Shy and quiet people are often viewed as shrinking violets in a domineering world.
Life has taught me that there are two realities in the world—strength and weakness.
And before you label me a nihilist or existentialist (which would not be pejoratives), let me explain.
I have learned that entering any initial personal and professional relationship with a degree of detachment rather than over-agreeableness and joviality is better.
At best, it is practical to be quiet and observant as you assess an environment and its people.
This was a painful lesson that I learned the hard way.
Some years ago, I served on a nonprofit board within an organization geared to helping small businesses become more competitive.
This was one of the premier business organizations within the southeast.
As a transplant, I knew I lacked the clout and connections to bring social and financial capital to the organization.
However, I was willing to work hard and do the heavy lifting as a strategy for promoting the organization’s objectives.
I was appointed chairperson over the business development committee, which placed me at the forefront of recruiting new members.
I am an introvert, so I found engaging people I didn’t know challenging.
Nevertheless, my enthusiasm for the mission encouraged me to stretch my social muscles.
I am not sure how effective I was, but my committee showed a 35% increase in membership while I served as chairperson.
I thought this level of leadership and results would encourage other board members to work with me professionally.
During the 1990s, I operated a motivational speaking and publishing company and wanted to train corporate employees on how to maximize their potential.
This type of training was trendy during this time.
If I demonstrated success to my professional colleagues, I thought they would invite me to train the employees within their companies.
It wasn’t until I heard from a trusted confidante how I was being perceived in my quest to get along and demonstrate value to the board.
She said a colleague shared the work I had accomplished over the past year with another peer.
Before the colleague could get into the details, the peer abruptly said, “Oh, that Jill, she is always seeking the limelight… She’s a glad-handler…always smiling and kowtowing to people.”
Again, I lacked the connections and clout to grow my business alone, so I wanted to bring my “sweat-equity” to the organization.
This experience taught me that working hard for an organization’s mission isn’t enough.
You also have to come prepackaged with your power and influence.
Another friend (We will call her ‘Lois’) showed me how she prepackaged her power and influence.
Lois was emphatic about her philosophy of never joining a nonprofit board as a means of networking to create business alliances and opportunities.
She said familiarity does breed contempt.
Instead of joining, she advocated making financial donations to the organization because it carried more respect, power, and influence.
According to Lois, when she served on a previous board, individuals rarely referred business to her because they viewed her on the same level.
Despite what people say, they look up to people they believe possess higher value and influence.
Lois was viewed differently when she gave $10,000 to that same nonprofit organization.
People believed she was affluent and were willing to do business, as well as refer business to her.
Lois’s assessment stuck with me for years.
And I wanted to operate on her level to ensure that I did well as I was doing good.
The Cambridge Dictionary suggested that the meaning of “Familiarity breeds contempt” is “used to say that if you know someone very well, you stop respecting them because you have seen all of their bad qualities.”
Had my willingness to be a team player turned some people off?
Should I have been more successful before I joined the board?
Did my shyness reveal that I was pretending to be more extroverted than I was?
My feelings were hurt that I had even to consider any of these possibilities, but I wanted a change.
I started reading more books about power and strategy.
I read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
I wasn’t interested in transforming my personality but merely trying to get out of my way and use my introversion for my betterment.
My transformation was not overnight.
I had to go deep and granular regarding my perspective about people and how the world operated.
By questioning everything, I became a self-described social scientist.
Henceforth, no philosophy or concept was accepted unless it came with a real-life case study.
Rationalism became my religion.
Living with facts was not a new concept for me. I merely needed to become more pragmatic and less ideological.
Here are a few takeaways from my experiences.
Align with like-minded individuals
I firmly believe people are hardwired with a specific personality type. I embrace the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) because the classification reveals who people are at the core. When you discover your people based on personality, you are happier because you all are aligned in your thinking. Fundamentally, personalities do not change, so once you determine the industry you are targeting based on personality types, that is where you should invest your energy.
Donate money to influence outcomes
Whether it’s a nonprofit organization or a political action committee (PAC), which may be the same, donate money to gain access to decision-makers. If you believe in the organization’s mission or a candidate, a donation is a tangible form of approval. Financial contributions fuel nonprofits and PACs. For them, money is a need to have rather than a nice to have to continue to exist.
Create and consolidate your power
Generally, businesses are created to solve compelling problems. If you are an aspiring business owner, create your products and services in line with like-minded people. If your company is up and running and you have identified like-minded individuals, networking and donating money is more effortless. You all want the same things out of life and speak the same language.
Speak with measured communication
One of the mistakes I made within the nonprofit board was not strategizing my communications. If I had carefully considered my words and positioned my communication towards the self-interest of the other party, I would have been more effective. The influencers and decision-makers were present and had I been privy to the knowledge I later discovered, I would never speak unless I had vetted the individual(s). I would have used my natural quietness to my benefit.
Become a life-long learner
I am further in my knowledge of business and human nature than I had before. I gave one example of the pain I experienced through board service, but many more similar experiences placed me on this path toward self-discovery. Emotional pain and intellectual curiosity serve as energy for constant improvement and enlightenment. The truth has truly set me free.
I have turned my weaknesses into strengths by harvesting the fortitude to use my introversion to gain power and influence.
In itself, introversion is not a weakness. But left unfocused, uncultivated, and underutilized, it can be.
The only meaning life has is the one you give it.
Don’t be a shrinking violet.
Become a force to be reckoned with by weaponizing your introversion.
Familiarity breeds contempt. (n.d.). Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/3dj7BJm.