Like most library-types, I’m an introvert. I get my energy and approval primarily from within. I like being alone. I like quiet times. It’s why I was such a good task-oriented person and part of why I would be a good cataloger if I wanted to go that route. But over the years I’ve intentionally placed myself in situations in which I have to interact with people; be the center of attention; expose myself to criticism and (even worse) praise.
It started when I was doing amateur theatre. (Yes, that’s the correct spelling. Shut-up autocorrect!) Every night after the curtain fell we’d go out to meet and greet the people that came to the show. They’d all say how good we were and what a good job I did. For the first few years I reflexively diminished my talent (admittedly limited) or contribution. However, after a while I started to feel that not only was I being too self-critical, I was also being ungracious to my public. “Just take the damn compliment!” I’d say to myself. Not for my own sake, really, but to not be rude to those who came up to me and congratulated me on a job well done.
When I wasn’t in a play I’d find other ways to put myself in front of others. I’d read liturgy at church. I’d volunteer to go first when doing presentations for classes. I’d lead committee meetings. I’d sing karaoke. After I got the MOBIUS job at UMSL I started going to conferences. At the time, I started going to these not chiefly because I wanted to learn about what was happening in the profession, but because I wanted to put myself in a situation in which I was going to have to talk to strangers, and a large number of them.
Now, I go to these things and can start conversations with strangers — however briefly. I make connections, eat comfortably at communal tables, chat with people on shuttles, etc. The fact that I can do this now, however, should not be construed as it being something that is easy for me. Alcohol is still a much desired social lubricant, although not mandatory.
Interacting with new people — a.k.a. “networking” — is necessary, though, if one is to be successful in the field, or really, any field. It is not easy, and it took years, but I learned how to do it.
Thus far, networking hasn’t helped me get a job, but, it has made it easier to interact with people in job interviews. I can talk in fully formed sentences and act graciously and openly with people I’ve never met before. In fact, my problem now is not saying too much; being too open. Eventually, the positive impressions that I make will help me transition into my first professional position.
But networking is a trial for shy people—geeks especially. They view it as insincere at best, manipulative at worst. They eschew networking for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence, fear of rejection and a sense of unworthiness.
If they could just relate to others more easily, if they just possessed more self-confidence and weren’t such self-conscious wallflowers, the world would be their oyster, and schmoozing would be so much easier.
That article has some advice that I think is great, and some that I’m not so fond of. I’ll try to paraphrase what I think are the highlights.
When it comes right down to it, networking for anyone — but especially shy people and introverts — all comes down to bravery. There is a great moment in The West Wing when Leo says to then-governor Bartlett “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way: fake it ’til you make it.” That’s essentially what we have to do. If we act as if we are outgoing people for long enough, frequently enough, then a funny thing happens.
We become outgoing people.
Be brave. Fake it ’til you make it. You’ll get there.
If you’d like to read more, here is some librarian specific advice you can read and absorb.