I read somewhere that the world isn’t divided into extroverts and introverts. Instead, most of us are ambiverts. True extroverts are rare. There are many folks who appear to be extroverts but in fact have trained themselves to be like that.
A friend of mine recently said that most of her friends think she’s an extrovert. She says rather, that she made a conscious decision early in her career to behave that way. She thought it would serve her better to appear confident in social situations. So she studied others that she looked up to and adopted their social graces. While she has come to enjoy professional parties more she also enjoys quiet time at home reading or gardening. This tendency for professionals to work at seeming more extroverted is more common than not.
Given this bias for learned extroversion, we may think our membership is more naturally extroverted than they are. Based on what we observe of our members we may think that they will be natural joiners, or natural networkers, or that left to their own devices they will make friends.
To the contrary, what I hear in interviews is a lot of fear. Members have told me about standing outside of a chapter meeting too nervous to open the door and walk inside. Members talk about feeling small and lost at their first conference. And an overwhelming majority of members talk about their dislike of traditional networking events, of the awkwardness of standing off to the side, alone.
We like to belong. We hate feeling awkward. The pull to be one of the crowd is so strong that just hearing these member stories produces a touch of anxiety in me.
My family moved to a new town just before I started seventh grade. We moved to a much better school and in the end, it was the best thing for me, but those first few days of school were torture. I still remember them. Walking into school alone, eating lunch alone, trying to use a locker for the first time… alone.
As adults, we forget what being the new kid is like. We have control over our lives so we can opt out of parties where we know no one, not talk to strangers, and place ourselves among friends. When we are confronted with a work situation in which we are the new kid the feelings of not belonging are strong and surprising. Rather than face this many members opt out. Other members make the decision to try to join even though it is painful.
The thing is being the new kid doesn’t have to be all that painful. More and more I’m hearing about associations who are figuring out how to warmly welcome new members. They are immediately connecting new members to other members. They are putting new members in proximity to other new members like them. They are curating the new member experience to get new members through that awkward new kid stage faster.
Even though we are adults, we still feel like the new kid sometimes.
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