If you were to ask me whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, I don’t think I could actually tell you. I’ve read recently there’s a third type of people, ambiverts. Am I one?
I have always considered myself shy, since being a kid. Maybe not a really small kid, because I’m told that I used to be very chatty and expressing myself with my hands and stuff like that. I think it all might have started when I joined my second school, the one where I stayed until I was 18.
I don’t have many memories of my previous school, to be honest. Mainly, that I used to do gymnastics (not sure how long, but not too long, because I wasn’t good at it, and the instructor was a… not very nice lady), and that I had a bunch of friends. I remember some of them, more or less clearly. I also remember some teachers (there was a scandal about one of them, it seems, not really sure if it was true or not).
From my first year or two at the other school, I mostly remember being alone, and being quiet, trying to make myself invisible. It’s sad, isn’t it? I don’t remember how I met my first friend there, but I remember who she was. For some reason, I remember the bullies picking on me, but they never picked on her… or on my second friend. It was just me.
I know I keep mentioning the bullying, not because I want a pat on the back, but because I really think it changed me. Not only that, but it marked me so deeply, that I actually think about it quite often, even if it happened about 16 years ago.
When I was a kid and other kids were being mean to you, you were told to ignore them, that kids do these kind of things, and to forget about it, to not show them it affects you. The problem is, once they start picking on you, it’s like you’ve been chosen, and many times, nothing you do will change their behaviour (unless you give them a bloody nose, I guess, but that’s not the right way to deal with it either!).
I remember crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go back to that school. Every day was a nightmare. I pretty much tiptoed as much as I could, so as to go unnoticed, so they wouldn’t see me and I could survive another day. I think it’s possible that those kids sort of killed my spark.
These days, people don’t usually believe me when I tell them I’m shy. They normally see me interacting with lots of people, cracking jokes and sometimes even driving the conversations, and they just can’t believe it’s an effort to me. They don’t seem to realise that it’s all a bit of an act. I’m not fake, but I’ve learnt to act like I don’t care, while I’m shaking inside.
Many times I’ve mentioned here that my self-confidence is pretty low. When I mention this, I don’t mean it in a physical way… Or rather, not only. Again, some of the people who know me, might think I’m crazy for not liking myself physically, but everybody has their own demons. It’s not only about your weight, or something that easy to pinpoint, but we all learn to see our imperfections too easily. In my case, being called names and ugly when I was growing up didn’t help.
Sure, I keep reading motivational posters that say the people who try to bring you down are doing so because they’re beneath you (or below, or something like that), and it’s a nice thing to focus on, if you can. To me, back then, they were bringing me down because I was worthless. Thinking rationally, I would say that those kids were pretty useless themselves, they were good-for-nothings, and pretty much dumb, so that’s a bit of a consolation prize, I guess, because yes, thinking rationally now, looking back, is easy. Back then, even though I still thought they were dumb, their words hurt. I would cry when they would talk about birthday parties in front of me, inviting each other and pretty much pushing me out of the way to talk to their friend sitting behind me about how much fun the party was going to be. I also remember them making up songs, like those military kind of songs people sing when running, and torturing me during the whole P.E. class with them. Ugh…
Anyway, back to today (once I get started with that part of my past, there’s no stopping me).
Nowadays, I’m terrified of being judged, and of rejection. It sort of paralyses me. Again, pretty sad. I am an adult, a supposedly functional adult, and I can freeze if I think someone is judging me and thinking I’m an idiot. When I speak, I keep wondering if the other person is just wanting for me to shut up. If someone seems distracted, with their phones, for example, I feel personally rejected. OK, this doesn’t happen with everyone, or all the time, especially in the times we live in, when everyone is attached to their phones, but you know, I need reassurance, even when I don’t show it.
I won’t go all needy and cry for attention though… In my experience, getting attention means tears and shame, so I rather have none…
So what do I do? I try to control the conversation, and every situation, by trying to be the shiniest person ever, the brightest (as a synonym of shiny, not smart) and the friendliest. I don’t think that would have worked back then, but sometimes I wonder if instead of having behaved shy and quiet at first, if I had been loud and crazy, maybe they would have worshipped me instead of despised me. We’ll never know.
OK, you might be wondering where this is all coming from… And rightly so!
I’ve been talking to a lot of people today (and when I say a lot I mean as in the hundreds), and it was great. Now, how is this possible, after all the stuff I’ve just told you above about being shy and all that?
See, I hate initiating conversations… Be it cold-calling a client, or maybe asking a guy for his number (or even saying hi), or intercepting passersby for an interview or to do a sales pitch… Sometimes even calling a waiter over! You won’t see me calling people on the phone if I can avoid it. It all boils down to the fear of being rejected. All those situations require me to take a risk, make a move of sorts, and hope the person on the other side responds positively. The worst that could happen? The client telling me they’re not interested, or that I’m wasting their time; the guy telling me he’s not interested (or, gasp, laughing at me because I’m ugly); a person telling me they don’t have time for me, or asking me a tricky question during my sales pitch, one that I don’t know how to answer… I have nothing about the waiter, but I guess it has something to do with bothering them, or something.
They’re not terribly bad things that could happen, I think, but they would all hurt my self-confidence, and possibly my ego (and my ego is a very fragile thing as well, even though I know it’s silly).
On the other hand, if people come to me because maybe they need something, information, or something like that, then it’s a different story. If I’m working at the door, crossing names off a guest list, or maybe at a registration tent, signing people up for a charity race… Those are easy. People are coming to me already with a purpose, and somewhere where I only need to do a simple task, so I can be fun and friendly. I like that. I think it’s because I feel needed, appreciated. I don’t know, that’s my cheap psychology self-analysis.
Today, I was at a trade show with work. It’s a technology trade show, and we were giving out popcorn, which I had to make. Up until this morning, I had never used a popcorn cart, one of those you see at fairs. The only training I had was listening to the popcorn guy tell me, in five minutes, how to operate the machine, yesterday. When I turned the machine on this morning, I had no idea how it was going to go. For all I knew, the whole venue was going to end up in fire.
The good thing is that people were coming to our stand for the popcorn. Luckily, I wasn’t the one handing out flyers, that I wouldn’t be able to do (I’ve done it in the past, and hated every second of it). The first few times, I was a bit quiet, because I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. My main concerns were burning myself with the kettle (that’s what the big metallic pot where the popcorn is done is called), and give everyone food poisoning. Soon enough, I was doing it quite mechanically. Oil, kernels, sugar. Empty kettle. Oil, kernels, sugar. Shake popcorn on the cart with the scoop to separate it (they caramelised together in big chunks, but were easily separated), and serve. I even got quite good at handing out a napkin along with the box!
Once I had mastered the technique, or at least one that I was comfortable with, I managed to engage the people queueing. Sometimes, I had a queue of up to 10 people, so I had to talk to them, so they wouldn’t get bored. Even if the popcorn is free, people don’t necessarily want to wait for it.
I made jokes, ranging from really bad, to sort of acceptable (I recycled quite a few of those, even the bad ones, because why not?), I did a bit of a sales pitch here and there (remembering my times as a sales person), and talked about a wide range of topics. It was fun and it was easy, I was feeling right at home. I said a couple of times that I must have been a waitress in another life, but a Spanish sort of one, livening up the place with banter.
Usually, I’m good at banter. I love joking and I like trying to outsmart friends with my witty replies (sometimes I manage, sometimes I don’t). During the week, at work, I’m constantly dealing with people, and talking, and being upbeat. I want everyone to draw a smile on their face when they think of me, either because they think fondly of me, or because they can recall one of my goofy moments. I basically want people to like me, so that they don’t feel like they need to bully me. Is that sad?
When I interact with people, and I catch a weird look, or I see them looking me up and down, I automatically think they’re judging me. Who does she think she is? Does she think she’s smarter than us? Look at her, being all funny, and all me, me, me. Oh, shut up, you sound like an idiot. Why is she wearing that, the clown? They’re never nice in my head. So I preempt it, and sometimes overdo it.
When I’m telling a story and someone gets distracted, or interrupts me with something else, I don’t normally go back to my story with a so, as I was saying…; more often than not, I just quietly stop talking, wait a second or two, and then focus on doing something else, thinking that I simply bored that person to death, so I better disappear before the burning at the stake begins.
All this interaction, therefore, is an effort for me. I truly enjoy talking to people, and I think you can learn something from everyone you cross paths with. I am good at joking about myself, both in a positive and a negative way. However, at the end of the week, it’s very likely I’ll retire to my cave and become a hermit for the whole weekend. I would love to keep going out and keep being loud and friendly seven days a week, but it takes such a toll on my energy levels, that I just need most weekends to myself; I mean, sometimes at work, it feels like I’m running some sort of consultation business because I have a constant stream of people stopping by. There’s an available desk next to mine, and people come, sit down, have a chat and then leave. The problem is that sometimes there’s no break between one person and another (don’t get me wrong, I love your visits guys, keep doing it!). During the weekends, I just want to sleep, eat, and watch series in my PJs, all day long. Sometimes, I’ve slept for a full day before I felt ready for it all over again on Monday, as in going to bed on Friday night, and only getting up on Sunday morning (or for basics, but right back to bed!).
So talking to people is something I truly enjoy, and while doing it, or from Monday to Friday, I feel energised about it. That would make me an extrovert, right? However, it drains me of my energy, and come the weekend, I just need to shut down and keep to myself, which would make me an introvert… Is that being an ambivert then? I know I’m not the only one, of course, so I would like to read your views. Do you enjoy talking to people, or does it drain you, or both?
Let me leave you with some of the (terrible) jokes I said today… Don’t judge me! Ha-ha.
- We just need to wait ONE minute for the popcorn to be ready, I promise. If it’s longer, your money back. (The popcorn was free).
- Here I was, thinking I’m the most popular girl in the whole show, look at how many people queuing to see me, but you only came here for the popcorn…
- Someone else: You’re pretty good at this… Me:I’ve been practising since 9.30 this morning… I guess if my career doesn’t work out in marketing, I know I can make a name on this!
- Hello, what would you like?
- Me: Would you like some popcorn? Guy No, sorry, I don’t like sweet popcorn. Me: Try it, it’s really good, and I don’t like sweet popcorn either. Guy: Just a bit, because blergh. Me: It’s OK, I know you’ll be back… I’ll convert you to sweet popcorn… (20 minutes later) Guy: Hi… er… Can I have some more popcorn, please? (I serve him more, with a smug face) Guy: OK, OK, you did convert me… Me: I didn’t say anything.
- Don’t think it’s free, we’re charging a scan of your barcode… It’s a really good popcorn, so I think that’s actually quite cheap.
- Someone: There are other popcorn stands over there… Me: Yeah, but this is the best one… because it’s made with care and love… I would say sweat and blood, but that would be gross.
- Someone: I’ve been smelling the popcorn all day! You can smell it all the way from there and there… Me: I have a technique, watch! (I open the door of the cart where the popcorn is being made, and fan the steam out with my hand, essentially getting the smell to spread)… Works better than any advertising, doesn’t it? You’ll see, in two minutes, there’ll be a queue!
- I bet by the end of the trade show I’m really going to hate popcorn…
If I remember more, I’ll let you know. I still have tomorrow Thursday (or is it today already?) to practise and come up with new jokes! Be sure to let me know if you think of any good ones, and I’ll use them! Email them, comment them, tweet them, or send me a pigeon! (OK, maybe not a pigeon, that’s probably not hygienic, especially when serving food…)