July 25, 2016

Extroversion is a Learned Skill: 3 Scary Steps to Being Bold.

Last week, I stood on my chair in the middle of Mountain Sun in Boulder, Colorado, and made a toast to elephant journal’s founder and fearless leader (and my boss), Waylon Lewis.

Nearly the entire team of elephant journal editors sat at a long, long table in the center of the crowded restaurant. The lights were low; the volume level just short of concert-stadium-loud.

Luckily, the entire room fell silent, and I didn’t have to shout—much.

Those who have known me since childhood would have been shocked to see me standing there. Those who have only known me as an adult would not.

I haven’t always been so bold.

As I remember it, I was a shy, cautious and quiet little girl. In high school, I limped painfully through public speaking assignments.

I realized last week just how much I’ve changed.

I’ve traveled and lived nomadically for the better part of the last four years. In so doing, almost out of necessity, I’ve systematically sought out the things that scare me, in order to find out how strong I might really be. Solo hitchhiking, bungee jumping and frequent conversations with perfect strangers is the beginning of a long list.

Each time I surpass my preconceived “limits,” every time I push the boundaries of my so-called “comfort zone,” I learn that limits are illusory, and comfort is learned.

That is why, “feel the fear and do it anyway” is one of my favorite maxims.

It works.

It doesn’t mean, “ignore your instincts,” as some have criticized. It certainly doesn’t mean, “take stupid risks pointlessly.”

Rather, it is a battle cry.

Fear is not a stopping point, and shyness is not a permanent condition.

I didn’t become someone who would stand on a chair to give a toast in a room packed with strangers overnight. I didn’t push my boundaries in travel and adventure in a day. I’m not comfortable with public speaking, risk-taking or extroversion because these are inborn traits.

I learned—or, more accurately, I taught myself—to be bold through practice.

Extroversion (or being outgoing, or taking risks—all sides of the same coin, in my opinion) is a skill. Not a personality trait.

I know, that goes against everything we say about extroverts, introverts, et cetera, et cetera. I disagree. Sure, there are psychological attributes in which we may or may not place stock. But to call ourselves by these titles is to do ourselves a disservice. It is to excuse ourselves from the challenge of ever pushing past our starting point. It is to bind our wrists with labels, and tie our feet together with subjective limits.

I started out shy, quiet, cautious. I won’t end that way.

There are only three steps to this process. I practice them pretty much every day, and I owe a lot to this simple formula. It goes as follows:

1. Feel the fear.

2. Do it anyway.

3. Rinse, and repeat.

Quiet, shy and cautious introverts of the world, I raise my glass to you.


Author: Toby Israel

Image: Walk the Talk Show on Instagram // Gabriela Zabka/Flickr


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