In the book The Introvert Entrepreneur (Penguin Random House, 2015), author Beth Buelow lays out how the strengths of the typical introvert lend themselves well to entrepreneurship and other business roles. In this edited excerpt, Buelow discusses how common advice in the business world actually doesn't work for introverts.
I understand that the people who say "Be fearless!" have only the best intentions. They don't mean to be flippant or to dishonor my feelings. And for some who hear them, those words inspire them to step up and take action. The phrase reminds them that they can choose to let fear get in the way or they can kick it to the curb.
For me, though, "Be fearless!" is like a pep-rally slogan that fires up my energy just in time for the big game, but then leaves me stranded at the end. I feel a momentary boost of energy and courage, and that might last me a few days. It's like I've had a shot of caffeine and can face the world again. Eventually, though, the buzz wears off. If I continually use this technique to vanquish my fear--just pep-talking my way out of it--the fear will knock again, letting me know it's not finished with me yet. Eventually, it will kick down the door.
Why is that? Did it not hear me when I said, "Go away"? It heard me, but that particular fear represents a part of me that feels vulnerable and wants to protect me, which is a strong motivator for paying attention to it.
Think about the fears you've experienced. Chances are high that most of them--if not all--were trying to stop you from doing something that could expose you to failure or humiliation. Even though it doesn't feel like it, the fear has your best interests at heart. So it's going to knock again, louder this time. It wants to make sure it has your attention.
Your reaction to it this time might be to feel even more frustration or fear, because you thought you'd shaken off the fear at the pep rally, and you realize you're no more equipped to deal with it now than you were the first time around. You haven't stopped shouting down the fear long enough to be curious about what's really going on.
Introverts are internally motivated; our boost comes from the inside out, and we're only minimally influenced by the pep-rally approach, which is a superficial rah-rah-rah mentality that bombards us from the outside.
"Admit the fear," advises Betsy Talbot, founder of Married With Luggage. "I like to maintain a certain level of public composure, but I realize now how hard it is if you have no outlet for your fears and frustrations. I have an inner circle of people with whom I can share these fears without judgment and get the kind of feedback and support to help me move forward."
As an introvert, I don't like to make myself vulnerable to other people, but I've found that when I do, I always come out better on the other side, and so does my business.
It's why I'm admitting my fear to you here. The fear doesn't ever go away, but how I handle it evolves as I do.
While "Be fearless!" is a common theme in the business world, the entrepreneurial theme that works well for me and my introverted clients is the title of Susan Jeffers's book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
Letting Fear Be Seen and Heard
"Feel the fear and do it anyway" recognizes that fear exists.
The phrase helps us move through our introvert desire to fly solo, to limit networking to the bare minimum, and to stay quiet when we ought to speak up. We can still honor our fear by acknowledging it and feeling into it. By taking that step, we gain valuable information about how to move forward with more confidence and self-compassion. When we allow the fear to be seen and heard, we're also quicker to notice when we're making up excuses (including playing the introvert card). We know on an intellectual level that such excuses are protecting us from being hurt by keeping us in a safe, comfortable place, where we know where everything is and how things are going to turn out. But these excuses don't keep us safe; they keep us small.
Excuses mean we are approaching the inevitable challenges in our lives from a place of fear rather than love. This fear-based approach can easily carry over into our business. It can sabotage our best intentions if we don't identify the source of our excuses.