Networking and industry events have always made me a bit anxious. For all the perks, the gift bags, the inspiration that comes with seeing so many accomplished and fly Black women in the same space, you also walk into those spaces knowing that they’re not exactly authentic.
The focus is often more about stunting than working. There are people who are trying to come up. And really, we all are. But on the quest for the come up, the interactions tend to be exploitative if you can do something for them and brief and cold if you can’t.
A large part of that has to do with my personality and temperament. I’m an introvert by nature. And in spite of commonly held beliefs, introversion doesn’t mean antisocial. It means that you value deep, meaningful conversations over small talk and “meaningless” chatter. It means that you don’t necessarily like to be in environments that don’t foster these type of deep conversations. In fact, you may find them draining. But anyone who knows me, knows that when I find a topic interesting or stimulating, I will talk enough for the whole room.
And since there is so much misunderstanding about introverts and their ways, people often presume they are shy. And that’s what happened to me last night.
I had the opportunity to attend a very lovely event recently. Anytime I walk into any type of industry setting, I scan the room for familiar faces. At this particular event, there were none, which meant many of the night’s conversations would likely take place in my head. You see, it generally takes small talk to start a conversation with a stranger. No one wants to talk about police brutality within seconds of meeting you.
Thankfully, last night I met a woman who did the talking for me. This lady recognized me from “Did Y’all See” and I appreciated that she appreciated my work. And afterward she started talking about how she too doesn’t care too much for these events either. She had me hooked there. So the conversation was genuine and authentic. I didn’t want anything from her and if she wanted something from me, I certainly couldn’t tell. In fact, she offered to give me a ride to the second venue associated with the evening. So it was cool.
When we got to the second space, there was a red carpet. She told me I should stand on it, pose and take a picture. I told her I didn’t really want or need to. But she insisted. I figured it wouldn’t hurt so I stood on the carpet and posed. As she snapped away, there were other people standing on the other side of the rope, waiting impatiently for me to leave the carpet. So as I’m trying to look cute, I notice that their body language is looking impatient. And I was less than comfortable. Not that I’m ever truly comfortable in front of a camera, wondering if the images will come out right.
Anyway, as soon as she stopped taking the pictures, she said, “Wait, until you see how shy you look in these photos.”
I didn’t feel shy. I felt like I didn’t want to take the picture, like I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, like I was trying to figure out what those other people on the otherside of the rope were thinking. It wasn’t shyness it was reservation. And while the two might be seen as synonyms, reserved is more about a slowness to process and express emotions. Cautious, observant. Not shy.
I knew when I left the house that morning, that I looked good. And when I saw the pictures, they too looked good and matched my level of confidence.
Throughout the rest of the night, we talked about everything from work, children and romantic partners. The ridiculous price of renting in the city, hair and our shared Jamaican-ness. And it was cool as hell. Still, later in the evening, when she suggested that I speak to a certain celebrity or blogger or do something else, and I refused, telling her I was good. She responded, “You are so shy!”
I wasn’t offended but I just thought, “nah.”
I’m just not interested and, as an introvert, the thought of pretending to be, seems like torture to me.
Truth is, she’s not the first extremely extroverted person to assume that my decision to play the back or observe rather than interact is shyness. Perhaps that’s just the way people who are generally satisfied in large social gatherings feel about people who’d rather be at home.
Are there any other introverted ladies out there who’ve been mis-characterized as shy?