Reflections on #GHC16 As An Introvert

I’m finally back in Chicago after my first Grace Hopper conference (and last one as a student). When people ask how it was, I say it was great…but also physically and mentally exhausting.

Part of that was because we were out and about nonstop throughout the day. Wake up at 7. Get to the convention center by 9. Attend a talk. Go to the career fair and talk to recruiters. Steal some free swag. Meet new people. Attend a party thrown by a large tech company. Repeat.

Another part was that I felt like life was moving too fast. I’m thrown into finding a job, knowing what I want to do with the rest of my life, talking like I’m in full control, when we really all have no clue.

I think being an introvert made all this especially more exhausting. Some people are energized by others. For me, after a long day of talking to people, going out and doing some more socializing is the last thing I want to do.

In the midst of networking, meeting new people and presenting yourself as confident and a somewhat adequate candidate, I really appreciated Susan Cain’s called “Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Transform How We Work, Lead and Innovate.” Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and she is the co-founder of the Quiet Revolution, a company with the goal of balancing the power between introverts and extroverts. Society often views extraverts are leaders, but introverts possess these skills, too. For example, President Barack Obama is an introvert.

Cain gave a few tips that were helpful at Grace Hopper and will also be helpful beyond the conference.

Speak up early.

This is so true. Whenever I’m in group settings, I find myself getting drowned out. I wait for others to talk, and by the time I have something to say, the conversation has moved on. Waiting to speak puts you in the margins.

For example, at the career fair, I often would wait to talk to someone, while others would step in. I could work on being more confident when approaching others, whether at a professional setting like the fair or a social setting like a get-together with peers.

Don’t curb your enthusiasm.

When I was in elementary school, I was notorious for being unenthusiastic. Even now, people who don’t know me well think I’m cold. Sometimes I feel shy about expressing my enthusiasm, but I’m trying to work on coming off as friendlier and warmer.

I got coffee with someone at the conference, and I found myself feeling awkward and nervous whenever there was a silence, but also I found myself not wanting to appear to eager. However, I realized this, and I made an effort to smile more and accept the brief silences as a natural, not awkward pauses in a conversation.

Rethink leadership.

According to Cain, the most successful companies are led by someone who is unassuming, quiet and even shy. Introverts by nature tend to want to go deep into 1 or 2 or 3 areas of passion, and they do not become leaders for the sake of leadership.

To be honest, I never really think of myself at the leader, and I often work in the margins. However, there is not only one path towards leadership. In the meantime, I can focus on fine-pointing my skills and what I’m passionate about.

Rethink networking.

I really liked what Cain said about this. She said at this conference, look for kindred spirits who are here, and try to meet three to five people. “Your network five years from now is going to be richer and deeper,” she said.

I enjoyed the conversation I had with a woman I met on the Facebook group, Ladies Storm Hackathons, and I learned a lot when asking her about her career path and goals. I also appreciated that I made new friends at this conference. About 50 girls from Northwestern attended Grace Hopper. Now you’d think I would know all the female computer science students at my school since there aren’t that many (thumbs down to the gender gap in CS), but there were many girls I’ve never seen in my life before. So it was awesome getting to know my other classmates.

Step outside your comfort zone.

Sometimes this means taking the extra step to meet someone new or start a conversation with someone. You never know when you can make a new friend or connection. “Don’t just make yourself uncomfortable for no great reason,” Cain said. “Do it for something that really matters.”

At the same time, it’s important to take care of yourself, such as having lunch with yourself. I used to be scared of going to places by myself and being seen alone, but I found that I really enjoy it. In the midst of networking and meeting new people, I appreciated the moments I spent in solitude and the events I attended myself.

People can shift. Sometimes people become more extraverted, and sometimes people become more introverted. However, it’s important to be aware of how you tend to be in which setting.

When I was younger, I hated that I was so painfully quiet. Why is it that in a room full of people, I get drowned out? Why am I so awkward all the time? But now, I have accepted it, and not only that, I embrace it. I focus on connecting with the close friends I have, but at the same time, I remember to take time for myself.

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