I am, to quote Merriam-Webster, “uncomfortably nervous about or embarrassed by what other people think of [me].”
In other words, I’m self-conscious. And at 29 – about 20 years too shy (pardon the semi-pun) – this is the painful truth.
But, to other introverted professional elders in their twenties, I’m here to tell you something: It’s going to be okay.
Last year, my New Year’s resolution was all about change in personality. For me, it was going to be super simple to do this task with my new career change. No longer teaching high school English, I could transform my very self-conscious self into an outgoing and articulate PR gal in north Scottsdale. I was going to pull a true 180 and become a valued, confident, extroverted networker within a respected community.
This idea was perpetuated by a “fake it till you make it” mentality ebbed into my brain during my interview process. Well, I faked it for about two months after I was hired. And then it just, well, all fell apart (in a non-Chinua Achebe way).
It was exhausting. The whole change in personality didn’t really last because obviously the core traits that are me will always be there. And you can’t change those no matter how hard you try.
One of those is being self-conscious. Yes, I know it won’t last forever, but I think it’s important to embrace why it’s with me right now. I wasn’t always self-conscious; I’m actually quite confident when given the opportunity. Self-consciousness is a growing pain. Instead, I choose to muster through the motions of being a mindful individual and evolving without forcing too much thought into changing this aspect.
Instead of transforming something I thought was holding me back, I found that being self-conscious actually works positively for me.
I am never going to be amazing in group brainstorming meetings because I weigh everyone’s opinions and am too cognizant of everyone’s emotional actions to speak my own thoughts.
PRO: Creativity happens we are comfortable, right? However, because I am ridiculously thoughtful and observant with my glorious emotional IQ, I am dead silent during group meetings. However, my follow-up comments after meetings via email are detailed and precise. (And let’s face it, 90 percent of communication happens after a meeting anyway). Guess what? These considerate emails go farther than what can be said in meetings. Plus, people know that when I say something, it’s to make a point and not hear my own voice.
I am told that being self-conscious isn’t a trait of a leader because I’m constantly thinking about myself and not others.
PRO: I am always thinking of others; and although my introverted and shy nature might be off-putting in bigger groups, it makes me amazing in smaller groups and one-on-one because I’m able to give 100 percent of my focus to the person. With that genuine attention, it makes being a leader (e.g. knowing people on a personal level, telling their emotional signals) easier.
After a year of un-faking it, I’m obviously myself with a great raise, a comfortable bonus, and duties suited more towards my personality with those I prefer.
This is how I view it: When it comes to my profession and my actions at my age, I’m in middle school. During this awkward phase, you’re almost in the big leagues (i.e. high school), but definitely out of learning the basics from elementary school. During middle school, you’re figuring who you are and mastering which subjects will make you successful for the future.
This, at least, is the analogy that I give myself now. Yes, being self-conscious in your profession is awkward, much like your growing middle school years. Because c’mon: Elementary school rocked, middle school sucked, but high school became a breeze when you learned what works, what doesn’t, and began owning yourself.
Step one in owning myself:
- I care endlessly about what you think about me.
- I relive conversations you’ve probably forgotten about on my way home from work.
- I have 83928093203 thoughts going on in my head when you’re talking to me.
- It’s hard for me to complete a thought in person even though I know what I’m talking about.
- I doodle during meetings and avoid eye contact to focus on the task at hand.
- But that’s okay. Because that’s how I work. And it’s my problem and my solution.