My first mediocre grade was when I was six; I got a mere “Satisfactory” because I didn’t speak up in class enough. Later, at Microsoft, many people take a personality test called “Insights Training” that is supposed to help you understand your work style and how to work with other people. I was overwhelmingly “Green” – the color that’s called “show me you care.” My personality description told me that I’d be a great follower and would do very well doing what I’m told. People in the company have even advised me to hide my colors because the “red” ultra-aggressive personality type is so strongly favored.
I’ve always been a shy person, which is difficult in a world that rewards confidence, sometimes even more highly than hard work and thoughtfulness. I get extremely intimidated in groups, always assuming that I shouldn’t be there, or I’m the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on and everyone will find out or I’ll do or say something stupid. It has been a deliberate effort for me throughout my life to push myself to sign up for things, throw myself into group situations, sit in the front of the room, and speak up, even when it makes me a bit squeamish.
I was extremely relieved to read Sheryl Sandberg say in her book, Lean In, that it’s a common trait among women to feel like they’re “frauds.” She claims even Tina Fey feels that way! It made me realize: most people are actually frauds, but that’s okay. If you don’t throw yourself in as a “fraud” with little or no knowledge, then you can’t ever get to a place where you’re an expert, where you’re a leader, or where you belong. And when you get there, you will most likely be happy to be surrounded by new “frauds” who can learn from you and share your knowledge. So now I’m trying to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything, to ask a “stupid” question, or to show up somewhere I don’t quite fit in.
This week I owned being a “fraud” in a few new communities. I went to a meetup for Lean Startups, even though I haven’t read the five books that Lean enthusiasts have. I showed up at a meeting for the NW Editors Guild, even though I’m not a guild member or a professional editor. This morning, I even went to the swanky Columbia Tower Club for a meeting of CEOs looking for mentors (there’s an acronym that I haven’t typically associated with myself). It’s not to say that I didn’t go through a mental list of excuses to miss each one beforehand, but I got myself there and met a lot of interesting, supportive people whom I will try to leverage as connections in the future.
I will always struggle with shyness, but I think that there are ways to get out there, learn a lot, and be successful without trying to change my personality. I hope by reading this some of you will feel inspired to stay true to your “colors” and not try to fit in to the “loudest person in the room wins” pattern. I have found that people do appreciate humility, thoughtfulness, and a sincere effort to care about their opinion, even if it’s in a quiet way. The real thing that makes a difference is signing up, showing up, taking action, and being okay with being a “fraud” until someday, you aren’t one anymore.