As I have mentioned several times to date here, I don’t spend a lot of time reading magazines. Partly this is because I feel morally opposed to using my hard-won cash to support publications which are often packed to the gills with advertising I disagree with. Partly, it is because I don’t have time.
Partly, it is because my bird, Pearl, chews through the pages before I can read them. But that is a topic for a different post.
Let’s take Time magazine, for instance. When it arrives, I first quickly scan the cover to see if I have any hopes of comprehending the cover story (usually the answer here is “no”). Then I flip to the back and glance through the “top 10 questions” with the celebrity guest of the month. Then I read Joel Stein, who seems to intuitively grasp that his one-page column will likely be the only article in the whole issue that I will readily understand. When I am done with Joel, I then promptly pop the magazine in the recycling bag.
But every so often I just have a feeling about a certain issue, and then I go thumbing through it, looking for whatever article is calling for my attention. This month the article was in the magazine Real Simple, and it was called “The Conversation That Changed Me”. There were several short stories in the piece, and I read them all. They were all very moving. But when I got to the one called “My boss taught me to stop trying to impress everyone”, I paused for a while.
The woman who wrote the piece, Meredith Maran, shared that as a naturally extroverted, Type A personality, she had grown accustomed in social settings to bouncing about a room, talking to everyone she met, introducing herself, and “getting it done”, whether from a networking or a friendship perspective. As an introvert myself, I could only relate to her typical way of being from the networking perspective, as this is what I have often forced myself to do when I have attended conferences and conventions, and certainly during my speaking events when I am the only person I am likely to recognize in the room.
But then one day, Meredith’s boss, a kind and gentle man and a practicing Buddhist from how she described him, pulled her aside. She thought she was being fired. But instead, he gave her some words of advice. Her boss said, “You know – you don’t have to work so hard. When I see you in a group, you work so hard at impressing people. You have so much to offer. Why don’t you try sitting still and letting other people come to you? That way, they can discover the real, wonderful person you are for themselves.”
I will admit I teared up a bit when I read these words. All of my life, I have struggled with feeling alternately shy and standoffish. My natural bent is to do exactly as Meredith’s boss described, but I thought I had to be Meredith – a bouncy extrovert – in order to be liked, respected, even simply noticed. For years I have been criticized for being “too” soft-spoken, too reserved, too serious, too indrawn. I was always the child on the edge of the group rather than in the center, because that was where I felt most comfortable. I am a natural observer, and I have always enjoyed social interactions the most when the other person seeks me out, because then I know that they really want to talk with me and I am not imposing myself on them.
But I didn’t realize that the people I have envied all these years – the extroverts like Meredith – often struggled similarly to how I did. I didn’t realize that, as she shared in her article, they sometimes behaved in such outgoing ways for the very same reasons – because they had been taught that in order to impress others, to be liked, to be noticed, to get ahead in life, they had to interact – forcibly if necessary.
In the closing to her piece, Meredith shares how she realized from her boss’ words how much her extroverted habits had been about her own insecurity and a corresponding need to control each interaction. She also shared that now, still an extrovert to the core, she often allows others to meet her halfway, and sometimes more than that, whether she is at a party, a meeting or other social event.
Through Meredith’s experience I was able to reframe some of the past pain of my own relational experiences and embrace the more natural gentleness and acceptance that hanging back can offer to others. What Meredith describes seems to be a newfound willingness and ability to tune in to her own inner intuition, which will tell her when to move forward into an interaction and when to allow others to make the first move instead. Here, there is more balance, more shared responsibility and a greater amount of mutual peace.
I love it. Thank you, Meredith Maran, for sharing your boss’ words to live by.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you, like myself and Meredith, struggled with how, how often, when and how much of yourself to put forward in various social settings? What has felt good to you and what has felt forced? Where might Meredith’s example offer you a way to more closely align your inner intuition and natural personality traits with other goals, such as making new friends and meeting new colleagues?
NOTE: Meredith Maran is the author of “A Theory of Small Earthquakes”. Her original article for Real Simple can be found HERE
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Last reviewed: 10 Sep 2012