I am as professional as a dog wearing a helmet.
That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of myself; how I fit into a professional business setting, how I must look to the “un-dog” people wearing not helmets but business casual. Because I work in a library, let’s say cardigans. Okay, because there’s a wide variety of personalities around here, let’s say they’re wearing anything from power-suits to the same faded pair of sweatpants and thermal tee every single day. But, none of them is wearing a helmet. And they are people, not dogs.
I am a dog—a kind of scruffy one, on a skateboard, wearing a helmet. Wait. Now that I think of it, I’m sure you’ve seen dogs on skateboards, as I have, who are completely rocking that shit. Just the other day I saw a video of a bulldog riding a skateboard through a throng of human legs—and he owned it. He knew when to put his paw down to paddle up a bit of speed, and he knew how to lean into the subtle curves like he’d been doing it his whole life. This was like Tony Hawk on paws.
So scratch that image.
I’m a llama.
A llama in a helmet that has no bloody business being a skateboard. Or a bicycle. Let’s make it a bicycle because I’ve never felt quite comfortable one of those dealie-bobs either. A llama on a bicycle, wearing…a tutu.
Because, although that llama might be struggling something fierce to stay on that bicycle, it is undoubtedly making people laugh. Llamas are funny. And kind of endearing. People like llamas. People like me, too. That’s not the issue.
Dogs and llamas aside, up until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as someone who could, or should, be in charge of anything. Not a lemonade stand, not a timed shoelace-tying competition, and certainly not a department whose daily operations are essential to the academic success of 9,000 college students. Okay, let’s say one thousand. You know those other 8,000 aren’t stepping foot in the library when there are scores of “Which Disney Princess are You?” quizzes out there to be done.
I’m Mulan, by the way.
But, here I am. Whisked into an office vacated due to a swift and uncomfortable personnel change—I’m the boss of three full-time staff persons, two part-time temps, twenty student workers and one volunteer. Twenty-six people look to me for guidance five days a week for six to nine hours at a time. Not to mention those above me, and all the other heads of co-departments, as well as their staff, with whom I must collaborate with and report to on a daily basis.
That’s a lot of people who have to put some amount of faith in my judgement and ability to lead. And that’s a whole lot of scary for someone who not only considers herself the professional equivalent of a camelid on wheels, but also an introvert.
Let me back up.
I was a shy and anxious kid. In the 4th grade, I would break into spontaneous tears and soon was spending an hour each week drawing pictures of things that made me happy in a school-therapist’s office. I drew balloons. I didn’t give two shits about balloons, but how do you draw an intangible miracle that turns you into a charming, self-assured child with golden hair, name brand clothes, and an ability to make friends wherever she goes? I remember the therapist saying, “Oh, those are great! You even knew to draw the shiny marks where the light reflects!” Well, duh. Nobody likes dull, unreflective matte balloons.
She made me practice saying, “hello, Meredith!” Meredith was a girl with fluffy hair the color of Kraft cheese and macaroni whom I’d already befriended because she didn’t have many friends of her own—it was no big feat—but the therapist didn’t have to know that. I just wanted to get out of there and go back to crying in class.
Later, when I decided if I couldn’t be cute, small, impeccably dressed and outgoing (which, to a little girl, is the pinnacle of perfection, at least it was for me), I would be funny, things got a little easier. I had no trouble making friends through junior high and high school, but the awkwardness remained intact. Even with humor as my defense, I still felt hemmed in by my size. After puberty I got rather tall and solid, and am to this day typically the biggest person in any group photo, unless there are linebackers involved. This was a problem. Small and cute, AND funny? That’s gold. That’s a precious commodity that will sail you through life, picking up witty, intelligent boyfriends along the way. Big and funny? Forget it. Witty becomes aloof and weird, physical comedy takes on the feel of an oaf trying to tap-dance on a moving…skateboard. When a little girl falls down it’s cute. When a big girl falls down, her shirt comes untucked and you see her granny-panties. I wanted gamine. What I had was a big, pumpkin-shaped head and a tendency to trip over my own feet.
I held back. Physically and socially. I can’t tell you how many times I said “no,” when I wanted to say “yes” to something—but instead stepped aside and let the cute girls, the fearless girls, take their turn.
But here’s the thing. At some point, instead of saying, “no,” I started to say, “fuck it.” Because life is too short to let everyone else have all the fun. It might have been something that crept in with age—that’s a natural progression with a lot of people after the insecurity of adolescence wears off you become proud of what’s left of your dorkitude. Having a child 4 years ago might’ve helped too—who has time for modesty or reservation when you have to open the door to a bunch of clean, cookie-hawking girl scouts, wearing avocado stained pajamas and unwashed hair at 3 in the afternoon while your toddler dances naked from the waist down in the doorway behind you? Not I.
And here’s what I have to say about the INTROVERT thing:
I took the personality quiz on the “Quiet Revolution” website (there’s a whole revolution for being introverted! It’s normal! It’s acceptable! It can even be good!) and was not surprised to find that that yes, I am still an introvert, even after growing the hell up. After learning to say “fuck it.” After being the first one to volunteer to dress up in our university mascot’s outfit last spring and tromp around the LRC all sweaty and gross for a promotional event.
I am still an introvert because I prefer quiet over noise, thinking over talking, reading over socializing, sleeping over snowboarding, scraps of yellowed paper over people…whatever.
But, as far as putting myself out there and having confidence?
Being an introvert never got me anywhere. I’m sorry. I wasted a lot of my life; let’s say the first 30 years, holding back, saying no, letting someone else shine, feeling too silly, too big, too old, too Llama-on-a-bicycle to be a bird looking at the world from the topmost branch of a tree, a sleek fish gliding through open water, or even a goddamned balloon with the shiny marks and all, floating free in the sky.
That’s a bunch of shitty metaphors meant to illustrate what I’m really trying to say: That I’m over it. I do know what I’m doing, and I am fit to be in charge. Though, sometimes wish I was in charge of something more like a doodling contest than the circulation department of an academic library.
I have many introverted friends and I love them dearly. We have a lot in common. They are very extroverted about being introverts, at least on social media. Not only is introversion accepted, it’s veritably embraced and touted through scores of memes I see online on a daily basis. And I’m sure many of those introverted and/awkward people feel confident and sociable and communicative enough to hold down positions of authority. Introversion and upward mobility are by no means mutually exclusive. But some of them don’t, and that’s fine. Some of them don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, and are completely at ease with that. I never really wanted to be the boss of anyone, always having felt more comfortable being an assistant something-or-other who was happy leaving the big decisions, and the hiring and firing, to someone else (I’ve tackled the hiring part, but am still a little scared about the firing part).
But being assistant something-or-other isn’t going to get me where I need to go. Right now, that’s into a position where I can make enough money to support my family and gather some security for the future. Of course, there are high-paying jobs with great benefits for hardcore introverts; I’m just not qualified for any of them. A lot of them involved computers. And I am by no means saying that introverts must be relegated to assistant type positions. I’m living proof of that.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am, at my core, an introvert. I’m a goofy dork with an absurd sense of humor who would rather make you a really great cat-drawing and then take a nap than chair a public-services staff meeting. I’m not the typical personality that zooms up the ladder to the high-paying, go-getting job title. But I don’t have to be. I’m here, aren’t I?
And truth be told, being an introvert has gotten me somewhere. It means I’m a good listener, and can think about things before I say them (sometimes) and that I provide a calming presence…or so I’ve been told…in a hectic situation. It means that I have compassion for other vulnerable beings because I understand, and can maybe help them feel okay about where they are and what they’re doing. I think introverts are easier to be around. And introverts recognize when other introverts need to be alone, and don’t guilt-trip each other. And very rarely will you see find that an introvert is riding your ass in a big black pickup truck with a Monster energy drink sticker and a decal of Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo, blasting Kid Rock whilst thinking that mufflers are for pussies.
Soon, the position I currently hold will be transitioned into another position, one that requires a lot of social interaction and confidence and critical thinking and ambition—not things I have in great quantities. I will be competing with candidates with much more expertise in these fields. I might not get the job, and in turn, might ultimately be demoted back down to assistant something-or-other. But my own bosses have expressed that that’s not where they would ideally have me. And I agree with them—I’ve worked too hard and I’ve grown and I’ve accomplished too much to slide back down the latter into my old comfort zone. But it might happen.
If it does, it’s okay. But I will start looking outward. Extroverting as hard as possible. Looking and feeling out of place for as long as it takes, until I find my place. We can’t all be the bird in the tree or the fish in the sea. Some of us have to be a llama on a bicycle.
Speaking of things that are clearly not in places they belong, please enjoy this photo of a llama in a kiddie-pool. Notice how content he looks!