Public speaking and big group discussions make me uncomfortable. They always have, and until recently, I’ve been ashamed of it. I speak softly and don’t have a way with words. This blog post is probably going to take me a while to write, because concisely organizing my thoughts generally takes quite a bit of deliberation.
I think it is easy for people to assume that I am quiet because I have nothing to say, and that somehow silence is equated with a lack of passion or knowledge. I have many introverted qualities, and in a society that so values extraversion, I often feel out of place and as if the way I best express myself is somehow inferior.
The way I have experienced Climate Summer thus far is no exception. Much of our training was focused on learning to construct our own public narratives, which can be used as tools to build relationships and connect with an audience. It’s a way to frame your own story to show what makes you care so much about the work you’re doing. I struggled a lot with this, and totally tried (and succeeded) to avoid taking my storytelling turn before each mealtime.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to say, or that the idea of sharing a vulnerable side of myself scared me–I remember telling Garrett my story of self within an hour of meeting him, because I felt instantly comfortable with him and the conversation happened organically. I’ve told it to others along the way, too, and even publicly at WeMA’s story of self workshop at the SWID festival, among people who I already felt at ease with because of the nature of the festival, valuing self-expression in whatever way fits an individual, with no judgment.
I think the difference here was that at the Climate Summer training, I was surrounded by ~30 near strangers, many of whom I hadn’t yet had a personal conversation with, and that the purpose of our storytelling at training was to receive feedback on what we could do better. For some (probably most) people at the training, this was a very constructive way to improve public speaking, and I got to listen to lots of inspirational stories as those around me became more comfortable sharing these public narratives.
For me, however, unwillingly opening myself up in this way that comes much more easily to others feels manipulative. I’m not really being myself if I’m confidently projecting my voice in front of strangers, because that literally never happens. I speak softly and learn by listening and a big part of my self-expression, in all facets of my life, comes from the way I value close, individual relationships and frame my own values around an existing personal connection.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this blog post, because I haven’t come to any epic realizations or anything about how our society needs to reevaluate the way it idolizes extraversion. I admire those to whom public speaking comes naturally, and envy the ease with which they can move and connect with masses of people at once. However, I think there’s a place for everyone in the movement, introverts and extraverts alike, and I disagree with the idea that I need to push myself so far out of my comfort zone to do a less-than-stellar job at something that comes to others naturally.
I don’t have a problem connecting with people in small group or 1-on-1 settings–I’m going to toot my own horn and say that I am very self-aware and that because I am so open to people once I reach a certain level of comfort with them, this builds relationships far more effectively than I ever would be able to if I forced myself to be outgoing and talkative when it doesn’t feel natural (or at least I believe so). I totally suck at expressing myself in unfamiliar group settings but, honestly, that’s not my top priority in ways to self-improve.
It’s not that I’m afraid to try things that push me out of my comfort zone–as I discussed in my last blog post, I learned to bike about a month before this program started. I just feel like my way of connecting with people is equally valuable and often overlooked. I guess I just want to assert the worth of my own voice–the discovery of which is, incidentally, the topic of my story of self. How meta.