As I’ve previously mentioned I’m a bit of an introvert. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test about 1,000 times in various venues throughout my life, and I always wind up almost in the center of the Introvert/Extrovert scale with it being slightly tipped toward Introvert. I definitely consider myself an introvert in my tendencies towards people unless I know them really well, but because I still have a fairly large part of me that has extroverted tendencies I feel like I often am stuck in this weird place where I really want to interact with people but am freaked out by it at the same time. I am generally fine in small groups where I can exist on the fringes until I am more comfortable, but still feel like I am part of things. I do not do well in large group settings where I don’t know anyone and have to try and interact with people because that generally requires me inserting myself into conversations, which I am not good at. People may also be surprised at how anxious being in one-on-one settings makes me because it requires me to actually hold up half of a conversation, which unless I know you really well or you are a really big talker who will entirely carry the conversation is also something I am not good at. Small talk is not my forte, which of course is what you need to start with when you first meet people or are interacting with people you don’t know very well. Many people reading this would probably be surprised to learn just how much anxiety I have had about hanging out with them at various times. Not so much that I am not functional. I certainly don’t have any kind of social anxiety disorder, but I certainly don’t always feel comfortable going into certain social situations.
This is all to set up the reasons why I am currently proud of myself. Last Thursday-Monday I was in Dallas for the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. I was the only person from my library attending and although I know a lot of other Baltimore area librarians most of them were also not attending this year due to the budget constraints that we are all under. My good friend Alison was there, but since she has moved over to the dark side (i.e. she now works for a vendor instead of a library) she is in a slightly different orbit. Being the introvert that I am it would have been very easy for me to float through the conference talking to people minimally and just grabbing something to eat in my room for dinner by myself. I am proud of the fact that I did not in fact do that.
I went to several breakfasts/lunches put on by vendors where I sat at tables full of people that I didn’t know and carried on conversations. Additionally, the ACRL Leadership Council (sorry for all the acronyms non-library people, just go with it) had a networking reception prior to our meeting on Friday afternoon. Instead of standing off in a corner by myself I actually talked to a number of different people that I didn’t know. That evening I didn’t have any dinner plans on the books and was lamenting on Twitter that I was already exhausted from having had to interact with so many people I didn’t know. A librarian that I had recently connected with on Twitter replied to me asking if I wanted to meet up with her to go through the exhibit hall, so instead of sitting in my room by myself I went over to try and find her. We actually did manage to connect in the sea of people despite having never met before. After a trip through the publisher booths grabbing ourselves some free books, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the sports bar in the hotel connected to the convention center.
Saturday evening I decided to go by myself to the reception being put on by Oxford University Press. I did not do well there. I lasted about 20 minutes before I bailed because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t see any good way to connect with anyone. However, RUSA was having their social at about the same time, and I had to walk past the location where it was being held on the way to my hotel. I decided I was going to stop there for a bit and told myself that I was not allowed to leave until I actually talked to some people. I sat down at a table with a few other people at it and had a good conversation with them. I also managed to get myself recruited to be on a RUSA committee. Towards the end I also finally ran into someone I know from Baltimore, so it was good to see a friendly face.
So for the most part I am really proud of the amount of interactions I had with people I didn’t know at this conference. There is definitely a lot of room for improvement. Most of the conversations I engaged in with people I don’t know were in fact initiated by the other person, so I definitely need to work on being the one to start conversations. I am never going to be the extroverted person who everyone is drawn to and engages with people she doesn’t know easily, but this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work on putting myself out there more. It usually results in good things. I know I’ll have plenty of other conferences and other social situations to keep working at it, but for now I can be happy with where I am right now.