An Introvert’s Guide to Becoming a Leader, Part One

I’m an introvert.

When I was younger, “introvert” was synonymous with “shy.” I was the girl who would bring a book to social gatherings so I could disappear into a quiet corner and socialize with my best friends, the fictional ones on the pages. As an only child, my best friend was my imagination, and I didn’t really need anyone else.

This hardly means that I didn’t have good friends. There were a number of families I felt very close to while growing up; my pseudo-siblings and “adoptive” parents from my early years still hold a special place in my heart. My parents certainly made efforts to ‘socialize’ me like a rescued puppy, getting me involved wherever they could — art classes, summer day camp, swim lessons, soccer — but I would still rather be reading, or playing imaginary games alone or with a few close friends.

Soccer went particularly poorly: I was afraid of the ball; I never scored a single goal (and never tried); I was the girl picking dandelions on the field while the others charged and fought and scored. And what’s more, I didn’t mind; competitive group sports just weren’t for me. Nothing athletic was — even swimming lessons ceased when I a) reached puberty and learned to hate/fear my body and b) balked at learning to dive (“I’m sorry, you want me to throw myself headfirst off of this platform?! Whatever FOR?!”). To this day, I still cannot dive. It’s on my list.

I was a sensitive child.

And so it went: I continued to be the little hippie yoga girl who really liked school, the girl whose finest 5th grade accomplishment was going from the class to the school to the district to the regional spelling bee, where the stress and the late night got to me (it was at least 8:30pm, I mean, come on), and I tragically started to spell “forelegs” with a “four.” I was one of those girls who loved horses (no, like, more than you do, they are mine) and I definitely knew how to spell the word, so I’m not sure what happened. I had won the district-level competition with “vague.” So what happened?

Take that, school board.

I think that besides the exhaustion, and the toll that competition was taking on my gentle, timid ten-year-old self, I was subconsciously afraid of progressing to Nationals, and just wanted this farce to end. I knew I could figure out how to spell most words just fine; why did I have to prove it to the parents of all the other nerds, staring at me with accusing eyes as I bested their precious honor students?

“I’m sorry, you want to put me in a national spotlight, competing against geeks who’ve read the dictionary, when I’m just a girl who likes to read and has a knack for words? Whatever FOR?!”

The farther I made it, the farther I’d fall when I failed. Then everyone would think I was just pretending to be smart, and my poor little introverted soul couldn’t take that risk. I blew at sports; being smart in school was all I had. (Can you believe it took me until college to realize I had anxiety issues?)

Does anyone even know what these are anymore?

While I cultivated stronger friendships and threw myself into AP classes in high school, it wasn’t until my junior year that I was apparently ready to come out of my shell. “How would a delicate young snowfox do this?”, you might ask. Did I date the “bad” boys? Nope; despite much longing, I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was 18 and in college. [Insert sympathetic "Awwws" here.] 

Maybe I went to the popular kids’ parties and had a coming-of-age experience with alcohol or drugs? Nope, I got to college not even knowing what “proof” meant. (There’s a percentage for alcohol content? I thought you just did one of those “shot” things and turned into an uncontrollable party monster…?)

Look up “naive” in the dictionary; you’ll find a picture of me at 17. And 18. And maybe 19.

photo copyright: Rob Lee

Aww, just look at all that cute, trusting innocence, though. [by Rob Lee via flickr]

Alright, Snowfox, out with it! How did you finally start coming out of your shell?”

I inspire impatience in a lot of people. Don’t feel bad.

…I joined a kung fu studio, of course.

I’ll wait a second for you to catch up on that one. Not what you were expecting, eh? That’s alright. Take your time. Okay, kung fu. Like, Bruce Lee? Jackie Chan? Hi-YAH!? Er, alright…

Ready?

I mean, what better place to challenge myself, right? I didn’t do anything physical, I was afraid of talking to just about everyone, and I would rather read and daydream about something adventurous than actually attempt it myself. I could never learn to fight. I couldn’t even handle verbal conflicts! All the great retorts occurred to me hours later!

As it turned out, of course, my journey with the kung fu studio became much less about fighting — after 5 years, I’m still working on it — and much more about confidence and love. After the first six months, when I finally dared to voice one of many snarky comments that I would normally have kept to myself, I inherited a veritable slew of older brothers (just like I’d always wanted!!) and found myself becoming a part of a close-knit family that would define the rest of my life.

My first incredible mentor and big bro, who moved across the country a few years ago, reads this blog on occasion (hi WoodHare!); my incredible group of nerdy and awesome friends and intrepid crossfit compatriots all have ties to the studio (you know who you are!); I even met Rogue Leader there, who continues to make my life better every single day.  Hell, I’m even majoring in Chinese because of my “all-things-Chinese” love affair that blossomed at the studio.

Don’t tell HIM that it’s not the Year of the Ox.

I could go on and on about the incredible joys and life lessons the studio has brought me in a few short years, but this post was actually supposed to be about the leadership training program I did a few weeks ago. . . . Whoops. We’ll save the kung fu love story for another day, then.

What you should take away from the whole “Leadership for Introverts: Part One” (which might more aptly be called “Snowfox likes to write about herself and will get to ‘leadership’ in Part Two”), then, is that the term “introvert” doesn’t always have to mean “shy.” Introverts just need some alone time now and again — we lose energy from being in big groups of people, where extroverts thrive on big social events.

Some quiet people really are just solitary; other quiet people are simply more comfortable in a smaller, close-knit group of dear friends than a crowd of strangers. I’ve been, and always will be, a bit of both.

Me at every social gathering ever. [xkcd]

But, if you, too, feel that you’re a quiet person with rather a lot to say (both Western and Eastern astrology informs me that I ought to be the chatty life of the party, so obviously, I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life), here’s lesson number one: try something outside of your comfort zone. It may change your life in incredible ways you never could have imagined — it sure has for me.

Stay tuned for part two: The leadership program where all this kung-fu-confidence has led me, and how I might be becoming a total BAMF.

———–

Photos link back to their original URL. (Go Google image search!) In addition, the adorable fox photo belongs to Rob Lee and can be found on this site full of more awesome pictures or at his flickr, and the great comic strip is from Randall Munroe’s fantastic webcomic XKCD, which you should all read and love as much as I do. 

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11 thoughts on “An Introvert’s Guide to Becoming a Leader, Part One

    • Aw, thank you! I always worry that my posts are too long and rambly :)

      I DEFINITELY recommend kung fu, and of course I’m biased for my martial art over tae kwon do, karate, etc, but it’s a personal preference, and all martial arts are valuable. It’s difficult to find a legitimate traditional kung fu school, and I’m really lucky to have one in my area. My draw to kung fu (besides loving Chinese culture!) is the focus on internal as well as external energy (what’s happening inside your body as well as the basics of punching or kicking). My studio teaches tai chi, qigong/meditation and yoga right alongside the traditional Northern and Southern “fighting” techniques. Karate and tae kwon do have been very “Americanized” in the US – all the pressure on progressing through the various belts, etc. My kung fu studio, while it has levels in its curriculum, only distinguishes between students and instructors; there is no timeline for progression and lessons are taught one on one instead of in groups. I could gush for hours about how wonderful it is, so I should maybe save the rest for a separate blog post. ;) But I definitely recommend trying a martial art and joining a school with a welcoming environment, integrity, and approachable, knowledgeable instructors — to paraphrase our school’s motto, we do kung fu not to be the next Jet Li (though that would be cool!), but to live healthier, happier and longer lives. Finding a community that nourishes both your body and soul is just so, SO rewarding. :)

      I have not read Amy Tan’s books — looks like I have some reading to do! Thanks for the suggestion and let me know if you want any more information on martial arts/studios — I have more qualified resources than myself who I can turn to if you have more questions. :)

  1. Farther or further? I always thought “farther” was reserved for empirically measured distances, whereas the measure of how far you advanced in the spelling bee would appear to be, to me, more theoretical (i.e. abstract) than empirical.

    In 3rd grade we played soccer in gym, and there was a particular fellow that didn’t necessarily enjoy sports. He was on my team one day and was playing defense–I mean, he was spinning around picking at dandelions.

    I’m glad you’ve learned more about yourself. :) I, too, consider myself an introvert, and, quite similarly, did not fully understand what that meant nor was comfortable with what it meant until the latter years of my high school career.

    Sometimes I feel like all my comments are grammatical critiques of your posts. I want to assure you that my comments are of no such nature. Rather, your boundless vocabulary and style of prose encourage such exercise of thought in these subjects.

  2. Pingback: An Introvert’s Guide to Leadership, Part Two « XIAO BAI HU

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  4. Excuse me, but can I take something back? I remember saying to you that I’d be “happy to have you on my side”- 5 minutes on your blog and I would be EXHILARATED, ECSTATIC, and honestly quite chuffed to have you on my side! I’m a massive introvert too, but I recently got out of my comfort zone and became part of the leadership team at my camp, and I loved it. I’m now really interested in exploring the idea that people who think they’re really quiet and lack people skills still have the capacity to lead. This post is perfect for me :) So you write awesome blogs,you do kung fu, and you like RPGs too? Snowfox, you shouldn’t be offering to be my sidekick, I should be begging for you to take me :) I offer myself up as your apprentice, teach me your ways!

    • Aw, shucks! Thanks for the support! We introverted, tough nerds have to stick together, yeah? Rebels unite! :)

      I’ll try to get back to posting more about leadership and introverted badassery — I’m taking a leadership course this year too, and would love to share more about it. Stay tuned!

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