Life stories

(1 year later) Lessons learned from reclaiming Middle Aged Me

career change 40

A while ago, I encountered someone who will forever be called “Middle Aged Me”.

He was close to broken, drowning in a culture that was eroding him to the core. His honest awareness about his situation and where it was headed blew me away but he hadn’t reached his tipping point yet. He needed a big sign. A giant sign that kicked him into take action.

Sadly the sign came. Happily, he was well enough to react.

Here’re what he learned on his mid-life career change journey. If haven’t read his first article - you might like to start here.

Author:                Anonymous

A quick recap 

This is a follow-up to “Reclaiming Middle Aged Me” which Lucia published in March 2018. 

As a quick reminder, my company had been taken over by new investors and I found myself in a culture which conflicted with my personal values and work practices.  This in turn had a detrimental impact on my health, welfare and overall life in general. 

Nonetheless, it still took me a number of years before I did anything about it. 

Ultimately, a serious health scare forced the issued and I resigned without a job to go to.

When Lucia published my article she depicted me as a drowning man.  It still resonates with me today as it captured the totality of my situation and how I felt at the time.    

A number of months have now passed and this follow-up tells the story of what I have experienced and learned since making that momentous decision to leave.  Some things I had predicted, whereas others came as a surprise. 

Hopefully sharing these experiences will provide some insight into what may be expected after leaving the workplace and possibly help others to formulate their own thinking when contemplating the same.  Everyone may of course react differently, but this is my story.

The initial stages

The most immediate feeling was that of enormous relief.  I had escaped and an overpowering weight was lifted. 

I hate mondays

I no longer had to dread the arrival of Monday which so often surfaced as soon as I woke on a Sunday. 

Despite the relief, I wasn’t able to throw myself into lots of new exciting activities to fill my new found freedom.  It was very clear that my energy levels had been sapped from years of pushing myself too hard in a toxic environment and my body simply needed a rest.  There really was nothing left in the tank and I sat for long periods of time just watching the television or doing absolutely nothing.

To be fair, I thoroughly enjoyed this time of relaxation.  It’s amazing how many re-runs of “The Professionals” and “Tales of the Unexpected” you can get through when you put your mind to it.  I wasn’t allowed to watch these when I was growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (apparently I was too young), but at least they now serve to demonstrate my true middle aged credentials!  

Days continued to come and go and I also soon learned that the time taken to do things expands with the time available.  Breakfast for example can take up to an hour.

Now, I’ve just said that I wasn’t able to throw myself into lots of new exciting activities.  Well, that wasn’t only because of the lack of energy.  It was also because I didn’t really have any hobbies, passions or leisure pastimes in my old life.  This was quite an enlightening (and in hindsight worrying) revelation. 

I now realised that work had become so all-encompassing and time consuming that my personal life had fallen by the wayside at the expense of the corporate world.  Put simply, there had been no work-life balance for many years.  The lesson here is to take a step back now and make sure there are things in your life outside of work.  Don’t let work become the sole purpose of your existence.

Having discovered that I didn’t have any real hobbies, I then set about trying to find some. 

Many years ago I was a keen football player and also enjoyed running to keep fit.  I ruled out a return to football quite quickly (I’m middle aged remember), but running to regain my fitness definitely appealed.  Over the years, my ratio of cake intake to energy burned had become slightly imbalanced and I definitely needed to lose a few pounds. 

However, another lesson was about to land. 

Namely, do give some thought as to what time of year you leave the workplace.  I didn’t really have much choice due to my health scare, but many people won’t have that catalyst and can plan a bit more effectively.  I’m a big fan of hot weather and the sun (especially when it involves sitting in the garden with a beer), but I left work at the beginning of winter.  It was cold, wet and generally miserable for many months. 

Umberella.jpg

My rekindled desire to run again was put on hold as I looked out of the window on many occasions and the little willpower I had simply evaporated.  I know I could have joined a gym, but running on a treadmill was never something I enjoyed.  Another excuse of course, but keep in mind the mental state I had been reduced to.  Things needed to be easy and “right” for me. 

It also goes without saying that sitting in the garden in the rain with a beer is not quite so appealing. 

One thing I did find very rewarding in the early days was the additional time I was able to spend with my family.  My wife and I had more lunches out in the space of a few weeks than we had done for years! 

I went to every school event on the calendar and also spent a lot of time with my Mum.  She lives a long way away, but I was no longer constrained by weekends and could visit her for several days at a time in the week.  These visits to my Mum highlighted another important lesson.  She’s elderly and I would spend my time with her doing lots of jobs around the house and garden that she wasn’t able to do herself. 

Why am i here.png

This added something incredibly important to my life.  I had a purpose again.

Think about it.  We spend decades in the workplace and then (for any number of reasons) we no longer go to work.  It might be short term or it might be permanent.  Either way, my experience is that I began to question my purpose in life. 

When I was at work, I was a senior finance professional doing a responsible job for a large company.  I had “status” (whatever that is) and the respect of my colleagues.  I was also the “provider” for my family.  People relied on me, both at work and at home. 

My exit from the workplace took these roles (which had been in place for decades) away from me. 

The lesson here is to not underestimate the potential to feel a little lost at times following the decision (and ultimate action) to leave.  Try to have something in mind to focus on and give you a purpose to replace that which is left behind.  Better to be prepared than to have a surprise as it was for me.

This rather helpfully leads me on to another surprise to share, albeit the surprise wasn’t mine alone.  It was also for my wife, who is a “stay at home Mum”.  All of a sudden, her daily environment was impacted by another person (middle aged me) with helpful views on what needed doing, how it should be done, who should do it (and most importantly) how quickly it should be done.  Yes, well, that took a little bit of adjusting to for both of us. 

Nothing more to say, it’s all about “give and take” in the end, but just have it on your radar if you have a similar scenario!     

As time progressed

Over time, my mental and physical strength began to return and I felt ready to explore the “what next?” question.  I spent many hours and days looking at new possibilities for the future. 

One avenue involved a complete break from my financial background by dipping my big toe into the world of writing.  I met with various people already established in this world and discovered a number of important things. 

First, while my writing is OK, it’s not quite up to the standard to be a professional (although I could have trained to achieve this). 

Second, it takes a long time to become established and earn a living. 

Third (and most important for me), you spend most of your time on your own in front of a computer.

This set alarms bells ringing as it correlated with another learning I had already experienced.  It’s something quite fundamental, but it hadn’t appeared on my radar before I left work. 

Very simply (and from a very early stage), I experienced social isolation. 

Despite the fact my work environment had become aggressive and unpleasant; I still had friends and colleagues to talk to every day, to discuss the ways of the world and to generally banter with.  This was now gone and at times I felt lonely.  A writing career was not for me.

At the same time as I was having my Shakespearian potential dispelled, I also started to pursue a long held interest in a particular volunteering position.  It’s something that requires a lot of dedication and the various interview processes are both lengthy and rigorous. 

That goes a long way to explain why I hadn’t been able to pursue it when I was in a corporate environment which seemed to absorb all my time.  I refer back to an earlier comment. 

I should have made time for it.  

Suffice to say, I was successful in my pursuit of the role and I now have something in my “non-paid” work life which provides personal reward and enjoyment.

In terms of pursuing some paid work activities (it seemed prudent), I took it upon myself to drive around the local area and make notes of all the companies that were close by.  I was adamant that whatever I did next, it wouldn’t involve a long commute like I’d had in the past. 

I researched the companies to see whether the industry was of interest to me and whether I thought my natural skills (or “superpowers” to use Lucia’s terminology) could be utilised by them.  I also deliberately focussed on smaller companies and was able to narrow my initial list of around 50, down to a potential of 10. 

My career has been spent in large multi-nationals with a heavy demand for the type of work I do.  In contrast, smaller companies don’t tend to have my role as a dedicated resource, but they would benefit from a “short blast” of expertise in my area which could then be taken forward by their incumbent finance teams. 

So, the potential to set up my own company was formed in my mind.  In essence, I would act as a “trouble shooter” who parachutes in for a short period of time, assesses their capabilities, recommends a course of action for improvement and then either departs at that point (letting the incumbents implement the recommendations) or stays to help with the implementation. 

I think it might work as a USP, but I won’t get the chance to find out (at least for a while).  I’ll explain.

As I sit here today

Bounce trainers.jpg

I’m healthy again, both mentally and physically

When spring finally arrived I started running properly and have lost much of the weight I’d gained over the years.  There’s still some way to go, largely because (and just to recap), I’m middle aged and it takes longer to shift these days.  It’s a great excuse and one to be fully exploited.  Also, for those who remember my first article, I’ve come off much of the prescribed medication I talked about at the time. 

My new company idea is on hold at the moment because of an exciting development in the last couple of months. 

In my original article I talked about the possibility of returning to do what I do in another company, but in an environment which aligned with my values and work practices.  Well, I kept an eye on the market and I will shortly go back to work in an exciting industry which is located very close to home.  The culture is friendly and welcoming and I’ve been given a free reign to shape the future in my area of finance. 

My bounce is back (not that middle aged accountants are renowned for their bounciness), but I am genuinely excited by what lies ahead.


A final comment

I made the right decision to leave

A year ago I was in a bad way, both mentally and physically. 

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I genuinely believe I was close to “going under” or worse.  My mind and body were compromised and at the edge of their tolerance levels.  A serious health scare provided the catalyst for me to leave, but I still needed the willpower and strength to make that final decision. 

My counsel is simple to say, but harder to enact.  Nonetheless, it’s maybe something to contemplate and reflect on. 

It’s only seven words. 

“Jump while you still have the strength.”

 

Daddy playing sillohette daughter.jpg
 

If this story resonated with you, please sign up to the “You’re not too old and it’s not too late” newsletter to receive twice monthly articles, real stories and strategies on how to begin your own career overhaul - while you still have the energy. Click the image below.

career change at 40, career change at 50, career change at 60

Reclaiming Middle Aged Me - A story of how a change of business ownership can impact everything

I know someone who recently discovered that one of his untapped SuperPowers is writing insightful, painfully-honest and often-funny articles, opinion pieces and stories.  When I suggested he write a piece about how it felt to "wake up" in his mid-late 40s in the wrong company/culture/career he responded by sending me this article.  I haven't changed a word.  

It's a lonely place to be so please share his story if you know anyone who might be in a similar position.   


Man drowning1.jpg

Author:                Anonymous

So why am I writing this? 

Well, I’m on a journey that many others consider but never actually implement.  It remains an aspiration or dream for them, but for any number of reasons (and there are plenty of good ones), it’s never put into practice.

So who and what am I? 

Well, I’m middle aged (obviously) and an accountant by training.  I’ve had a very successful career working as a senior Finance professional in diverse roles within a variety of different industries.  I’m structured, methodical, thorough, sensible and reliable and I take great pride in the quality of my work.  Like everyone, I’ve had good times and less good times during my career, but on the whole I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ten or so different roles I’ve held.  Most importantly, I’m a husband and a dad with children at secondary school.

So what happened?

Well, I resigned from my last position without a job to go to.  Oops!  That doesn’t quite match up with the “structured, methodical, thorough, sensible and reliable” character proudly depicted above.

So what made this pillar of all things sensible do such an apparently foolhardy thing?   

Well, in summary, I found myself in a culture which conflicted with my personal values and work practices.  In turn, this had a detrimental impact on my health.  Nonetheless, it took me a number of years before I did anything about it.

The cultural change I experienced resulted from my company being bought by new investors with a very different agenda to that I had experienced in any of my previous roles or companies.  Up until this point, I had always worked in environments where management was clearly focussed on the long-term future of the company.  In contrast, the world I now found myself in was very much focussed on the short term.  Specifically, drive profit as quickly as possible to facilitate a quick future sale of the company.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this.  It happens all the time.  The point is, I simply wasn’t suited to the environment which this brought and there were consequential repercussions on my personal wellbeing.  Others will (and did) react in different ways to the world I experienced.  I merely offer an insight into how it impacted me and why I needed to leave.

So, what did reality on the ground look like for me? 

Firstly, there was an explosion in terms of corporate data requirements.  I use the term data deliberately.  It wasn’t information.  Decisions couldn’t be made based on what was being requested.  The immediate impact locally was a reduction in Finance support to the business as focus shifted to the global requirements.  Finance became a data generating function rather than information analysers who partner and challenge the business.  I’d spent my entire career championing the latter, with Finance at the forefront of strategy formulation and decision making.  This was going back to the dark ages where Finance added up rather than added value.  I needed to find my old abacus in order to fit in.       

Key Performance Indicators were introduced at a remarkable rate of knots.  I wasn’t the only one to spot the apparent lack of understanding of what a KPI is when we moved into the hundreds.  Yes, that is plural.  I couldn’t help thinking the word “Key” had somehow become lost in translation.  Unfortunately, this didn’t result in any reduction in numbers.  Nor was there any guidance to ensure global consistency in their calculation and measurement.  What could possibly go wrong?  Some even totally conflicted with each other.  Oh dear.  My structured and logical brain was struggling with this. 

Conflicting priorities became a regular occurrence.  The answer was that everything was a priority.  Relief, there was no conflict after all!  Yet my head wouldn’t accept this.  “This doesn’t feel right” said my brain.  “Where’s the focus?”

Pace came at the expense of rigour and quality.  Mistakes were being made regularly but the requirement was always to hit the deadline.  That was apparently more important than ensuring robustness and accuracy in what was being requested.  Time will only tell what impact this approach will have.  The personal impact on me was that I pushed harder and harder to try and ensure as much rigour was applied as physically possible. Personal pride demanded a quality product and I was going to deliver this at whatever personal cost.  Days blurred into nights and week days into weekends.

The saddest thing I witnessed was the change in behaviour of local peers and superiors.  The dynamics of a professional, talented, dedicated and collaborative team was undermined. Tension, aggression and fear evolved in a short period of time and became clearly evident on a daily basis.  Tension can be beneficial.  Aggression is unacceptable.  Fear is a damning indictment. 

What was the personal cost to me?

During the years I worked in this new environment there was a clear impact on my health and I was on more prescription medication than I care to mention. 

In the evenings and at weekends I was often too tired to engage with family or friends.  I was disinterested, distracted, snappy and reclusive.  I’d lie on the bed for hours on Saturdays with nothing left in the tank.  All physical and emotional energy was sappedThe Sunday feeling of gloom would always manage to rear its ugly head early in the day.  “It’s Monday tomorrow.”  In summary, I was unhappy and life was a chore to endure. 

I knew deep down that things had to change.  I knew my health was being compromised.  I knew this was no way to lead a life.  I thought about leaving, but never did.  Why?  With all the evidence suggesting (OK, “telling” me), I should.  Personal pride played a big role.  Fear of “what next” and “will I ever find another job” didn’t help.  Maybe surprisingly, thoughts of “I’ll be letting the company down” appeared on a regular basis.

Leap skydive.jpg

So, what was the final catalyst for my resignation?

Ultimately it was very simple.  A serious health scare.  A wake up call.  But let’s be honest, it shouldn’t have taken this to get me to my decision.

What was the reaction of those closest to me?

My family expressed relief and were hugely supportive.  Apparently they’d been worried for a long time!  My closest friends were equally supportive.  Phrases such as “about time” and “we wondered how much evidence you needed” came to the fore.  I did sort of know this, but pride and duty are powerful traits which can cloud judgment and delay important decisions.

My wider friendship network has been outwardly supportive but in some cases I can see scepticism in their eyes.  Especially those who work in a corporate environment themselves.  Their brains can’t compute what I’ve done.  They’re thinking “he’s mad” but they aren’t vocalising it.

How do I feel now?

A few months have passed and it’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  A huge sense of relief has been combined with feelings of being a bit lost and wondering “what’s next?” when my life has always been so structured.  It can be scary not having all the answers.  I’m out of my comfort zone but excitement about the future is outweighing fear.  I do know one thing for certain though.  It was the right decision.  My health is improving for a start.

two paths.jpg

What next?

Nothing is ruled out.  Maybe I do something similar but in an environment which aligns with my values and work practices (very much like the first 25 years of my career)!  Or maybe I do something completely different.  It feels as though I now have the opportunity to pursue the latter and that is what I am currently doing. 

A final comment

I’m sure some people will read this and think I made the right decision.  Others may think I’ve lost the plot.  Irrespective of your views, I encourage everyone to read what palliative nurses say are the greatest regrets expressed by people on their death beds.  Life is short and those at the end of it offer truly valuable counsel to the rest of us.  Then it’s up to us to decide whether we heed it or not.

 

 

 

 

 

Comfortable networking for Introverts (2) - How was the lion's den? And a Cinderella moment...

In last week's article (find it here if you missed it), MidlifeUnstuck ran an experiment where one confirmed introvert (me) was made to do everything that the psychology research suggested she should to see if networking could be made comfortable for her.  Then that introvert was thrown into a lion’s den filled with national journalists, PR gurus and 50 or so other business owners.    Why? 

Because I am old enough to know that even if you’ve been lucky enough to design your career to match your superpowers perfectly, there will always be elements that are key to your success which lie firmly outside of your comfort zone.

For example, I know photographers who detest doing accounts but like getting paid.   I know fabulous finance people who hate doing stand-up presentations but do it weekly.  I know brilliant but modest artists who can’t bear showing off their designs.  And, I know of at least one career transformation coach who adores what she does but comes out in spots when any type of “networking event” is mentioned.  

Typically introverts prioritise ANYTHING other than networking – it's our nemesis.   After some intensive research on introverts, I discovered that there are a few key activities necessary for comfortable networking.  These include: detailed preparation on the attendees; choosing a structured event design; alone time before and during the event and; setting expectations around fewer but deeper conversations than extroverts might expect.  

My event (SOULFUL PR LIVE) involved meeting face-to-face with 8 national journalists, with opportunities to ask questions and even pitch the odd idea to them.  It also involved a roomful of business owners, some of whom were confirmed introverts and others who appeared to be in their extroverted comfort zone.  

So, how was the lion’s den?  Did the research work? How comfortable was this introvert?

The detailed preparation meant that I had very low anxiety levels the night before and unexpectedly slept well.   I strolled to my dawn train with time to spare avoiding the coffee shop in case I threw coffee over myself - sadly not as rare an occurrence as you might imagine.  I’d planned to arrive at the smaller, pre-event breakfast meeting with plenty of time to freshen up before others arrived.  A vision of Zen.  Crucially, I’d have a chance to get to know people individually as they arrived as opposed to walking into a formed group.  I had lived and breathed the advice from the research and was raring to go.

On the day

In actuality, my google maps had such a melt-down that I couldn’t work out where I was - perhaps something to do with an accidental paddle in my handbag with a bottle of Evian the previous day?  

I had allocated one hour to do a 25 minute stroll from the tube station so hadn’t bothered to pick up any cash for emergency taxis etc.  An hour and a half later, I arrived late having been guided by 5 separate, kind individuals pointing me towards Shoreditch.  Who says London's not a friendly place? I’d grown a big frizzy hair bomb, developed a fashionable “dewy sheen” on my face and was wearing converse trainers rather than my beautiful, coral, confidence-giving shoes (see photo).  All this without even a hint of caffeine and zero breakfast.   Comfort levels – close to zero.

coral shoes

The 8/9 breakfasting ladies in a trendy café near the venue were presented with this big-haired, perspiring vision of panic.  They responded with smiles and sympathy.   After a few solitary moments in a darkened, cool loo and a gentle yet persuasive chat with myself in the mirror, I felt ready to start again.   This time it was a whole different ballgame. 

I had lots of fascinating one-to-one human interactions - the essence of totally comfortable networking for introverts.  These were not banal interactions.  They included:

  • fawning over wonderful hand-made pendants;
  • discussions about pigs who had passed away but had been central to marketing and life;
  • comparing the parenting styles of in-laws and;
  • viewing stunning photos of ethically-sourced children’s clothes. 

Essentially, I felt like I was accessing behind-the-scenes stories that allowed this small group to connect in a way that would have been impossible on-line. On to the main event. 

Walking into a room full of strangers, I forced myself to appreciate that I was also a stranger and made an effort to say “hello” and smile – just as my 6 year old had reminded me the previous night.  I grabbed another shot of caffeine and choose a table with only one person on it thinking she might be receptive to a new friend.  She was and we hit it off.  She turned out to be one of the speakers and was open, funny and wise.  More behind-the-scenes story telling.  Comfort levels – sky high.    

The pre-lunch personal meetings with the journalists was without a doubt a little “itchy” for the outed introvert in the room.  Whilst I made eye contact and attempted to make them feel comfortable, this session was much less structured and therefore trickier to navigate.  By the time I understood the lay of the land, I’d probably only asked one question and certainly didn’t feel comfortable enough to openly pitch an idea.  

However, I watched in awe as more experienced business-owners batted pitches back and forth with these journalists with such ease.  I’m not sure I made the most of that particular session but– at least I hadn’t imploded in front of them.   Comfort levels – middle of the road.

Lunchtime brought another difficulty…who to talk to over lunch?   Aaagh.  Thankfully I met one of my top-5-people-I-must-meet-today list (Thank you to the research).   She had previously also publicly outed herself as an introvert and secretly admitted to me that she had just allowed herself 6 minutes solitude in the loo.  I was crippled with envy.  Note to self...build that into my next event.

Thankfully, the afternoon involved watching a couple presentations which gave me time to just listen without pressure.  The event came to a close.  I exited like Cinderella at the end of her ball.  I speed-walked to the loo, swapped my coral shoes for my converse trainers, then almost sprinted towards the exit leaving my lanyard and name badge strewn somewhere behind me.   I breathed a sigh of relief but also joy.  I had spent a whole day in conditions that extreme introverts might consider a nightmare.  But, it had been exceedingly more comfortable than any other networking event I had ever attended. 

I’d learned so much, made real human connections (which is the highest quality of networking… isn’t it?), shared some inspiring stories, discovered belly laughs amongst deep and meaningful conversations and built early foundations for new friendships. 

Do I want to do this every day of the week?  Hell no! Could I build this into a regular part of by business growth plan? Undoubtedly.

My conclusions are that comfortable networking requires more intensive planning for introverts than extraverts and that an event with the right degree of structure to satisfy the one-to-one interaction-loving introverts whilst still considering the social butterflying extroverts is the perfect mix. Thankfully at Soulful PR Live 2017, this was the case.    

Would I do anything different next time?  I might wear comfy shoes the whole day and stash some cash in my pocket…just in case Cinderella needed an escape carriage.

If you’d like to hear more about designing your career around your personality profile and unique strengths, please email me on lucia@midlifeunstuck.com to arrange a time to speak.   If you are not quite ready or feel up to re-designing your own career by yourself, please sign up to my newsletter here for weekly articles for hints, tips, transformation stories to inspire you.

Comfortable networking for introverts (1) - How not to waste an amazing network opportunity

introvert alone

I recently pushed myself WAY outside my comfort zone and bought a ticket to a networking event.   I was sitting in a café in central Guildford where I often write my articles when something weird happened.   After pressing the BUY NOW button, my stomach folded in on itself and I began to experience symptoms of an unusual illness known as “extreme post-purchase remorse”.   Suddenly I felt like a blushing, sweaty teenager who had been ordered to perform a Britney Spears song alone, on a stage, in front of the whole school...NAKED!   

How could one little networking event reduce me to a teenage wreck when I have been on this earth for four and a half decades?

You see I really, really want to be at this event but...I am an introvert

If I can actually muster the courage to attend, I will have the opportunity spend a whole day with 8 national journalists and editors from the likes of The Guardian, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, BBC Radio 4s Women’s Hour and Good Morning Britain to name but a few.  Along with 50+ other business owners, I’ll be learning how to position and pitch my business to the national media (www.soulfulprlive.com).  It could be brilliant for my business.  But I still feel sick to the stomach at the thought of it.       

soulful pr live banner

Networking events have always felt painful to me but I know some people just love them.  About 10 years ago, in my corporate job, a personality profiling tool branded me (and just one other manager at the time) as...God forbid…an introvert among a sea of extroverts!   It was at that point that I began to hide my discomfort at networking events and buckled down to some serious "working the room" doing my best impression of an extrovert.    At the end of those events, I felt so drained that I could barely speak.  It was just part of the job – a necessary evil.

Through trial and error, I slowly learned ways to make such networking events manageable. But I wish I’d known what I know now.  That I could have made them more comfortable...without the assistance of multiple glasses of wine to make me more…what’s the word…extroverted. 

Two years ago, I began some research to understand introversion.  Initially, my aim was to overcome my introversion but very quickly I uncovered a new respect for my occasionally debilitating/occasionally liberating personality trait.   

I discovered that introversion is like (bear with me here) hair curliness.  You might have only one little section of your hair that’s curly (slight introversion).  Or you might have a head of tight curls everywhere (extreme introversion).  But you are more likely to have something in between.  Neither end of the spectrum is better or worse – they’re just different and require different hair products and atmospheres to reach their full potential.   If curly hair is in the wrong environment, it’ll frizz.  If introverts don't have conditions that allow them to thrive, they will not thrive.  But even in the stressful conditions of a networking event, introverts can thrive if they know how.

differences between Extroverts and Introverts: An overview

introvert extrovert general styles

If I really wanted to attend this event, I had to make sure that my introversion did not control me.  So, I very specifically researched ways for introverts to stay real to their personality make-up yet feel comfortable at networking events.   

The advice was surprisingly simple.  I've condensed some of the most widely accepted advice for successful and comfortable networking for introverts into the list below.  I've also compared my event preparation was shaping up.

Comfortable networking hints for introverts: Before the event

·        Pre-register or buy a ticket – that way you are less likely to find something more important to do on that day. Tick.

·        Know the event format. Sadly many networking events are unstructured and force you mill around for ages before having to interrupt group conversations.  Zero comfort here for introverts.  Choose a structured event with table moves, pre-agreed discussion topics or ice-breaker activities. Tick.

·        Figure out the dress code, if there is one.  If not, choose your favourite confidence-boosting outfit.  “Nothing new on race day” is a mantra I see written often in my husband’s running magazine.  If it's new, scratchy, hangs weirdly when you sit down or doesn’t fit beautifully - don’t wear it.  Favourite blue top ready to rock. Tick.

·        Be alone before the event. Try not to spend time before the event in draining social activities – you need to power-up for the event.  I’ll be sitting alone with my notes on the dawn train to Waterloo. Tick.

·        Research the attendees.  Thankfully here the organiser and PR guru Janet Murray (@Jan_Murray) has done a fabulous job of setting-up facebook groups, a pre-event zoom meeting and requesting specific attendee preparation before the event.  During these on-line conversations, shared articles and questions I have gotten to know at least 5 attendees whom I will be seeking out on the day.  Some share my discomfort and even sent warm messages when I announced that my introversion was troubling me.  Others are in a similar industry and I'd love to hear their opinions on almost everything.   

·        Set realistic and measurable goals.  I’ve nearly finished my research on the attending members of the press. This is just a little aide-memoir with a couple of their article titles in case I go blank in the moment (common introverted behaviour when faced with constant social interaction).  I have two small goals for the day.  The first is to ask one question of every journalist at some point during the day.  The second is to say hello to the 5 people mentioned above.  That’s all.   I want to be walking through Shoreditch at the end of the event with a smile on my face.    

·        Prepare your personal story.   Sadly, I am not going to be able to ask questions and listen all day which is in my comfort zone.  Someone is bound to ask about me and my story.  I thought I had my story done and dusted until I started to write it down.  I realised it makes great sense to me but not to someone who has never met me before.  I’ve refined my personal and business "elevator pitch" and feel more comfortable.  Still, I’m not looking forward to talking about myself but it is a means to an end.

How comfortable networking styles differ for introverts and extroverts

It’s one thing being prepared for a networking event and another feeling comfortable during the event.  The research suggests that there are opposing but equally successful methods of networking at an event for extroverts and introverts. Check them out below:

 

networking general introverts

It's worth noting again that these are just differences in equally successful networking styles -  not good/bad labels. 

Comfortable Networking Hints for Introverts: On the day         

  • Arrive early (ish).  No need to arrive so early that the organisers are still setting out the name tags but arrive a few minutes early to freshen up rather than arriving incognito when the event is in full-flow.  
  • Schedule to meet one or more of the group before so that you can arrive together.  Someone suggested meeting for breakfast and I jumped at the chance,  thinking that this might ease my nerves and probably make the whole day more comfortable.  
  • Seek out your top 5. Remember your small list of people that you really wanted to connect with…seek them out.
  • Ask open questions.
  • Real compliments or comments. Offer a truthful compliment on another attendee's outfit/bag/pen etc.  Who doesn't love an authentic compliment? Alternatively comment on one of the speakers' points and ask what the person beside you thinks.  Who doesn't love to have their opinion requested?
  • Good posture. Make eye-contact and stand tall giving the impression of confidence, even though you are not feeling it.
  • Names. Make an effort to learn a couple of names. It's such a big compliment to have your name remembered and will make you memorable.
  • Jot down some notes from conversations with anyone you have spoken to (back of business cards are really good for this).
  • Follow up after the event with a message containing a fragment of your conversation.  This is a giant differentiator rather than the generic “great to meet you email”. 
  • Be real.  In order to make any concrete connections, you have to connect as humans.  This is difficult if you are disguising yourself as something you are not…even if that's an extrovert.
  • This last one wasn’t in any of the research but since I say it regularly to my daughters when teaching them how to make friends I think it is worthy of a place on the list.   It is simply – Smile and say “Hello”.   It’s the world’s greatest conversation-starter.

The event starts in less than 48 hours.  I'm still not looking forward to it (Sorry @janet_murray).  I definitely won't work the room like a social butterfly.  I won't pretend to be more extroverted than I am.   I'll just be me.  I certainly feel more comfortable than I ever have after doing the research and preparing.   That said, realistically I'm also expecting the stomach flipping to return on the day!     

If you'd like to read more - have a look at the following books:

  • Networking for people who hate networking – Devora Zack
  • Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  • Never eat alone – Keith Ferazzi