I feel the bile first. There’s dread too. The sweaty palms come next.
Our daughter works in her college admissions office and one of the admissions counselors asked us recently to attend a local event for accepted students. The counselors and current students would talk about the college. My wife and I were asked to talk about our daughter and how she had changed since starting college.
When the counselor first asked us, the idea sounded interesting: a nice dinner at a trendy King of Prussia restaurant; quality time with my daughter; and the chance to give back, even in a small way to the college. It all sounded fun on paper.
As each mile in the car brought the restaurant and the evening closer, I remembered all the reasons why I hate these events: large groups of people crammed into a small room, small talk with strangers, and long awkward pauses.
I reminded myself that I would have a chance to help fellow parents and that I was in their shoes just a few months earlier. For good measure, I tried to calm myself with the thought that I wouldn’t see most of these parents again.
In short, I am very much an introvert. I get energized by alone time and small group exchanges. A room full of people — no matter the audience, be it friends, coworkers, or complete strangers — drains me.
A lifetime of avoiding mindless chit-chat
I can chit-chat to a point, but I eventually need my alone time. When I was in college and my fraternity would host a mixer with a sorority or a rush event, I would dive-in and hold my own until finally the madhouse would get to be too much for me and I would need to slip away for a few minutes of alone time. It’s not that I hated the back-and-forth with new people. Many times I made new friends, some of whom have become life-long friends. I just needed time to vent and not be “on.”
The same goes now for networking events. When I start to feel that the discussions are short and not productive, I start to look for an out. When we’re getting ready to go to a party or event, my wife always laughs at me. She makes fun of the fact that I need to have an “out.” I need to know exactly who is going to be at event and how long we plan to stay.
Watch out for the vampire next door
My personality type doesn’t usually affect me much, but sometimes I need to explain myself to others. For example, one of my neighbors likes to give me a hard time by calling me a vampire, only to be seen late at night. He’s partially right. When we first moved into our home oh so many years ago, my wife was the one more likely to hang out on the front porch or to wave to people on the street.
In my defense, it didn’t help that before we were even done unpacking everything, my wife whisked off for a ten-day conference. Rather than coming home to an empty house that I barely knew, I spent my time working. I’d get home late and usually went straight to bed.
So I somehow became a vampire. I’m more inclined to think my habits make me studious or even a hard worker, but so be it.
Do whatever the job requires
Like my neighbor, my wife likes to poke fun of me. She often wonders how I survived working as a reporter and approached perfect strangers for a quote or how I’ve managed to survive networking in a large corporate environment.
She’s right. My actions and career goals would seem to be a contradiction. I like to tell her that when I worked as reporter I could hide behind my job. I prided myself on my job. If I needed a quote for a story, I did whatever had to be done get the quote. My Central Pennsylvania, son of a steelworker, work-until-the-work-is-done mentality rules over any introverted personality traits.
I find too that networking today is more important than ever, thus making small talk more important than ever. Fortunately, I think people are more aware thanks to books and social media that introverts play just as an important role in a team’s success.
A walking contradiction in personality types
While I certainly hate larger crowd settings, I absolutely love smaller settings. I love the one-on-one interchange between two intelligent people. In those settings, I’m able to ask questions and, most important, I’m able to be myself. I’m able to be my authentic self.
If only all conversations were like that.
So how did the admission event work out? Did I make friends with the restaurant wait staff and retreat to some dark corner? Was I a wallflower, helping to hold up the walls in the restaurant?
Despite all the horrible thoughts in mind, the event went off without a hitch. I managed to speak clearly on how our daughter has changed and how much I look forward to our semi-regular Monday night calls because I get to learn all the fun things she’s signed up for since we last talked to her. I even managed to get a few laughs when I joked with one couple that the set-up in her dorm room made me jealous and reminded me of a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel.
When we got ready to leave, the admissions counselor, who organized the event, asked if we’d be open to participate in future events.
“Us, of course,” I said. “No problem. We would love to.”
Let’s hope the counselor forgets my name when planning begins on next year’s event. At least that’s what I’m hoping.