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I’m an Introvert: What’s Your Superpower?

Today’s post is geared at my fellow face painters, henna artists and balloon twisters who have their own business. I’ve decided that it’s time to get PERSONAL!  Because your personal self has a huge impact on your business! I have a confession to make…

My name is Gretchen Fleener, and I am an introvert.

“WHAT?!!” you say? How on earth can an introvert work in the business of entertaining crowds?  How can an introvert deal with endless lines of kids, and the irate parents when we have to cut off that line?  How can an introvert state her rates with confidence, and deal with customers who won’t pay their invoices?  Teaching classes and speaking in public? No WAY!  Surely there is no way an introvert could run a successful business in this field. Yet somehow I’ve managed to do so for 20 years now, and have just recently reflected on how I’ve been able to do so.

Which begs the question…at what point did our society decide that introversion was a negative trait, or something that is bad for business?  Growing up, as the “shy one” I always felt like this was some sort of hindrance to what I could become.  I didn’t look forward to Girl Scout camp-outs, had no interest in school dances, and did not want to play team sports. I was happiest when I was riding my bike, drawing, creating things, building forts in the woods, and hanging out with one or two best friends at a time.  It has only been in recent years, since starting to work from home and focus solely on my own business, that I’ve learned that my way of “being” has a name, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it!

I was really surprised to have discovered that my friends who didn’t know me as a child are actually shocked when I mention that I am an introvert.  They had no idea because I still spend time with friends, I love to host gatherings, and I even accept speaking engagements.  It never occurred to me until recently that everyone around me wasn’t still labeling me as “shy” or some kind of anti-social loner…I had gotten used to that and thinking it was just one of my weaknesses.  Little did I know that introversion isn’t a weakness at all, but a super power.

I recently listened to a great TED Talk by Susan Cain called “The Power of Introverts,” and she had so many great points:

“We have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude.  It is only recently that we’ve strangely begun to forget it. If you look at most of the world’s major religions you will find seekers: Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad…seekers who are going off, by themselves, alone, into the wilderness, where they then have profound epiphanies and revelations, that they then bring back to the rest of the community.  No wilderness, no revelations.”

So how could it be possible that someone as introverted as me could be hosting as many face painting jams as humanly possible, and speaking in front of groups about what she does? After all, these things really do go against every fiber of my being.  Another one of Susan’s quotes really seemed to nail it for me:

“…some of our most transformative leaders in history have been introverts…Elanore Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Ghandi…all of these people described themselves as quiet, soft spoken, even shy. And yet they all took the spotlight even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to.  And this turns out to have a special power of it’s own, because people could feel that these leaders were at the helm, not because they enjoyed directing others, and not out of the pleasure of being looked at…they were there because they had no choice, because they were driven to do what they thought was right.”

That’s it…I take NO pleasure in being looked at.  I am doing what I love, what I know I was meant to be doing, and I have a drive to teach and share…to help my fellow artists as much as I can, because I feel like that is what I am here to do.

So how do I do it while being such an introvert? Here are a few things I do to embrace and work with my introvertedness…

Don’t let your feelings make your business decisions.

I made a conscious decision that I would not let my introversion stop me from snatching up opportunities…particularly the part that sends shock waves of terror through my body when being asked to speak.   If I did, I’d be turning down way too many awesome opportunities, and when you run your own business, you simply cannot afford to turn down everything just because the thought of it makes your skin crawl.

Our local paper did a story on one of my new book releases this past spring, and out of that came a phone call from our local Rotary Club, asking if I would be a speaker at one of their meetings.  My internal reaction: “That sounds absolutely terrifying!”  My verbal reaction, “Sure, I’d be honored!”  Yes, I was terrified, and my stomach churned immediately.  (Heck, who am I kidding…my stomach churns every time my phone rings!)  I worried about it and spent countless hours preparing.  But I made sure I had what I needed to succeed as the introverted speaker I am, which brings me to my next tip…

 Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to succeed.

Why not, everyone else does, right?! The Rotary Club didn’t call me at an ideal time…  I was super busy with work AND had my two boys home with me 24/7.  For a moment I freaked out about how I was going to pull together a presentation during my busy season, and whether I could keep my boys quiet in the corner with ipads while I present, or if I’d have to find a sitter.

I decided that if I was going to do something so far out of my comfort zone, I wanted to do an awesome job, and needed to ensure I have what I really needed, which was time to prepare without distractions. I requested a date a few months later, when school was starting back up, so I wouldn’t have to worry about my kiddos running around the room with me that day.  I planned, I prepared, and the meeting went great.  I was able to share my history, educate the group about safe paints, made some awesome connections with local business owners, and ended the meeting with a “balloon dog 101” lesson that left everyone smiling.  Two weeks later I did it again, giving two presentations at the Minnesota Professional Family Entertainers and Artists’ Business Conference.  It was all terrifyingly exhilarating and I loved it!! (Mostly when it was over, of course.  And then I was completely exhausted and useless for the rest of the day until I recharged.  But I was SO glad I did it.)

 Embrace who you are, instead of wasting energy trying to become someone you’re not.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s AWESOME to find something you struggle at, and work hard to become great at it.  I do this all the time.  But when it comes to something you can’t just change, like your own inner personality, just embrace it! You are made that way for a reason…find your own super powers! If we would only invested as much energy into helping ourselves thrive the way we are as we do trying to change ourselves, just think of the amazing things we could accomplish.

Susan also spoke about our society and self help books…how those book titles have changed over the years to echo who society thinks we all need to be at the time.  Specifically, she mentioned the popular title “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  This immediately struck a chord with me because I have that one on my Amazon wish list.  It’s been sitting there a while, after being recommended by various people as a way to really help your business.  But then I realized why it’s still sitting there in my list and on my shopping cart: I have absolutely no desire to win more friends or influence anybody.  

Friends to me are not something that I strive to “win” as life’s prize for being outgoing.  Real friendships, for me, are something that happens naturally and mutually by being ourselves, being who we were meant to be and finding those who feel the same, not by trying to be something we’re not to impress or influence.  They shouldn’t have to be impressed by anything I do to be my friend, and I have no desire to influence people otherwise.  Now, I have not read the book yet, and I realize this isn’t the entire book in a nutshell.  I will probably still read it down the road as I love to hear other people’s perspectives and learn how others tick, because we do, after all, interact with each other, and I interact with different personalities all over the world in my job.  But the title itself doesn’t represent anything I’m personally striving for.

So, while I may have NO desire to WIN FRIENDS and INFLUENCE people, I do, however, have a desire to BE A FRIEND and INSPIRE people!  

This is really what drives me to do everything I do…holding paint jams, creating free e-newsletters, publishing informative blog articles, writing books, speaking at conferences, designing custom word menus, creating new products, and helping my retail customers find the right tools.

Find your solitude among the crowd.

Embracing your introverted-ness doesn’t necessarily mean demanding a private office at work or abolishing all collaborative work! I worked for years as a designer in Best Buy’s corporate office, where we had an open floor plan and work stations in clusters.  I really loved my co-workers and being surrounded by them.  But when I needed to really channel my inner creative juices, I’d put on noise cancelling headphones and crank up music, or  I’d take my laptop to one of the many great corners of our building to work without distractions.  Introverts don’t have to be in complete solitude all of the time.  But sneaking in a little bit of solitude here and there throughout the week can really boost their productivity. After all, as Susan Cain so eloquently summed it up:

“Solitude matters.  And for some people, it is the air that they breathe.”

I really benefit from collaborating and sharing with my painty friends at jams and wouldn’t give that up for anything.  But something extra special still comes out of my time alone in my basement studio.

Do what works best for YOU.

Being my own boss, I can allow myself to use communication methods that I know represent my company the best. For me, that is in writing, via email. I am NOT a good phone salesperson and am terrible when put on the spot.  (And guess what…that’s okay…my boss even says so!) I prefer to think things through and edit before sending, and have actually become really great at selling myself via email. I ALWAYS include a phone number and encourage clients to call me if they have any questions, and will happily talk to anyone who calls.  However, most are perfectly happy never speaking to me until I meet them at an event.

I used to think this was bad for business, but I now know it’s not…at least not for MY business.  Of course, if I were an awesome phone salesman, I’d probably get a few more gigs.  But considering that 1/3 to 1/2 of the country is comprised of introverts, I know that many of my clients appreciate being able to book me via email.  (not to mention the paper trail comes in very handy, very often!)

Open up your suitcase!

In Susan’s TED talk, she uses the suitcase full of books she brought with to summer camp as a child as a metaphor for what we carry with us inside…things that represent what makes us happy; the things we live for and where we thrive.

“Take a good look at what’s inside your suitcase, and why you put it there….occasionally, just occasionally, I hope you will open up your suitcases for other people to see, because the world needs you, and it needs the things you carry.”

Since making this revelation in who I am and learning that it’s not a bad thing, my business has really grown and opportunities are flowing in.  I am taking on things I never thought I would years ago because I’ve learned to embrace my introverted ways instead of fighting them. I am looking forward to using my powers of solitude to carefully construct more amazing talks and workshops to share what’s in my suitcase with the world in the future!  And am super excited to announce that I will be flying to New York to speak at the Northern New Jersey Face and Body Art Guild‘s May 2016 meeting, and holding an all day workshop the next day. I can guarantee you that I will prepare the heck out of that talk and workshop, I’ll be socially exhausted afterwards, and it will be an awesome experience! 🙂