I’ve been interacting with the unconventional lifestyle community for some months now, but all online. Twitter, blogging, some emails, a few Skype calls; these were my main forms of communication.
It’s easy to share your thoughts from behind a computer screen, but the real world is an entirely different beast. The unconventional meetup was going to be my very first time meeting anybody in person.
And I was nervous.
A natural introvert
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been extremely shy in social settings, especially when it comes to big groups of strangers.
But I wanted more than anything to meet some of these strangers. I mean, (unless you happen to live somewhere like Portland), how often do you get the chance to meet up with the lifestyle design community in your daily life? I also felt somewhat accountable to YOU after blabbing about this so resolutely on the blog last week.
All to say, that if I had shown up, sat quietly and then left, I would have felt profoundly disappointed in myself.
So yes, I was nervous.
I arrived with one of my best friends. Beyond reading Puttylike, he’s not really into the whole dream-pursuit/lifestyle thing but I think he’s mildly curious and has an open mind, so I invited him along. We grabbed a couple chairs near the front and spoke amongst ourselves.
Before the talk, Chris came over to chat. He asked us to fill out our name tags and to mark down one unconventional thing about ourselves. That’s right… ONE. “That’s going to be hard for you,” he added. Hah… Someone’s been reading my blog. ;)
Lucky for me, I’ve gotten good at answering questions like this in roundabout ways.
What was my one unconventional thing? ‘I’m a Multipotentialite,’ I wrote.
After Chris’ presentation and a short Q&A, people began lining up to get their books signed. As the crowd cleared out, I thought, now what?
Throw yourself into the leadership role (or have it thrust upon you)
And that’s when a friendly girl approached me and introduced herself. “Don’t you think it would be cool if we organized a local group for the art of non-conformity?” “Yes!” (Finally!) I replied.
I pulled out my Moleskine and she jotted down her email address. And that was it. Suddenly, I (as the one with the Moleskine notebook), had been nominated. I had to go collect email addresses!
And that’s exactly what I did.
I worked my way down the line and chatted with everybody. I met some incredible travelers, artists, students. It was such a diverse group and such a pleasure. Better yet, as I collected email addresses, my goal of forming a local network of awesome people was coming together.
And what of the shyness? Well to be honest, I was still nervous. But did it stop me? No. I had no choice but to proceed. I was on a mission and someone else was counting on me.
Don’t give yourself an out
As I began my networking mission, the friend I had arrived with decided to leave.
And as much as I love you, friend (because I know you’re reading this), being completely alone made an enormous difference when it came to meeting new people. Suddenly I had no one to turn to when I was feeling uncomfortable. This meant that I had better step up.
It’s always easier to meet new people when you don’t have anyone else to rely on. Don’t give yourself an out. Make it so that you have to talk to new people.
We crave community
As I mingled, I noticed that people seemed apprehensive for the first five seconds of us talking. People aren’t used to being approached by strangers. It breaks the unspoken rules about behaviour in public spaces. However, very quickly, they seemed to relax and become quite chatty. They began talking to each other too. In fact, everyone started opening up.
Whether it’s in the online community or in real life, we all crave community. We want to connect with like-minded people and share our ideas.
The problem is, we’re all shy.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, don’t deny that you feel uncomfortable. Just be the one who proceeds anyway. If you take the lead, others will follow.
Seth Godin puts it nicely in his book Tribes:
Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It’s discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.
5 Steps for overcoming shyness
So to sum up, overcoming shyness and meeting new people can be accomplished in the following ways:
1. When you’re at your shyest and want to cower in the corner, do the opposite
The body follows the mind and the mind follows the body. Behave like a confident person would and you’ll soon start to feel confident too.
2. Show up to events alone (or have your friend ditch you mid-event)
Don’t give yourself an out. Create the circumstances whereby you have no safety net to fall back on and no choice but to talk to new people.
3. Make yourself accountable to someone else
Volunteer to be in charge or tell someone (your blog visitors, for example) about your plan to meet new people. If you know you’ll have to report back to someone, you’ll feel more pressure to step up.
4. Embrace the unknown and make use of the adrenaline
There’s something fulfilling about thrusting yourself into the unknown and having to fend for yourself. It requires that you trust yourself. Once you do it, you feel almost invincible.
I’ve grown to love putting myself on the spot like this. I’ve noticed that I tend to perform at a much higher level when, for example, I don’t over-prepare for a presentation. Being on the spot and having to ‘wing it’ a little usually results in a far more inspired speech. It’s like saying: “Emilie, I trust you. I know you can do this!” You end up rising to your own expectations. Whereas if you’ve written out your entire speech, it’s like telling yourself that you don’t trust yourself. The over-preparation becomes a crutch.
5. Act like talking to strangers is completely normal
Peoples reactions are often determined by the way information is presented. If you behave uncomfortably, they will respond uncomfortably. But project (or feign) confidence, and very quickly people will follow your lead.
The main thing is to SMILE. A smile and some solid eye contact goes a long way. All it takes is a few seconds. After that, they will relax and you can as well.
To all the lovely people I met the other day, thank you for giving me some practice stepping out of my comfort zone. It was a pleasure meeting you all and lets stay in touch. Also, a big thanks to Chris for swinging by our cold city!
How have you overcome shyness? Do you have any tips for meeting new people in unconventional settings?