Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Introvert to Extravert and Back Again


....or how I went from being a shy child to being able to talk to anyone.....

I can still remember how shy I was as a very young child. If someone tried talking to me, I would hide behind my mother's skirt. If I was with a group of kids I didn't know, I would hang back and watch them play.
Maybe shyness has nothing to do with being introverted, as one website states, but I think it did contribute to my preference for being alone.
It was the shyness I had to overcome when I joined the working world after high school graduation. My first job was as secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper in an insurance agency in my hometown. I went from only having to talk in class if I was called upon or raised my hand, to having to greet and talk to anyone who came through the door at work. At first I was only able to "talk about the weather". Eventually, I gained some poise and could converse on more subjects.
I was most comfortable with farmers who came in wearing their overalls or jeans. Insurance company representatives or claims adjusters in suits intimidated me until the time I convinced an adjuster to pay a claim he had originally turned down. One of our policy holders had turned in a claim for a cow killed by lightning. The adjuster didn't think that was the cause of death. I told him the farmer knew more about how a cow died than he did - at least "my Dad can always tell if a cow has been killed by lightning, or bloated or died from old age." The adjuster decided to pay the claim. After that, it wasn't so hard for me to talk to the 'suits'.
This picture of me was taken outside that insurance agency office in the fall of 1961. Note the football schedule in the window behind me. I don't know if the black scarf was some kind of fashion statement, but I remember those boots. I loved them; wore them until they fell apart; remember how they laced up the back. I think I was watching the homecoming parade. Friday I will be in that parade - on the float with other classmates as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation.

So, I got over my shyness and entered a new comfort zone dealing with people in a small town. I might have stayed at that level if a life change hadn't propelled me across the state to a new job and into a position where I knew absolutely no one.
(This picture was taken by my boss at that new job. Had I known what an eccentric person he was and the scary situation I had gotten myself into........but that's another story for another day.)

I had learned to talk to people one-on-one, but I still had a fear of talking before a group. Taking a first year Speech class at Kirkwood Community College helped me get over that. Which was a good thing because future job changes would find me giving talks before large groups.

I became a reader of self-help books - one of which was Barbara Walters' How To Talk To Anyone About Practically Anything published in 1970. Thanks to her, I wasn't afraid to approach Dick Van Dyke and visit with him while asking for an autograph for the friends I was with. I wasn't afraid of the belligerent boss I had to interview for the company newsletter. And I was able to relax and socialize with the president of the Chicago office of Burson-Marsteller - one of the largest ad agencies in the country at that time.


I overcame my shyness. I was extroverted when it was necessary. I even enjoyed large social gatherings, community activities, political gatherings and company conventions. But now that I no longer have to meet and greet as part of the business world, I can once again enjoy being the person I have always been - someone concerned with the inner workings of the mind, someone who enjoys thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings, someone who needs to be alone in order to recharge - the introvert.

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