, I was raised by a man who had a Chevrolet Blazer that was so “jacked up” you needed a ladder to climb in.
And if you need an explanation of what the term jacked-up means, you probably wouldn’t have been an active participant in those conversations either. Out of sheer disinterest, for the first 18 years of my life I excluded myself from 90% of the conversations around me. And I grew up self-conscious about who I was and what interested me.
Let’s just say I wish being a comic-book nerd was as cool then as it is now.
Then, in my early 30’s, I just stopped caring about the opinions of others as much. I am who I am. I like comic books. I cry during many Pixar movies. I have strongly held beliefs that don’t always align with the people around me.
It’s much easier to participate in a conversation when you’re comfortable with and accepting of the person doing the talking.
2. I learned that everybody poops.
Read Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi. It’s true. Even the people you most admire poop. Both literally and metaphorically. Martin Luther King, Jr. pooped. Abraham Lincoln pooped. Your boss poops (though that may be easier to imagine).
The people in a crowd you are speaking to or the ones on the other side of a job interview table are just people. There is an extremely good chance that they don’t have life any more figured out than you do. They may have figured out a part of life, but everyone has work left to do.
Remember that judgment is different than critique. Some people might critique you, and that’s good. Everyone needs to get better. But if you’re worried about someone judging you, know that those who judge usually have the most work to do.
3. I realized I just needed people.
You need the support, encouragement, advice, and criticism of others. You need people to tell you when you’re headed in the wrong direction. You need people to help get you where you want to go when you’re headed in the right direction.
You need people to help get you where you’re going, and it’s harder to get those people if they don’t know who you are.
I know people who define themselves as “introverts” and “extroverts”. I think we’re all familiar with the cottage industry that’s grown up around these terms in the last few years.
But you don’t have to be either. You don’t have to assign yourself limiting labels. Everyone has natural tendencies, but you don’t need let those tendencies dictate who you are.
Everyone needs a little of the introvert in them: at times you need to step back and think about your next step before taking it. And everyone needs a little of the extrovert in them: sometimes you need to step out and say what you want, before you lose the chance to get it.
Just take a deep breath before you step out and remember: everyone poops.
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