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

Alright, here it is: the much-awaited follow-up to the heartwarming and inspirational tale of yours truly as a young introvert coming out of her shell. I’ve been waffling over how to write this for days, and it’s a long one, but maybe through my own story of adventure I can help to inspire a few other sensitive-yet-strong introverts out there to own up to their strengths and ROAR! (Quietly, of course.)

When we last left off, I was still in high school, coming out of my shell at my beloved kung fu studio but still awfully naive. However, as I went from 17, to 18, to 19, etc, I did change a lot — as we all do in those years. (Listen to me talk like I’m not still in my early 20s!) College was tough; I was at an out-of-state Big Ten University for some reason, even though all of my other applications had been to small liberal arts colleges (who apparently didn’t want me). While I learned and grew a lot during my three years out there — and picked up the ‘snowfox’ nickname that I now use and embody everywhere! — I also struggled through what I now recognize to have been various cycles of mild to moderate depression, and I was endlessly homesick for my brothers at the kung fu studio.

Karl Kerschl's "The Abominable Charles Christopher"

I got my name from the delightful little fox in Karl Kerschl’s “The Abominable Charles Christopher” webcomic. :)

In my third year, as I finally recognized the depression and anxiety cycles I was experiencing, I began seeing a counselor through the university. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through that year without her — when I went home to the studio for winter break, I almost didn’t go back. With her, I learned to cope with issues I had never really realized I had; everyone always looked at me as the “grounded” girl who had it all together, and while maybe they weren’t entirely wrong, I was definitely losing touch with that inner me.

With the help of my wonderful counselor, the patience and love of my dearest Rogue Leader, and the wry and witty support of my closest college friend, Strings, who commiserated with me, cooked for me, went to the gym with me, became a fantastic road trip buddy on our increasingly-frequent-weekend-trips-back-home-to-save-our-sanity, and most importantly, who made me laugh, I decided that transferring to a smaller liberal arts college nearer to home — even so late in the game — was the right option for me.

Strings and I spent a lot of time on Netflix being cheered up by Aang and his friends :)

I spent a lot of time wrestling with questions like “Does transferring make me a failure?” and “Am I so weak that I can’t tough it out for one more year?”, but with the help of my loving support network and with a lot of introspection, I finally set pride and stubbornness aside — just for a second — and I accepted that maybe the path I’d “chosen” at 18 wasn’t the one that was right for me anymore. Maybe it was time to discard the “I should do ‘X’” or “society expects me to do ‘Y'” insecurities that lived in the forefront of my mind. It was time to take a risk and try a new school — one not only more suited to my academic needs, but to my emotional ones, too.

And despite the other fears arising from my independent soul (“You’re not supposed to need anybody! You weren’t supposed to let anyone in!“), it was time to go home to the people I loved. In the paraphrased words of Logen Ninefingers, “Say one thing for the Snowfox Bandit, say she’s got some incredible people in her life.”

Despite my determination not to “let people in,” they loved me anyway — and I slowly stopped pushing them away. I’m a lucky fox. :)

After a rough summer, I started my fourth year of school (but not my last — ohh, no) at a smaller liberal arts college a little less than an hour from home (which for nearly three years had been a house with Rogue Leader and a rotating cast of other instructors and family from the studio). I was terrified to start over. I’d never really been big on the typical college party experience (one of many reasons the Big Ten environment wasn’t quite right for me — what a surprise), but it was also strange showing up as a “first year fourth year student.”

I had already lived in an apartment in a huge city a state away from home, and I’d completed three years of college with great grades at a huge university; now I was expected to live on campus and take freshman writing classes that my new college required for graduation? In one of those classes, we were going to read the Odyssey — a book I hold dear to my heart, but one I had just read in its entirety in a Classical Mythology course I’d taken for fun the semester before, and also IN Latin during high school. And now I had to sit through it again? I spent most of the class creating a character for my first-ever gaming session (with GURPS, for you pen & paper gamers out there) that winter. I’d added an extra year into my undergraduate study for this? Good thing I had a scholarship now…

Have I mentioned that I love winter? I LOVE WINTER.

Yet, while catching up on required classes may not have been the most captivating endeavor ever, my life and mental well-being improved dramatically simply by being back with the people I love. I could start going to the kung fu studio again; I officially began attending crossfit, which Rogue Leader has been leading in our garage for a small group of kung fu friends twice a week; I could finally be a part of all the movie nights and pumpkin carvings and holiday gatherings that I had been missing out on while at university.

Mine is the fox one in the middle, of course, inspired by a delightful Threadless shirt by foxy.

I had also acquired Bandit, my first car ever, a delightful little ’96 Civic (stick shift, OF COURSE!), which facilitated my decision to commute to school and live at home with Rogue Leader and two of our dear friends. Maybe I’m just a total car geek, but something about finally having my own car just made me feel so free, and it definitely contributed to my sense of accomplishment in my constant struggle with the “How do I transition from a teenager or a college student to an adult??” dilemma.

“I’m East bound; just watch that Bandit run!”

The older I get, the more I realize we never really answer that question!

Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half pretty much nailed it.

Though I like Randall Munroe’s take on it over at XKCD, too.

Anyway, despite the catch-up I had to play academically, now that I had a firm base in happiness and security at home, school began to provide me with more opportunities as well. Undoubtedly one of the highlights was the opportunity to work one-on-one with the wonderful head of the Chinese department for my fourth year of language study, as well as “interpret” (as best as I could!) for a visiting group of Chinese educators. While my Big Ten U was a great school, I would never have had those opportunities there.

And a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to participate in another once-in-a-lifetime event: a leadership training program offered for student organization officers and athletes to help understand your personal strengths and styles as a leader. (I had somehow been elected Vice President of the Chinese Club, even though I could never attend the meetings.) And do you know how this program teaches leadership? Why, by sending you to a camp in the wilderness for three days and running you through Army Ranger-style training courses and expeditions, of course!

Our first mission was to build a raft and float our supplies down the river. GO!

We wore BDUs [which I just learned stands for "Battle Dress Uniform," meaning the camouflaged army fatigue pants], ate MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], worked together in small teams for a night orienteering exercise (go Delta!), and went through a number of tactical paintball missions against a mysterious and better-equipped enemy (which we later learned was made up of alumni), all in the name of team building, leadership development, and character discovery.

It was AWESOME.

We slept on the tile floor of a trailer that smelled like bats chose to relieve themselves there for fun (but didn’t deign to live there, because it smelled so bad); we discovered that while MREs are less exciting than you may imagine, they sure do keep you going; a few of our team mates tragically learned that staying hydrated is crucial to functioning (thank you, crossfit, for already teaching me that lesson at least five times). On the first night, we went through an epically disastrous navigation mission on the first night in the woods with a compass, a pace counter, a chem light, and a radio; there was much falling into ravines, crashing through brambles, and cursing whoever invented nature, but we did it.

Here’s a picture from our night orienteering mission.

We learned whether our leadership style was more of a “Lion,” “Otter,” “Beaver,” or “Golden Retriever,” and discussed some strategies for dealing with people of other styles. We survived our first ambush, and I learned that I will not freeze in the face of sudden combat but will shoot back, damn it! And a few harried, chaotic, and thrilling missions later, all of our plans came together, A-Team style, and we successfully routed the enemy forces. The elation I felt after that last mission is completely indescribable, and the success of twenty students who in three days not only learned everyone’s name but fought together as a team was incredibly rewarding in a way I could never have imagined.

I mean, come on. I participated in a successful ambush! Me! I helped to coordinate battle plans and strategies! I laid down cover fire for my teammates to escape! Sure, in my head, it’s fun to imagine these scenarios, but since when have I ever done things like that?!

Look look! I’m up front, being a leader!

I can honestly say that if I had tried to do this 4 years ago, it would have been a far different experience for me. Somewhere in my college journey I have grown and changed a lot from the shy bookworm of my childhood. Now I drive stick, attempt to do my own car maintenance with help from Aegis and Rogue Leader, lift heavy things for fun (and complain less and less each time I do!), and have really embraced both my nerdiness and sensitivity while also striving to cultivate a tougher, stronger, and more capable “Alpha Female” version of myself.

I was always independent and headstrong, but cripplingly insecure and anxious too; it’s been a really incredible journey so far of coming into my own and combining my insecurities and my capabilities into one strong and confident pseudo-adult who will always sing quiet songs and go on “imagination retreats,” but who might also go out for the crossfit trainer certification courses someday, too.

Awwww yeah.

The best part of all of this exciting learning and growing and struggling and triumphing is just that — that I can still be both Snowfoxes. I will still sing shyly and bring a book to parties. On the first day of a new class, I’ll still arrive early and strategically situate myself so I have easy access to the door and will be surrounded by as few people as possible. I’d still rather be home by 10 or 11 at night and prefer the “movie night with friends” concept to the bar scene.

Even in my nerdiness, I’m still solitary — I’d rather play Skyrim by myself for hours than an MMO like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic online, where I’d still have to interact with strangers. I balk at making polite conversation or answering the phone and I still care about what people think of me (working on that last one!).

But then, who WOULDN’T want to “go” here, nerd or not??

But. I’m also a girl who can change her own tire and drive stick. I’m a crossfitter, which has done more for developing my physical strength and my belief in myself than anything else ever has. Apparently I love the thrill (and the pain!) of paintballing, which I would have dreamed of dominating but would never have tried when I was younger. And I’m often not afraid to speak up anymore when I have something to say.

In short, while I’m still loaded with insecurities and doubts and anxieties, I also believe in myself a little bit more every day. I’m not ashamed of my status as an introvert who loves Doctor Who, took Latin for 7 years, and prefers gaming to partying. (Hey, if you’ve ever gamed, you’ll understand that it IS a party! The best kind!) I’ve embraced these things about myself — and I’ve learned that I can be an introvert and an Alpha Female, too.

Alpha Females in their natural environments. (We can be either! OR BOTH!)

So, fellow nerds and introverts: embrace yourselves. We don’t have to be an extrovert to be a leader. And we don’t have to be a leader in a boardroom to take charge of our own lives. It’s okay to be quiet and reserved. In fact, it’s great! That’s who we are, and it doesn’t make our thoughts or ideas or methods any less valuable than those who talk louder than us. I have absolutely no desire to be a manager or salesperson or public speaker, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be a leader in achieving my own goals and living my own life — from smaller things like becoming a better cook or improving my posture and physical strength to bigger things like traveling the world and running my own business.

And that’s really the key: you need to be your own protagonist. Many of us don’t like being in the spotlight — myself included. (I ran a spotlight for high school theater, but that’s a tale for another day.) But we should all try to be the leader of our own life story. This is your life, right? Make it about you! Stand up for yourself. Be the hero of your own novel. :)

You don’t have to be one of the Avengers to star in your own life (though that’d be sweet).

Well… I set out to write a post about my recent leadership training experience, and instead it turned into a two-part introspection on confidence and growth. The title had a nice ring to it in my head, but the closer I got to the end of this post (and the reason it’s taken me so long to complete) is that I then pressured myself to offer foolproof steps for other introverts who wanted to build some confidence, too. (Or maybe all of my readers are either extroverts or super confident introverts, in which case, mea culpa.)

But I don’t have foolproof steps. I can’t tell you, “Well just go paintballing like I did and you’ll turn into the confident Leader of the Free World!!” I can’t even tell you, “Go join a kung fu studio!” (Although, seriously, you should join mine.) All I can hope for is that my own exploration and path to self-confidence — which is nowhere near its end — has inspired you to embrace your strengths and cultivate new ones, to take a small step outside of your comfort zone and learn something new about yourself, to stand up for yourself, challenge yourself, and achieve your dreams. I can’t tell you how to do it — I’m still struggling to figure out my own path — but I’d love to share my own journey, anyway.

What do you think, fellow introverts? What’s a risk you took that’s led you to a whole new level? What can you do to challenge yourself? What’s holding you back?

——————

All pictures link back to their sources; mine will link to this blog. The Alpha Female compilation photos came from pinterest – 1 (also sundayinbed.tumblr.com) and 2.

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