- Who are you?
I am a self- proclaimed introvert and am PROUD of it! But rather than shouting about it…I am in fact a Personal Performance Coach, specialising in coaching those who have more of an introverted tendency and are perhaps finding it difficult to be heard. My aim is to give introverts a voice, not just collectively but individually too. I want to be able to help fellow introverts to ‘find their voice to make an impact!’
- When did you first discover you are an introvert?
Well, that’s a good question. I came to realise I was an introvert when I was about 32! Throughout all my school, college, university years as well as my professional career, I always felt there was something ‘wrong’ with me. People would always comment on how ‘shy’ I was, or how ‘quiet’ I was, always with the connotation that it was a negative thing (or was that just my interpretation or limiting belief raising its destructive head?!) Either way, I was aware that I didn’t always speak up, especially in front of a group of people. I didn’t feel I had the same confidence or the ‘interesting’ knowledge/ideas to share that everyone around me seemed to have. Now, that’s not to say that this ‘feeling’ stopped me achieving things throughout my life. Quite the opposite. Eventually, at the age of 28 I became a Manager of a large team within a corporate business in the city of London! And you guessed it…that meant I had to make my ideas heard, I had to present in front of others, I had to make quick decisions and take the lead! I’ll never forget my first day in this role, I knew I had to step up, especially when my boss said ‘you are now the face of this department’! Cue the internal gulp of despair, the overwhelming feeling of ‘what am I doing?!’, the good old self-doubt and the realisation of ‘Oh wow Ok, I’m now on show’! (or subconsciously, knowing I’ve got to ‘put on a show!’) .
Now if I’d told my younger self that’s what I would be doing I would have laughed at little Alison and told her to get back to her sketching!
But I did it. I stepped up, I took it as a challenge, I battled through, stepped out of my comfort zone and learnt to portray a more ‘extroverted’ persona. It gave me a real sense of achievement but that’s the thing; latterly it became an internal battle. I was in an environment that wasn’t conducive to my real personality. I was surrounded by what felt like more and more extroverts and my energy was wavering. So I decided to leave the job without any other job to go to, and reflect on what it was that I really wanted to do that was more aligned with ME.
What I did realise was that I enjoyed developing others and so I was offered another role within a Coaching/Learning & Development company. Still in the City but in a smaller environment that was more conducive to me. As part of our team development, we had a Myers Briggs workshop (some of you may be familiar with this – after completing a personality questionnaire, it identifies your personality preferences). When the results came, I wasn’t surprised to see I was as an ‘I’ (Introvert) and of course, the majority of my colleagues came back with an ‘E’ (Extrovert). Again, you have that deep rooted feeling of ‘oh, I’m different’, or ‘oh I’m not something I think I should be’ HOWEVER, when the trainer went into this in more detail, this is when I suddenly had my light bulb moment! She helped me realise that this is just a preference. Sometimes we pull on one preference more than the other, sometimes we use a mixture of both but the KEY here was, there is NO RIGHT OR WRONG. WOW! This was the first time, at 32, that I could have an acceptance of being an introvert! I didn’t need to shy away from it anymore!
- What difference did this make to your life?
The most valuable thing the trainer reiterated was that ‘there are benefits to both preferences’. Again, another light bulb moment for me! Of course there are! Of course there are huge benefits to being an introvert! How have I grown up thinking that there weren’t?! But that’s the thing, we’re living in such an extroverted world that we think that is the ‘norm’. But the world needs introverts! Extroverts NEED Introverts!
Working in the environment I was in, people would circulate documents which highlighted the benefits of introverts. This encouraged me to read up more and the more I did this, the more my realisation and acceptance of me as an introvert grew. This was a huge turning point. Firstly, it meant I was able to understand myself more. This then enabled me to identify what I needed to feel happy and content in different aspects of my life. It gave me strength and a sense of being true to myself.
Interestingly, it also made me very protective of the ‘introvert label’ and fellow introverts. It made me want people to have a better understanding of what introverts have to offer and what the benefits are. To make the extroverts stop for a moment, stop and reflect and notice their fellow introverts. To LISTEN to them!
This realisation has certainly given me a different perspective on life and relationships too. Now, I’m not saying that I want introverts to take over the world! Not quite! 😉 What I am saying is that I’d love both Introverts and Extroverts to understand each other and work together more harmoniously, whether it be as colleagues, Managers, employees, friends, teachers, students, parents, siblings, partners, husband/wife, son, daughter….the list can go on. Both introverts and extroverts need each other – they both have a lot to offer- but these dynamics could become even more enriching if they work together constructively. If they do, who knows what other amazing things could happen!
- Which of your introvert traits/strengths are you most fond of?
I would say reflection. Certainly during my coaching qualification I learnt even more how to take time out to reflect and also the importance of that. By being a reflector I feel I take in all aspects of a situation, I can weigh them up and have a more measured approach to ideas/actions, seeing the fuller picture. By reflecting, I feel like I’m connecting more with the situation and as a result, any responses/decisions I would make, be it in a professional capacity or personal, would have substance and depth. To me it means I’m taking control of my life and by taking time out to reflect, I’m always checking in with myself if I’m still on the right path.
On another level, I find that offering my reflections/observations to others sometimes gives them a different perspective on things or highlight things they might not have thought about which is always interesting!
- What is the main challenge you face as an introvert?
Being a reflector! I know that I can’t always have the luxury of reflecting on every piece of information given to me or every situation! If I’m given a lot of information in one go, or given options, my natural preference would be to think about it and then give my answer or take action. I wouldn’t say I’m a quick thinker, so I like to take my time if I can. But because I’m aware of it, depending on the situation, I know I either need to just bite the bullet and make a decision (reminding myself that you can’t be right all the time! Mistakes will happen! You can’t pre-empt everything!) or, if it’s not so crucial, manage this state by training others that I need time to digest… and do just that. It’s most likely I’ll go away and write things down to get my thoughts in order, and that’s ok. It’s much better than feeling like I have to give an answer there and then, just for the sake of it….or just because others seem to be able to do it!
Learning to drive is a simple, but good example of me just having to bite the bullet and doing it! Telling myself “don’t just sit and think about whether you can go after that car around the roundabout….can you go?…Ok, then just go, go, go….put that accelerator down and go!!” That’s the mindset I need sometimes!!!
- What are your top tips for being a contented introvert?
I’ve probably covered some in my previous answers but the key things I would remember is:
- Acceptance – accept that it’s great to be an introvert
- Be proud – remember that you have so much to offer!
- Reflect – Reflect on what it is you want and how you go about that. It might be that you need to make others aware of how you work best/surroundings/environment you need. What about recharging? Do you need some quiet down time away from the family/friends so you can recharge? If so, how do you manage that with others so they understand you?
- Don’t just feel like you’ve got to fit in with the ‘norm’ – if necessary, work out ways that you can train others to understand your introverted ways and how they can be incorporated into those personal/professional relationships – how can you bring harmony to it rather than feeling it’s a hindrance?
- Don’t be scared to make your voice heard. Just work out how best you can do it in a way that is still aligned with who you are. Maybe you need to write down bullet points before going into that big meeting so you feel prepared to answer questions or raise certain points. Perhaps there’s a family row and you need to step out for 5 mins to gather your thoughts and compose yourself while everyone else is still at each other! Whatever it is, remember, we all have the right to be heard!
- What/who inspires you?
I’m always inspired by people who completely step out of their comfort zones, who take risks (although more calculated rather than always impulsive of course!) and take some level of control of their life as much as they can. It’s always so easy to get stuck or follow a path we think we ‘should’ take but what about what we ‘want’ to take?
In terms of actual people who inspire me, Barack Obama would be one. He’s someone who has led with dignity and measure. He delivers speeches in a well- rounded and reflective way. No need for shouting about everything. No need to let an ego get in the way. Very composed and calculated. All done with almost a quiet, unobtrusive assertiveness that captures people’s attention and gets himself heard, to the point where people want to listen!
In the same category though, I would also include my mum and partner as being people who inspire me. Both different generations of course but with the same common thread – they have embarked on huge, life changing journeys that have/are unknown, scary, risky, yet they have made the decision to make a change and just go for it! Leaving different lives behind but being open to completely new ones. To do this despite fear and challenges, against all odds and frustrations, they both persevere. That for me is very inspiring.
Read more about Alison’s coaching services on the UK-based resources page