Advice for Introverts
So you're an introvert and someone has asked you to speak on stage? Or maybe you have trouble making friends. Or maybe you are reluctant to attend a conference because you know you'll be tired afterwards. Trust me, it's gonna be okay. And yes, you can do it. Here's how.
I'm naturally an introvert yet my career, developer relations, involves socializing and speaking in public. My job is to communicate with people. Lots of people. I attend conferences, record videos, and run workshops. This would seem to be the antethesis of an introvert. And yet I manage to do it. I think this misconception stems from the definition of introvert.
Many define an introvert as someone who is shy. Someone who has trouble making friends, is scare of large groups, or simply prefers to be alone. I think this definition confuses symptoms with the cause.
Being an introvert doesn't mean you don't like people. It refers to how you feel around people. Being with people gives energy to extroverts. It takes energy away from introverts. That's really the only difference.
When I go to a conference I enjoy sharing what I'm excited about. I like teaching workshops becuase the attendees come away with the ability to do something new. It's like handing out super powers. I like writing and making videos for the same reason. But none of this give me energy. They all consume energy instead.
After I return home from a conference I need alone time. I go into my office to be quiet and organize my thoughts. I cherish the isolated time on an airplane, the one remaining place where I'm not connected to the world.
Dealing with introversion, for me at least, is an energy problem. This is good news. Energy problems can be solved! For those of you who are just starting your career and think you might be an introvert, here are some tips for managing your energy.
First: be aware of your energy levels. After a party do you feel energized or exhausted? Do you like meeting 20 people at an event or having dinner with just three? Do you have more energy in the morning or evening? Getting to know you energy levels is getting to know yourself.
Second: plan for down time. If you know you will be exhausted after a week long conference, or after you teach a workshop, plan for it. Reserve a day of quiet after it's all over. If you are a parent like me, then plan for a day at grandma's house for your child as a way of getting that precious of quiet. When I go to a long conference I plan breaks in the middle where I just stay in my hotel room reading instead of continuing to socialize.
Three: don't feel bad about not being productive. When I come home from a conference I will often play NES games in my office (thanks for the NES Classic, Sweetie!) Sometimes I feel lazy. Shouldn't I be writing some code? Shouldn't I be meeting with co-workers to plan the next quarter? What about that blog I promised management? I just remind myself that down time is an important part of being mentally healthy. If I'm not healthy then I can't be productive when it is time to work.
Four: plan non-brain tasks for your quiet time. I know that I have only a certain amount of energy. Most of my meetings are scheduled for Mondays and Tuesdays. I don't that I won't have the brainpower to dive into a piece of code or write a coherent essay after those meetings. So I don't even try. Instead I do paperwork. I file expense reports, follow up on cursory emails, and read some industry news instead of trying to be creative. Then on Wednesday I feel fresh and ready to actually produce something.
I hope this advice from one introvert to another helps you. It very much is possible to have a career traveling, teaching, and socializing while being an introvert. You just have to know and monitor yourself. Good luck!