This Blog comes to you from The Secret Leader…
I love my job at FedUni for lots of reasons; there are the warm and fuzzy reasons, like watching our students develop and evolve during the time they are with us, and then there are more selfish reasons like the fact that my job challenges me almost every day. I often find myself pretty far out of my comfort zone, which is generally terrifying but it has seriously accentuated the steepness of my learning curve and last year was the stand out for me and my PhD on life! So, for some strange reason I have decided to share the rambling journey I had last year into exploring my own personality, and maybe it will trigger others to embark on a, hopefully more streamlined, tour of self-reflection.
The learning started at the beginning of the year when I observed one of my colleagues deliver a workshop to our Leadership students on ‘Personality Types’. I seriously thought I was there to offer assistance, to provide refreshments and register everyone into the event – how silly I was for not realising that I, like the students around me, was embarking on a year of discovery about my own personality. I like to think that I am fairly self-aware, and I know that learning is for life, yet I still get a shock every time I find out something new, then suddenly that ‘something new’ seems glaringly obvious and I wonder how I could have lived all these years without noticing it. I learnt a few new things from that workshop, turns out I’m the ‘I’ in DISC, I’m a communicator and prefer big picture to details, and I’m energised by being around people and hate to work alone. These would be the foundation bricks for what else I still had to learn in 2014 about myself.
A few months later I was talking out a proposal with a colleague and I apologised mid-sentence, declaring “sorry if I’m talking rubbish, I need to verbalise my ideas to make sense of them”…what he said in reply hit me like a wrecking ball (minus the naked pop star, luckily). He responded in a tone of near horror, “Oh my god, you really are an extrovert!!” There it was the word that would haunt me for the next 6 months, a big fat label stamped across my forehead that lit up in sparkly lights for everyone to see whenever I spoke. It had honestly never occurred to me that I was, dare I say it, an EXTROVERT. I know that talking comes a lot more naturally to me than listening but I do really work hard to give other people their turn in the conversation, I try my best to always hear the other person and take their words on board. I get nervous when I talk in public, surely that means I’m partly introverted, doesn’t it?!
I took to reading a book which was recommended to me called “Quiet” to better understand this new world of introversion vs extroversion that I find myself in. I hear it changed my introverted colleague’s life; maybe it will have some answers for me too? Alas, after five chapters of hearing about how most of the world’s greatest brains, Einstein, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Gandhi to name a few, are all introverts, and how deep quiet thinkers come up with the most sense because they think before they speak unlike us noisy folk, I began to feel really bad about myself and wondered how I might go about adopting more of an introverted style.
In November, with a fresh group of student leaders in tow, we headed to Werribee Gorge for a day of team building including abseiling down a 20 metre cliff. The students went over the edge one by one in varying states of anxiety and excitement, I watched each one intently hoping to understand them better and pick up little gems of their personality to be able to work with them more productively across the coming year. Then suddenly it was my turn. One of my colleagues went first as I got into position for the knee-knocking decent. I watched her with amazement as she cruised over the edge without a word, her face a picture of determination as she glided down the cliff as quiet as a mouse as if she abseiled every week. Her ease at doing it made me even more nervous, I couldn’t possibly remain so poised and demure; she had set the bar so high as she elegantly landed at the bottom without even a squeak, I was sure to fail in comparison. I make more noise in my sleep than my colleague did when facing this actual life threatening task! Just like a true extrovert, as I got more terrified I made even more noise, screaming, cackling, whimpering as I went over the edge and all-the-way-down-this-frightening-rock-face. Finally, after the noisiest most tortured 20 metres of my life, my jelly legs were holding me up on firm ground again and I was side by side with my abseiling partner in crime, both of us filled with a mixture of relief and adrenaline. She turned to me and with one sentence absolutely floored me, she told me how scared she had been for the entire afternoon at which point my jaw nearly hit the floor “But you were so quiet, you looked so in control” I exclaimed in absolute disbelief. “No, that’s how I cope, I have to internalise to be able to get through difficult things” she replied. It turns out she thought I loved every minute of it because I was SO noisy. How different we are and how differently we handled the same situation, we were both a little in awe of the other and you could almost hear the penny drop in our brains as we began to understand our introvert vs extrovert behaviour. I hadn’t failed at all, I was just using a very different coping mechanism, a mechanism which worked just as well and even had people fooled that I was enjoying myself.
Along my journey I have realised that I seem to surround myself with deep thinkers, folks who have perfected the art of internalising thoughts and emotions in a way that would literally have my head exploding all over the carpet if I tried it; they are gentle people who really consider their words before sharing them, great analysers. They seem to be the ying to my yang, they have qualities that I have always admired greatly. But since the abseiling I have definitely stopped feeling bad about being an extrovert, I’m noisy, it’s just the way I was built, get over it! We all have different aspects to our personalities, different ways of dealing with situations. I’m delighted to have gone on such a journey of self-exploration and to understand those around me better, it has given me more insight into why I and others behave the way we do, I am getting better at pre-empting reactions and feel slightly less stressed than I used to when dealing with loud or quiet reactions. I have peeled off the sparkly extrovert label from my forehead and will continue to remind myself that I don’t have to be demure to succeed at life.
Have you ever shed a stereotype or peeled off a label, shiny or otherwise? Let us know by commenting below!