One of the biggest misconceptions I come across in my line of work is that introverts are shy. I have stood with groups of leaders on countless occasions and explained that introversion and extroversion are not about how confident or shy we are; they are about where our energy comes from. During these discussions I regularly share the fact that I am an introvert, yet I am not shy. But that is a lie.

In this week’s blog I want to continue the theme of “dropping my mask” in the hope that I can inspire other leaders to do the same. I’m noticing more than ever that so many of us leave parts of our true self at home, and that is severely limiting the positive impact that we can have at work and on those around us.

Lifting my mask

Ok, so I said the statement “I am an introvert, yet I am not shy” was a lie, which it is. If we break it down, there isn’t actually a drop of truth in that sentence.

“I am an introvert”

This is a lie, but not a bad one. The truth is that I’m actually an Ambivert.   This means that I’m somewhere between an introvert and an extrovert. I definitely need time alone (usually on my bike) in order to re-charge, but if I spend too much time in my own company I definitely need to be with other people in order to top up my energy reserves. For more on this check out Professor Brian Little’s TED Talk here.

“I am not shy”

Big fat lie I’m afraid.

If you look at the dictionary definition you’ll find words such as reserved, reticent, retiring, apprehensive, hesitant, reluctant, insecure….the list goes on. The honest truth of the matter is that I could use all of these words to describe myself. And if those that know me best were being really truthful, they would say the same.

Have courage

Despite what I have chosen to do in life, I find walking into a room of strangers or standing on the stage to give a keynote speech utterly terrifying. In these situations, my natural instincts are screaming don’t do it! My inner dialogue is saying things like…

“Ben – why would you put yourself in this situation. Turn around now and get out quick before anyone makes eye contact with you.”

But my courage wins every time.

I feel the fear and I do it anyway.

I face into it because I know that my biggest opportunities lie on the other side of discomfort. And that’s not just some motivational quote from a poster or meme. I totally believe it to be true, and that’s why I believe I’ve been successful.

Perhaps this means I’m not really shy. Who knows?

What I do know is that I’m not alone. I suspect many of you reading this can readily connect with what I’m sharing but have been too scared to share it with anyone because “this isn’t how leaders and successful people are meant to feel.”

When I started my business 4 ½ years ago I made a conscious decision to join a London based networking group and regularly attend a number of big conferences. This was a decision I reluctantly made with much reticence and trepidation!

But I knew that it would bring opportunities to grow my business and to grow as an individual. Do I now go to these events with the same level of apprehension? Absolutely not.

Do I bound in looking like the most confident networker in the world? It may look that way when I have my mask on, but that’s not what’s really going on inside.

I do find events like these much less intimidating now because I’ve had the courage to keep putting myself in these situations. I would even go as far to say that I generally enjoy networking at events and conferences. I would also describe myself as a good networker.

That said, there are three specific ploys I use when my shyness gets the better of me.  But to be clear, these are as much about quickly re-energising and re-setting as they are about hiding. Here they are:

  1. Pretend I need to check for urgent emails or messages – i.e. hide behind my phone.
  2. Pretend I need a fifth cup of coffee – i.e. hide in plain sight in the coffee queue.
  3. Pretend I need another pee (which I often do after five coffees) – i.e. hide in the gents for 5 minutes.

It’s ok to be a shy introvert

Perhaps above all else, the point I’m trying to make in writing this article is that dropping your mask is a good thing.

You can be successful being you, regardless of what labels or character traits you have. You are not your labels.

In the long run, the most successful version of you will be the most authentic version of you.

I’ll leave you with these final words, that are really more for me than they are you.

I’m an introvert.

I’m shy.

I have courage.

I’m successful.