Back when I was a just an idealistic young thing, I told my mother I wanted to go into publishing. I wanted to be an editor, after all, my friends all came to me to edit their work. I’d be a good editor! I edit!
“It’s very competitive”, she warned me, “Why not go to law school, you can always get a job if you have a law degree.” Job security seemed nice, but it was that fear of competition that sent me scuttling towards a career I am deeply unsuited for. If my mom though it was too competitive for me… well, it must be? Right?
Competition is scary for the confrontation phobic. And when people say, “it’s very competitive…” and then sort of trail off… It feels like they’re saying, “You’re not good enough to compete in that field.”
For those of us who go to absurd lengths to avoid confrontation, competition is terrifying. It means setting oneself against another in public. For introverts the arena is the last place we want to be. We only like to perform if it’s a) anonymous or b) among people we already trust.
This is a real challenge to doing anything outside our comfort zone. We will believe your doubtful tone, maybe more than you do. We take that shit right to heart.
So, to the friend of the venturing introvert:
Don’t tell your friend that what they want to do is highly competitive. It is not a helpful critique. It is a negative statement. Your friend is hearing: “I don’t think you’re good enough.” Ask about your friend’s strategy, and give constructive criticism from your own experience. Your introvert friend will respond to a discussion about pros and cons, and will appreciate your listening and your input. They will NOT appreciate your stomping on their idea with a dismissive, empty comment. Also, they will never forget it, whichever direction you take. If an introvert tries out an idea on you, they are handing you their heart, you only get one chance to show you respect that.
To the introvert:
Just ignore them. They don’t know you. Don’t bother to grow a thicker skin, your skin is so thick nothing gets out. You listen and give supportive advice, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded with the same. Everything is competitive now, even eating, so just cancel out that noise.
Here is my advice (based on my attempts to not be scared out of a new venture (see last post)):
Make a list of people whose opinion you value. Look at your phone, who do you text with? Who do you feel safe with? Ask them. You don’t ask an electrician to fix your plumbing, don’t ask a steamroller to plant seeds.
Be open to partnerships. I was lucky, I was approached by an old friend who needed a business partner. Part of the reason he asked me is because we’re so different. He’s as energetic an extrovert as ever bought a round for strangers at a bar. He can walk into a room of strangers and walk out with a wedding invitation. I can go to a wedding and not meet a single person.
My partner has all the ego and confidence I need to fight my natural diffidence. He is not intimidated, and I trust him because he’s always respected my input. He is intelligent enough to value my process, for instance, he needs someone to take notes while he spouts out ideas, and then to read them back in a cogent, critical manner. I need time to write down my thoughts, and then present them to someone who has the good sense hear them with positivity, and to discuss them openly.
It’s not easy, but easy was never a part of the deal. Competition can be beaten without a Tarzan-yell, it just takes dedication, smarts, and hard work. And yes, I am at all times wondering why the hell I didn’t become a librarian. And maybe I will. But let’s see where we get in this competition first.
No sense giving up without a quiet, determined fight.