who are you calling “extrovert”? The (colourful) secret to faking it in a world gone loud.

Before discovering the internet, I was the quiet child who didn’t ask a single question in 13 years of schooling. Ok. Maybe one or two questions. I dreaded being called to the board to solve things, despite being good at it. I just hated being in the spotlight. And now, I’m talking to you about everything I do and think. What’s going on there?

this blog post started with a book

A few months back, I started reading “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that won’t be stop talking”, and was reminded how, like many geeks in the 80s and 90s, it was the web that tore me out of my little cocoon. I was shy. I was an introvert. Heck, I still am. To get any work done, I plug headphones in to block out interruptions. When I commute, I sink into a book and obliterate my surroundings. Every time I’m interacting with people who are not my close friends, I am “performing”, it takes some effort. I hate days with meetings in the middle of them, or anywhere in them, because they disrupt my thought processes. I need time to think, to sketch, to write, to read, research, learn, and then I can start putting something together. A day with 3 meetings in, is a day when nothing gets done, not really, not to my standards.

extroverts are loud. I’m not.

Apparently extroverts are loud, enthusiastic, prefer working in groups, have firm handshakes, and their breeding ground and shrine is Harvard Business School. Good thing I never went to the US to study. Canada was enough for me. I remember looking for a corner to study in the McGill PS&E Library. Invariably, I’d look for a secluded desk near natural light. More than 10 years on, I still favour quiet desks with natural light.

It was blogging that got me out of my shell. Discovering there were others out there like me who preferred the written word, asynchronous communication, the pleasure of lingering on syllables, and the quietness of reading and writing as opposed to a gaggle of people all talking at the same time. Because it’s always the loudest that are heard, and perception -yes, perception- can be altered if a strong-worded person insists they are right, regardless of reality. Mistakes can be made if the quiet people are ignored. (and let’s face it, introverts seldom interrupt or speak loudly enough). In the business world, this can be deadly. Thankfully, there are ways out of it.

for me, things shifted at University

At McGill, I learnt to speak loudly enough to be heard all the way to the back of an auditorium of 200 engineers, to have a story to tell them, and illustrations for each part of it. I learnt that it was ok to be quiet, get work done, because at the end of the day you were forced onto a podium to share it from, and people listened.

being organised = being heard

In the business world things aren’t quite like that. You can create podiums, soap-boxes, and other situations that give you the right to speak, but nobody will do it for you. That’s my secret. Whenever I set up a meeting, I have something I’m taking into it, and something I want to get out of it. Otherwise, it doesn’t need to happen. Because I have an agenda, a goal, things move forward, and I am in control. I speak first, or last, and in either situation, I do so clearly because I know what I want. It’s ok that I’m not loud. Because I’m clear, the message gets through.

creative people pretend to be loud

What you will easily guess when meeting me, is that I like colour. My personal brand is anchored on a colour: a variant of turquoise. To me, that colour signifies freedom. The sky, the sea, the great big canvas of life. I wear it a lot. It’s on my website, on my cards, on my twitter background, on scarves and handbags. When I worked in a consultancy setting, my wardrobe choices (such as knee-high burgundy boots, bright green dresses and orange jackets) were the talk of the day by the water cooler. Or so I’m told.
I own five pairs of black shoes. Four if you discount the sheer one with studs. Out of 50+. When everyone’s wearing a navy suit with a blue shirt, standing out is bound to happen for people who are curious about the world. And creative people are. I’m always asking questions, wondering if there are better ways to do something, following processes to find ways of simplifying them. In reality, I’m constantly lost in my head, poking around, imagining new things, wondering “oh hey, could we do this?” as my brain randomly connects dots from different things it has collected over the years… and it comes off as being enthusiastic and engaged in the world.

I love to look outside, and absorb new information. Introvert or extrovert? It’s confusing. Pair it up with something I always say: “life is too short” (to wear boring clothes?), and the impression I create is of someone louder than I really am. And I’m not alone. Artists and Engineers have always been eccentric in their wardrobe choices. Some might argue we’re disconnected with reality. I’d say it’s to catch you all by surprise and give you a reason to ask us a question. Because we might be too shy to start the conversation ourselves…

As I’m gearing up for interviews to move onto my next role, I am reminded of how far I have come from the quiet 11-year-old reading a book in a corner of the playground at recess. Because now if you throw me in front of a group of any size, be it two or two hundred, I can make them laugh, and listen, and participate. It’s thrilling and I love it. So much so, that you’d almost believe I’m an extrovert. You’d never guess I’m looking forward to my commute home so I can sink into my book, discover new ideas, and forget everything – and most importantly everyone – around me.