On a whim, I’ve decided to create a new micro-series (is that a word?) about outreach. I often have thoughts on outreach but rather than push them out into the Twitter ether, I want them to find a more concrete place on my blog. You can find these outreach musings under my outreach tag.
So, welcome to part 1 of Outreach Musings. Today’s topic is being an introvert and doing outreach.
Outreach is tough. And, its isn’t for the weary or the cautious person. One way my job and, to a greater extent, outreach challenges me is unpacking all of my introversion. To be clear, I think anyone and everyone should do outreach.
However, for the introverted folk among us, don’t let your introverted tendencies keep you from embarking on this career path if that’s your passion. I’m an introvert but I also do outreach. The biggest challenge I’ve faced is the near constant people drain. You have to engage with people. Sometimes when you feel like it and other times when you don’t. In the first couple of months of my new job, I left work drained with a massive headache and desperately craving uninterrupted silence.
I’ve learned to cope a number of ways. First, I actually take my 15 minute breaks and go for walks a la NixoNARA. The weather in Texas is pretty nice and the surroundings near my office building are covered with sidewalks and trees. Or, taking an environmental break from the office and going out to lunch either at a nearby cafe or a picnic. Did I mention how much green space is near me?
Lastly, the biggest of all, I had to learn to say no.
I know in this fast-paced, people-pleasing society with its deadlines, saying no may be frowned upon. Now, I’m not advocating saying no to every thing rather I advocate becoming more strategic in your no’s. If I’m feeling particularly people-drained and an impromptu meeting pops up, I say no and reschedule to another day. This, of course, is contingent upon whether or not its a time-sensitive meeting. If its not, I give it a ‘that sounds great, how about we schedule that for Wednesday?” she says on Monday afternoon. What if the meeting is non-negotiable? Well, I buck up and power through it. More than likely though, I’ll “conveniently” take a break right after to mellow out. Or, I block out some Ashley-time after work.
Another area where I’ve had to learn to push through my introverted tendencies is engaging with people. I’m not the best at small talk and its not something I enjoy doing. Believe it or not, one thing that helps me comes from my undergrad days of being an amateur journalist. I ask people questions. Usually I start with the basics, what’s your name, what do you do, etc. It helps to take some of the focus off of me and on to the other person. And, most importantly, I ask follow up questions especially if its an area of commonality between us.
Pretty soon, we’re chatting up a storm, there’s questions on both sides, and a couple of laughs in between. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve crashed and burned on numerous occasions but I don’t let that stop me. I keep pressing forward.
Outreach is tough. It’s about creating connections and engaging with people. The question isn’t whether you can do it but whether or not you want to do it. If you want to do it, you’ll make it happen and no level of introversion will stop that. It only stops you when you let these labels define you. Period.