Sunday, April 12, 2009

Worst Advice for Introverts

Dear Friends,

In a recent comment to a post of Robin's, our friend, Tanita Davis, shared a link to last Friday's Dear Abby column that could have been written by any one of us.  It was a from a newly published introverted author looking for some advice about how to deal with the limelight. Unfortunately, Abby's response fell short of the mark.  "Short of the mark" being a generous euphemism for crash and burned.  Read it here.

I had a stab of deja'vu while reading Abby's response, recollecting all the bad advice I've been given over the years by well-meaning folks that were trying to help me "out of my shell." Had I the proverbial nickel from every person that was preoccupied with the separation of me from my afore-mentioned shell--well, I would be awash in the little suckers.  And, may I just **holler** in a quiet way a moment here that being separated from one's shell is a very bad idea!  Whenever I heard someone say that to me, I imagined being a tiny buck naked turtle body, sans the protective hood, all aquiver.  

Which serves as seque to one of the worst pieces of advice I was ever given about overcoming my fear of public speaking.  Which is not necessarily an issue for all introverts, but t'was for me, a shy introvert.  Imagine everyone in the audience is naked. 

Now, what kind of person or personality finds that soothing or calming in any possible way? Desperate to succeed, I imagined rows and rows of disrobed bodies and I found it only served to completely spike my blood pressure. A better visual for me is "Imagine everyone is asleep."  Or even, "Imagine the entire audience is in a coma."   Okay, now I can breathe!

Second worst piece of advice I've gotten?  Mingle.  This gems goes right in the "How To Torture Your Introvert" manual.   Those not understanding the way we are hardwired falsely assume that it's the intimate one-on-one conversations that send us shrieking into the night. Better to flit around and don't get too involved with anyone, they suggest.   Or, worse still, let me take you around and introduce you to everyone, so you don't feel so shy.   Sure, and then why not just paint me with jam head to toe and sit me down next to a giant hill of red ants?

So, there's two of the Worst Pieces of Advice for Introverts, and let's hear some more!  I want to get a good list going, and we'll post a link in our sidebar as a public service to us all.   Tanita, thanks for inspiring this post!  What have you been told in your life by friends, family, perhaps a colleague, editor, agent, or even Dear Abby?  

And, let's all send out a giant, gentle mental net to the poor author that wrote the letter to Abby that she will find our community here so that we can all support her. 

I was missing my grandmother bad today as I celebrated Easter.  The woman could have written the book on dealing with shy, introverted children.  Heck, she should have toured the country as an expert! Whenever she and my grandfather (or any relatives), would come to visit, I would race into my bedroom and hide in the closet.  In the pitch dark. Better that than suffer the onslaught of all the hugging and kissing.  After a while, Nana would tiptoe into the bedroom to bring me a cookie. She would hand it to me through the door-- vertically, not horizontally-- so I didn't have to open the door too wide to get it.  Later when I would finally come out, she wouldn't make a fuss hollering "Well, THERE, she is!"  She'd hardly look at me until I was ready.  Loved her a lot.  Miss her like the dickens.  We need more like her.  Let's be like her.

I read YA author John Green's An Abundance of Katherines this past week, and adored it much. I think my favorite part was when the main character and his friendgirl-turned-girlfriend were sitting together in this hideaway. The author used this marvelous convention to describe places in their conversation where they weren't saying anything, but they were saying everything in a non-verbal way.  As in:
 ". . . "
 " . . . "
I think this is so brilliant and while it wasn't specifically written as the language of introverts, I'd like to adopt it.  It speaks volumes.    

We have four volunteers so far to share their favorite indies with us in May.  Any other takers? This involves going to your indie bookstore, taking a photo, and doing a brief interview of your bookseller.  As Robin mentioned, in addition to bringing some much deserved attention to their fabulous work, those of you that nominate someone OR agree to spotlight their work for us will be eligible to be in our drawing to win a $50.00 gift certificate to Indie Bound.  

Hope you all enjoyed a restful and renewing Passover and Easter.  And, if your holidays were a tad low on the restful and renewing, do be kind to yourself and re-charge.

". . . "


Amy said...

Ooo, somehow I missed the original indie post. I'll happily nominate Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, MN. When is the deadline for the photo and interview?

Lori said...

I'd love to do this too but couldn't find details about when and how to submit.

Tabitha said...

You've already covered the two worst pieces of advice I've gotten with public speaking. Those two make things much worse. :)

I only have one more to add: "Just go out there and get it over with." Like I can just flip a switch and be normal even though there are a hundred people staring at me. Um, no. That's like walking into a firing squad.

Great post. And I love your site. So much great info for us introverts! :)

Wild About Words said...


Loved your beautiful post. Imagined you as a bare turtle (sad), and your lovely, lovely grandmother offering you a vertical cookie (happy). What a wise woman she must have been.
When I get nervous about public speaking, I remind myself that the people in the (fully clothed) people in the audience want me to succeed. And I imagine how I'll feel when I finish speaking and meet some nice new people. Then I remind myself that the speaking went well last time, and the time before that, and . . .
May our shells remain intact as we bravely venture out in increments.

Mary Hershey said...

Amy, Lori, thanks for your interest! We'll be in contact with you both during the next couple of weeks to let you know more details. We'd love it if you'd nominate your indies.

Oh, yeah, Tabitha. Ye old "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" pep talk. Sigh, not very helpful at all.

Hi, Donna! Me, too re: drawing from the well of pat successful experience to calm myself. That really does help.

Thanks, everyone!

Miriam S.Forster said...

haha.. The dear Abby post was rather funny. Nothing like a good smack of "get over it" to make an insecure, introverted person happy, right?

People didn't so much give me bad advice as look at me sideways whenever I did something they didn't understand. (And I spent a lot of time in my grandparent's back bedroom too.)

Beth Cato said...

When I read that Dear Abby letter the other day, I had two reactions: first of all, I wished that I had their problem, and secondly I knew I would be a nervous wreck in their position.

I do wish I could be more outgoing. I wish I could mingle. Instead, I stand at the edge of the room and study people, then pace around and stand at the other wall for a while.

I've had people tell me to try medication (done that, didn't work). I've been told it gets easier with time (um, no).

I love the story about your grandmother. She sounds like a delightful woman. We do need more like her in the world.

Public Speaking Training Expert, David Portney said...

I'm not proud of being an introvert. I'm not ashamed, either. But why argue for limitations? Setting aside biochemical imbalances or early childhood trauma, if one is an introvert then one is already good at that, so there's no accomplishment in staying exactly the same, is there?

Sure, I agree - extraverted advice on "just getting out there / over it" and totally worthless ideas for getting over public speaking fear such as "picture your audience naked" just don't help.

I'm a big fan of the idea and practice of flexibility in behavior. I don't know all the nature/nurture reasons why I'm introverted, and frankly it doesn't matter. I do know that how I represent "the world" (anything, really) is something I do in my 5 senses and in present time. I can easily intimidate or scare the hell out of myself by running pictures/movies of imagined failure or humiliation. But those pictures/voices/movies are MINE and not being beamed at me from somewhere outside.

To me, that means I'm in the drivers seat. Is it possible that I'm deluding myself and that I'm suffering from something completely beyond my control?-sure, but how disempowering to believe that I'm totally out of control. But what is (or should be!) under my control is my own state of mind. I'm the creator of my internal experience.

For me the 2 biggest things that have contributed to my well-being and ability to function socially is that, plus not feeling separate from things or people anymore (not to get all metaphysical on you here, but separation, it turns out, is indeed a paradoxical illusion).

I realize that most or all of that does not contribute to your list of "bad advice to get rid of fear of public speaking"... so my contribution to that list is: "make your butterflies fly in formation". I realize that the concept there is to turn nervousness into excitement, but nervous energy magnified and/or projected is jagged and uncomfortable. So there's my addition to the list.

David Portney

sharigreen said...

Great post, Mary. :) I sure do hope that poor author finds this site!

Robin LaFevers said...

Hey David,

Thanks for stopping by. Always interesting to hear different perspectives!

We see it a little differently however, and are proud of being introverts. The way we see it, the role of introvert is much broader than simply whether one can comfortably speak in public. The very fact that we’re introverted is what makes us good writers, poets, artists, listeners, and we are very proud of those important aspects of being an introvert! We're not arguing for limitations, but we are committed to celebrating all that being an introvert encompasses.

Introverts Rock! (albeit quietly)

writerjenn said...

Advice that doesn't help:
Negative stuff. Such as: Don't fidget, don't play with your hair, don't say "um," don't tap your foot ...

Because, while it's true that we don't want to fidget or distract people with nervous tics, that negativity just leads me to feel stiff and self-conscious. I much prefer the positive: Breathe deeply, see the people in the audience as friends not enemies, let your enthusiasm for the topic show. When speakers do that, any tics tend to disappear or fade into the background naturally.

Also something that does NOT help shy people:
Saying loudly, "Oh, you're blushing! You are getting SO RED!"
Thank you, I know I turn red when I blush. Pointing it out never puts me at ease!

Solvang Sherrie said...

If you still have room, I'd love to write about the indie here in Solvang, The Book Loft. It's a great store run by a fabulous crew.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Ha! Did you notice that all the worst advice for introverts is given by extroverts?

Coincidence? I. Think. Not.