what goes on in everyone else’s mind?

I love talking to people. I hate conferences. I’m a marketing director. I’m an introvert. It’s the oxymoron of my life. I’m currently traveling for a work event, and went to an evening mixer at this conference, with an open bar. I’ve had three drinks; after two and a half I was able to talk to people, but probably clearly seemed a little tipsy. Without that I hide in a corner. I hate my social anxiety and introversion. I feel like my insecurity, my social anxiety issues, and my lack of any sort of confidence in myself leads me to this downward professional spiral.

Yet who know what people see from the outside. I feel like I’m a huge mess. I feel like, I believe, I don’t deserve success. I try to fight that. I want to believe in myself. But I see myself as a huge joke. I’m not good enough, I think. I’m not smart enough. I’m not ___________ enough.

It’s sickening how lost I am in this business world.  I don’t belong here, but I am here, incredibly awkward, trying my best to generate interest for my company, to talk to people, to drive leads, and I don’t know how to relate to people. Small talk? What to talk about? I am only interested in talking business or about the deep psychology of humankind. Not appropriate subjects for business conversation. I wish I could work a room, to come off smart, not slutty or drunk. I don’t know how to relate to people. Maybe it would be easier if I was a man, but I’m not. I’m a  27=year-old woman and now I’m young and soon I’ll be old, and I’ll always be female, and that seems to make everything all the more challenging.

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4 thoughts on “what goes on in everyone else’s mind?”

  1. First off, please don't say that everything is easier being a man. This is the second post I read from you talking about that and I take personal offense. You can't be serious that even just talking is easier as a man. You want to be important, be a director of marketing, be successful. If you can't talk to someone it isn't because you're not a man. Step one is to take it on.

    I'm a total shy person, an introvert as well. In jr high and high school I had practically zero popularity. I was a computer nerd, wore clothes that were too small, went to the dances but never danced, never played sports, etc. Yet I'm male. How do you explain that?

    Here's how you take it on. You immerse yourself in whatever you are frightened of. You learn a couple of engagement skills to "open" a conversation and then slip into business talk. I guarantee you, many men would prefer to talk with a woman, so you have a natural advantage. If they're not talking to you then probably they're a bit frightened as well.

    I was super shy, then I realized that nobody really has anything to talk about and many people are bored. You can say any stupid thing to someone milling around and turn that into a conversation. Find out what they like to talk about, then talk about that.

    Busting into a group of interesting people is a little more difficult, but still not bad. All you do is show them a little value, which you hopefully can do with your business knowledge. Listen for a sec about whatever they're talking about and just jump in with a statement that says you know what they're talking about, then a question to get yourself into the conversation. "Hey, couldn't help but overhear you talking about Steve Jobs leaving Apple. I totally agree that he's the cause of the turnaround in the last decade or so and should be applauded, but don't you think he also caused Apple's decline in the 80s?"

    Anyway, I just take offense that even the simplest problems like being able to speak are caused by being female. I can refer you to some books and such if you like. I believe that you can do anything that a man can, you just have to believe it 🙂 I can even tell you how to get yourself to believe it, which is immersion. It might be terrible the first 5 or 50 times, but after that, men or women or anyone it won't matter, they can't make you feel bad or frighten you.

    That said, I really appreciate the honest of this post. I feel like I want to help you, if only to show you that it's not me, a man, keeping you down!

  2. I totally understand where you're coming from! I am an introvert too, and with the job I currently have, I feel like that is very under-appreciated. I also understand your *perception* that it is easier for men to network, because I also perceive that men in the accounting world I work in develop business contacts almost instantly when they meet another man who they get along with. It's like they're instant best friends.

    However, you can't let that get you down, and I don't think it's just the male thing – I look at the guys the same age as me in my firm, and I don't see them being any better at networking or making connections with strangers than I am. It's only the *older* men who seem to fall back on the "we're instant buddies" thing.

    Ahh, there's so much to say on this, and so much I identify with. Some days I feel like the tone of your post sounds – but most of the time I know it's not a huge deal. What you need to do is find some female role models. Rather than watching how the men network (since it is hard to put yourself in their shoes) watch the women that you think are doing well, and see how they act.

    People love someone who listens to them, although even though I'm quiet and enjoy listening, sometimes I'm just not interested enough in strangers to easily think of questions to ask them.

    One thing that works for me (and is pretty typical of introverts, so it might work for you) is to somehow "prepare" myself better, because I have more confidence when I know that there is something I can *practice* to get better at a skill. See if you can go to a course on "negotiating" or sales where they teach you how to figure out what other people are thinking, what they want, and how they like to be approached. Your company should be in favor of this kind of course, they may even pay for it. I wouldn't ask them about it as if you're embarrassed – I'd ask them about it as if you already think you're "normal" or good at networking, and want to gain an additional advantage.

  3. Alex, I can see why you're offended by the concept that being a woman makes things more difficult, but hear me out — my industry has very few women in it. Even though we've gone a long way past the Mad Men days, it's still a lot easier for a male coworker to invite another male coworker out for drinks after work, vs inviting a fellow female coworker out. There must be a reason that there are so few women in executive-level roles in my industry — it's a man's world. Not every man is going to be great at conversation either, but at least in a room full of men the guy usually isn't questioned for his intentions (flirting? business? both?) Meanwhile, women tend to be really bitchy to each other. It's harder to approach women then men, for sure. So women avoid other women, and men tend to talk to each other. It's just what I've seen, at least in my field.

  4. Thanks for replying! I was wondering if I sounded harsh and it bothered me after I wrote the response. But glad you didn't see it that way. I do hear, and I empathize with you because, like I said I was and still am a shy person who hates small talk. Your last line, about how you have nothing to talk about, is me exactly. I don't know or care anything about the latest celebrity news or sports, so I'm bad conversation from that side. I only care about "important" things and talking about other stuff is a waste of time.

    However, I forced myself to try crazy things to get over my shyness. I even went on stage to do open-mike standup comedy, went to toastmasters, started clubs and recruited members, gave presentations at my work. It is actually very very simple once you realize that other people are #1 not as confident in themselves as you perceive and #2 you are probably better than they are. Most of those easy-going popular people are smooth because they have to be to get around their weaknesses. Your only weakness is the smoothness, behind it you're solid.

    Anyway, I'm no Bill Clinton but I had to kill my fear, which is what you'll have to do too. I lost out on promotions and lost out on customers because of my lack of public confidence. Then I fixed it hardcore and just within the last year I got a 25% increase in my salary and a promotion. Before that I languished while others got promoted around me for less contribution. I felt EXACTLY like you say … "It's so much easier for others, you have to be on the inside, you have to have luck, you have to be a jerk, etc to get ahead."

    If women are always nasty in your biz then you'll have such a natural advantage that you'll become famous within the group in no time.

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