Social Anxiety is not so good for networking:
I’m an introvert. I’m not just sorta an introvert, I’m a holy crap introvert. In college I was required to take the Myer’s Briggs test and on the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum I’m about as far as you can get from being an extrovert. So you might be thinking “Introvert? No problem I know lots of introverts, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re shy.” Hey guess what?! I’m a SHY introvert too. (aka social anxiety)
I’m functional. I’m not a hermit hiding away in a cave. I go to work everyday (as an elementary art teacher) and interact with teachers, principals, and students in two schools and I even pass through two more buildings teaching classes in order to round out my scheduled week. That’s four buildings full of people in a week!
I interact with a ridiculous number of people, well for the kind of introvert that I am. I feel strongly about the work I do so that helps. However at around 4pm every day I start needing a recharge. Teachers don’t always get to go home at 4pm though, sometimes teachers have staff meetings, department meetings, professional learning communities, professional organization meetings, social gatherings, after school programs, and PTA nights. There are all sorts of things that keep teachers after the scheduled day should end.
It wears on me, makes me twitchy, certainly makes me owly, and sometimes it shows up in weird ways.
One of the weird ways that it likes to crop up is when I’m driving.
A real life example: On a particularly bad day I thought “Today sucked! I’d like to treat myself to dinner out.”
I immediately think of my favorite restaurant Savannakhet AsianGrill. It’s a no brainer, I hop in the car and start heading there. As I approach I realize that it’s a “weird time” and I’ll likely be the only one there… I love the people that run Savannakhet but that’d be too weird. No, even though I’m almost there I’ve just talked myself out of it. My second choice for Chinese is a place across town so I start driving that direction. I’m fine until I realize they are running a buffet right now and it’s going to be packed. I won’t be comfortable if it’s super packed… so now that one is out too. Maybe my third choice (again across town) will work, at this point I’m pretty hungry so it’s likely going to win out, except when I get there it happens to be closed. Rather than go to any of the places that I actually wanted to go, I settle for “imperial palace express” at the mall. It’s fine, it’s not what I wanted but it’s okay, and I’m comfortable there. It’s at about this point that I start to realize how I toured the town talking myself out of the food I wanted without a good reason. I let social anxiety dictate crappy mall chinese food as my final answer.
That’s some pretty crazy self talk I get going on… so how do I make it work as a cartoonist where networking and conventions, where lots of people attend, happen to be the best way to get brand and name recognition?
1)The Buddy system. I love my friends. By now you can probably see that I am pretty awkward so I really cherish the friends I have. My friends are often more extroverted than I am and they can challenge me to get out and do the things I need to do. It’s so much harder for me to self-talk myself out of something if I have someone in my corner actively cheering me on, telling me I can full well do this, or just telling me to suck it up already.
2) Prepare in advance of a big gathering. I can be social, outgoing even; but It doesn’t happen automatically. I practice things until I’m comfortable with them, I have imaginary conversations. I anticipate potential responses and how I might need to react. (I think Winston Churchill did something like this with his speeches and conference appearances to control his stuttering) This active planning really applies to long weekends where I’m going to sit behind a table and have to initiate the conversations and flat out pitch myself.
3) Give myself a break (figuratively and literally). I’m my own worst critic about this kind of behavior but getting down on myself doesn’t help me loosen up any it actually makes it worse. So first I gotta forgive myself, then I have to recognize when I need a break and then go take a quick walk, find a quiet corner, or even sit in my car and read for a few minutes. Giving myself even a quick moment can bring me back and help me feel more comfortable in an environment.
4) Social Media. It seems like an oxymoron but facebook and twitter offer me the chance to think out my responses I can have my opinion firmly established before I ever put myself out there. Cartooning seems to be a pretty solitary endeavor as it is so I find that when I’m commiserating with other creators, writers, artists, and cartoonists; they tend to get where I’m coming from.
5) Talk about my passions. This is probably the biggest thing because here’s the weirdest bit about my introversion… I actually really like to talk. My good friend Josh H. once said in High school something to the effect of… “We tried to get Kiefer to talk for 2 years… now we can’t get him to shut up.” That was no lie. I can talk at length, in fact if it’s something I’m passionate about you could have a hard time getting a word in edgewise. If I could skip talking about the weather, or how the last college football game came out, I’d always choose to skip it. But if we can dive into a conversation about popular X-men or Spider-man story arcs? Fuggetaboutit! I can talk till 2am! If someone tells me they liked my book or they liked my art, I don’t handle compliments all that well (again it’s awkward)… “Thank you,” and “I really appreciate it,” no matter how genuine start to feel like canned responses after a while… but if they say something like “I really love Tank-monkey” I can talk at length about who tank-monkey is and his origins and where those ideas came from. If they say these strips really remind me of_________. Awesome! because regardless of whether I know what “blank” is now we’ve got a conversation and likely it’s one I’m going to be interested in. So how to MAKE that happen is a little trickier but I find if I can find a way to ask a question, someone eyes a sketch I’ve done of Adventure Time… “Do you like Adventure time? Awesome! What’s your favorite episode?!” Or… I love Tree Trunks! who’s your favorite character?”
There’s so many great books out there about being awkward. I’m sure I’ve heavily referenced ideas from Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Devora Zack’s book Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected. If you’re interested in this topic more I highly recommend both of those books.
I’m working on getting ready for Free Comic Book Day at Krypton Comics in Omaha, NE so I’m going to be really putting some of these practices to the test in the weeks to come. If you’d like to get more inside info on events I might be at as they happen sign up for the Vorpal Arrows Newsletter in the quick form below! Hey if you have tips for cons or presentations please let me know about them in the comments! I’d love to hear em!