An introvert's fear of networking
This is not a how-to guide
If somebody asked me in the past, I considered myself an introvert with a pinch of extroversion. But I also taught myself to be extroverted in certain situations.
Why? Because I wanted to make my life easier both professionally and personally.
Am I really an introvert?
As per a recent quiz, my score is 94, a clear ambivert. A matching line of how the Cambridge dictionary defines the extroverted side of ambiverts:
“In the right context, in the right mood, around the right people, ambiverts can be extroverted” - This is totally me. More people know me as introverted and some as extroverted, but why do I have these two sides?
It all started in childhood
When I was 12 years old, we moved to the city and I had to change schools. I was sad about it as I got on well with my classmates. At the new school, I arrived in a class where everyone knew each other for years, yes, I was the only new. As a newbie, I suddenly turned very inward and would not say a word to anyone at school. Worth mentioning, that they did not talk to me either. Children are mean to each other, this is how it is.
There were two types of me. The silent girl who never speaks at school and the normal girl outside of school. I put my time and energy into studying, I was good at that. Classmates ignored me, but teachers liked me.
What can I trace back to my 12-year-old self?
My fear of socializing in large groups
My later fear of networking professionally
Carrying the wound into adult life
I did not have problems with small groups, but whenever I would get into a new big group, I felt twelve all over again and did not say a word. I sailed through my twenties having these two sides of me. I would hardly start conversations in large groups, I always waited for people to talk to me first, in both personal and professional settings.
It then dawned on me, I have to learn to start conversations!
I observed my friend for a long time who is talented in social skills and easily engaged in both small talk and deeper conversations. I learned a few tricks and slowly I was able to start conversations in large groups as well. This meant that at least I could initiate conversations, even if I was at times stuck after I ran out of my usual tricks.
I often did not understand, how come with some people it’s easy and with others, so difficult. I then realized, that sometimes the problem is not with you, but with the people you are with. At other times, there is just simply no connection, no common ground and that is ok.
So I have one rule: if there is no natural click, I do not force it and just move on.
Professional networking is another level up
Socializing as part of my job? No, thank you!
I always said, I would be terrible in a sales position and was always happy to avoid jobs where any sales was required. I thought I leave that to extroverts.
In the past few years as part of my professional career, I attended a few conferences. I was happy to listen in to presentations but when they announced networking time, Andrea was out. If I was with colleagues, that meant it was time for a glass, but if attended alone, I sneaked out and went home as quickly as possible.
When it’s about your own business
The magic of in-person events
If your read my story in my previous article, you know that a few months ago, my partner and I started our own SaaS business. With Covid over, I felt the pressure on us to start networking, meet other founders, exchange experiences and learn. I did not want to miss out just because it was out of my comfort zone.
So when I heard about the first in-person startup event in March this year in Barcelona, I told my partner we must go. It turned out one of my favorite SaaS personas, Nathan Latka presented too, I was looking forward.
I told my partner, that we have 2 goals for the evening:
Go to speak to Latka
Network with at least one person
While listening to the presentations, I was already fearing the networking time after. Then I asked myself, what do I have to lose? Nothing, worst case, there will be short conversations.
Once the presentations finished, we approached Latka, he was actually very nice and interested in our chat, we talked for about 5 minutes - felt great. The first goal completed!
Now it was time to mingle with the other founders. I suggested to let’s approach people who are alone, it’s a win-win situation. It worked, we talked to a few, connected with some, with others less. I found these were good first steps. Then my partner turned to me and said: “We should split, as others think, we are networking with each other.” Before I could agree, he left me there. I got into a few seconds of panic that I would just stand there alone, nobody talking to me. I was twelve yet again.
Luckily I quickly became rational and reminded myself, that I had nothing to lose. This was just another challenge and I like challenges. I quickly found a guy and started networking with him. Later approached a couple of groups as well and was getting easier. However this used a lot of my energy, and after a while, I needed time out!
But the second goal of the evening was completed too :)
The power of online communities
I continued my challenge by joining a couple of online startup communities. One that I stuck to is the Boostraped family which has amazing people and great community managers. It was an effort to start to be active, to speak up, to attend workshops, and to network. But with time it gets easier and makes you feel good.
I am still an ambivert
Many tech startup founders are introverts and struggle with networking. This is very common and it’s well known.
From time to time, it’s good to face your fears and get out of your comfort zone. Even if networking will never come completely natural to me, it’s certainly not a fear anymore. Yes, it still requires effort & energy, but it’s well worth it!