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We’re not always what we seem

Recently, one of my favorite clients explained how even though she seems otherwise, she is an introvert in real life – and that gave me pause.

I am an active and very public literary agent in the publishing world.  I negotiate deals every day with publishers, movie and tv people and foreign publishers and I am known to be a staunch defender of my clients’ rights.  Indeed, I am passionate about what I do.

Deep down, though, I am truly very shy. In fact years ago, I found that during a job interview, the interviewer suggested to me that I really should look the person I was communicating with in the eye.  I never even realized I wasn’t doing that, but in fact, up until that point, I hadn’t been.

Still, today, many years later, if I agree to attend a cocktail party for example, I have to fight the impulse to find one person in a corner to talk to and stay there all evening.  I am extremely nervous entering  a room filled with groups of people I don’t know, and tend to stay with those with whom I am familiar.

Probably those who know me and who read this will find my admission of shyness a surprise because I am such a lioness when it comes to advocating for my clients. But it is very true.  And so I am a definite example of the fact that not all of us are what we appear to be outwardly.

I wonder how many of you are the same and how that comes into play in your professional lives.

6 Responses to We’re not always what we seem

  1. I, too, tend to be fairly shy in my personal life, although I interact fearlessly with the public as part of my day job. I think the difference has to do with the degree to which the social roles are defined and mutually understood. In my day job, I’m the expert eople come to for answers in my area of expertise. I understand that and they understand that and we play our respective roles. Similarly, when I was a teacher, I had no trouble talking in front of a room full of students, in part because our roles were clearly defined (and mine was the one with the power). At the same time, I tended to stress a great deal when getting up to read before an audience at the very same university, because where I could judge and fail my students, at a reading, I was the one being judged. In my personal life, it’s much closer to being a reader in front of an audience — the roles are blurrier and there’s always this subtext of being judged. And so at parties, I seek out those friends least likely to judge me (at least not to my face) and hold on tight.

  2. Katie says:

    I finally realized just how introverted I am recently, and admitted this publicly. It comes as a surprise for many, but though in public I’m able to focus on others, I do tend to look for one person to hone in on in the corner. When it’s time to act like a butterfly, I have to force my wings to open. I find people really interesting and I like hearing their stories. From this persepctive, I’ve been good with people in business. Admittedly though, I don’t seek out occasions to be in large groups, unless of course, I prepare myself for such an occasion.

  3. Malia Kline says:

    I too was a shy eye-averter from childhood through my first job as a writer at a radio station. I spent my workdays pretty much alone, cranking out copy in my six-by-six office with a door that kept the world at arm’s length. Whenever I had to venture out and deliver my work to the studio, I remember staring intently at the script in my hands, sometimes even holding a stopwatch and reading it to myself as I walked, all to avoid having to greet people who passed me in the hall. The turning point for me came when I got a job as a television writer and producer. Production was a total group process, so I had to poke my way out of my shell and burst into gregarious and collaborative world. Today I am a chameleon, morphing from my neutral color as an innate introvert when I’m writing to become a magenta extrovert wanna-be when I’m not.

    • Katie says:

      Malia,

      I can totally relate to working in a television newsroom. The attached cubicle, 24-hour news cycle has a way of breaking down inhibitions and drawing out even the shyest person. I went from having a hard time expressing myself in editorial meetings to being able to interview and be interviewed on live t.v. I’ve even been able to speak in front of large groups of people, with enough preparation anything is possible. I still geek out before every television or speaking event. Much prefer writing.

  4. D.C. Dacosta says:

    You asked, “how that comes into play in your professional lives?”

    I think a writer of fiction MUST be able to act as you describe: not so much to have two personalities himself, as to be able to imagine, project, and communicate a personality for each of his characters.

    I’m shy. But my protagonist is a back-slapping, sarcastic, pushy jet-setter. Or maybe he’s a self-important, misogynistic jerk. Or a brassy, lying heart-breaker.

    I MUST be able to get inside the character’s skin and see the world as he does…or all my stories are going to be about ME. And that wouldn’t be half as much fun.

  5. Elsa Valmidiano says:

    I’m an introvert but if I have to work a room with strangers, I will and put my introverted self away, at least for the time being. Most people I know are totally surprised when I claim myself an introvert as they say I’m friendly and can be quite chatty without being shy at all, but really, I feel like my batteries are slowly draining the more time I spend with people. I can work a room full of strangers when the need arises (such as giving a presentation and involving the audience or doing public readings), but the truth is that I feel energized when I am alone. My partner is quite the opposite and thrives in public spaces where spending time with people recharges his batteries while sitting alone can drive him a little crazy.

    As for my professional life in the legal industry, I’m pretty much a hermit while the attorneys I work with are also hermits. We have a very quiet office, which makes for no drama and a very peaceful work environment. The downside is that for anyone who wants to join our firm, you’d have to enjoy the peace and quiet. You literally can hear the hum of your computer. We’re not there to socialize with one another but to get work done and though law can be a very confrontational field, I think that’s to be saved for our opposing counsel and not each other in the office. I can’t really describe us as shy as we are very open and honest about each other’s work. I guess you can call us honest hermits.

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