Stop Limiting Yourself

Labels and other road blocks

person standing on rock beside body of water between green trees

I recently returned from a conference where I seemed to be in the decided minority.  They, like me, were business owners but I still felt a little bit like a fish out of water.  By the middle of the first day, as we were breaking for lunch, my neighbor invited me to join her group.  I gratefully accepted.  Over a pleasant meal, we all discussed our businesses, target audiences and modus operandi.  As my turn approached I got a little anxious.  I started slowly “at a conference like this I am an introvert in a sea of extroverts.  But with my clients, my favorite engineers and techies, I am the extrovert in a sea of introverts.”

I then thought back to a different conference put on by the US Department of Energy and the EPA – more my kind of crowd.  The keynote address was delivered by Devora Zack, a management and leadership trainer, who was both engaging and informative.  She introduced the concept of a “centrovert”, essentially a person who does not really fall squarely in either camp.  It made me look in the mirror.  Where did I really belong?  It also made me think about perspective and how limiting our labels make us and those we stick those labels on.  You see, we often unconsciously use the labels and, once affixed, seem difficult to change or remove.  How often have you heard a friend or co-worker refer to someone as good or bad, happy or sad, right or wrong?  They might be appropriate for certain circumstances but rarely apply to all situations.

➤ Language is Your Friend

Since one label rarely does the trick and the simpler the label the more limiting the view is from the outside, let’s look for a more comprehensive holistic approach.  We have a beautiful language filled with magnificent words with nuance and context and depth.  Why go for the simple when a more robust adjective can be found.  I had a boss who I liked very much and who trusted my ability, work ethic, and opinion.  He allowed me to experiment, expand my experiences, and develop my personalized approach and philosophy.  Was he sometimes wrong? Yes.  Could he be stubborn? Of course.  But he was a leader, a manager, and often inspirational.  While those labels are less fraught with value judgments, they convey a much greater sense of who he was and what he espoused.

➤ Reinvention, Maybe Reincarnation

As I sat at the subsequent meals at my conference my new-found friends teased me about how I considered myself an introvert.  I was conversational, I had stories to tell, I could relate to them and their concerns, I could even be funny.  Truth be told, over the four days I skipped out on a few meals in order to grab a little “me time” to recharge my batteries but otherwise was present and engaged, even engaging.  The nice thing about meeting new people in both your personal and professional lives is the ability to rip off the old label and let them judge you for who you are and what you do.  I had joked with the other attendees about being an introvert and I had limited myself AND guided them to a conclusion they might not have reached alone.  

➤ Through the Looking Glass

Devora Zack ably explained that the dichotomy of introvert vs. extrovert has almost nothing to do with personality and primarily about energy.  Do you derive energy from others or from yourself?  A simple label can never capture the totality of a person’s being, approach, or values.  However, we need to remember that being genuine will always shine through.  Accept who you are and use it to your fullest advantage.  I have often referred to myself as shy.  I am not shy.  Ask some of my colleagues, former managers or friends and shy is not a word that would roll off their tongues – even in a long conversation.  Reserved?  Sometimes.  Thoughtful?  Hopefully more often than not.  Careful?  Usually.  In a simplistic form, it can look like shyness and I had come to ascribe that trait to my own personality.  A think-to-talk approach and an analytic data-driven thought process would and could appear as shyness.  I am not the kind to end up with a lampshade on my head at the end of a party but I am certainly willing to share my opinions (and they can be strong and loud) once I get comfortable.

As you head out to your next meeting with a new client or welcome a new employee to your team remember to let them decide who you are for them and leave all the possibilities on the table.  You may be surprised how you are perceived when you remove the label you think you should wear.  Take a step back from our increasingly “digital” world and bring some old school “analog” back into play.  For a black and white approach provides only two options but everything in the middle gives us a huge box of crayons with which we can create our own self-portraits.