29June2020

Why I Coach Introverts

Freedom Is An Opportunity To Help - The Jist of Me Is Freedom

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
Albert Camus
French author, journalist and philosopher

If you want to know the jist, core of me, it’s freedom. That’s my constant motor and what’s driven my life and also in my choosing to coach Introverts (as an homage to Introverts, for the duration of this article, I’m intentionally capitalize the “I” in Introverts). If you were to meet me, you’ll likely see the outgoing freedom part and not think for one second that I’m an Introvert. But I am and it started way back when I was a wee man. I would stay in my bedroom for hours doing crafts, tearing apart toys to see how they worked and building countless model airplanes and cars. 

I also loved to go on solo bike rides; I would wake early in the morning, throw the covers off, and already fully clothed would run out the door, jump on my bike and ride into the morning sun. I loved that nobody was around except a few stray cars. And for me, that was pure freedom.

Notwithstanding, both at home and school, I loved to play outside with my classmates. You may have played similar recess games where you’re from, but among those we played : Crack the Whip, Red Rover and Smear the Queer (for those of you in the Bay Area, you probably remember this one and each could attest that we didn’t know what a queer was – it was just a funny name that rhymed 🙂 ). But here’s some details of what those games were based on my personal accounts :

Where a kid at the end of an arm-locked line of kids running as fast as they can in a snake pattern, gets thrown 12 feet, lands on either their back, head or shoulder and shakes off the concussion and keeps going.

(Those of you in the Bay Area may know this one. To others: In all honesty, we didn’t know what a queer was – kids just like things that rhyme.) This game was whereby anyone holding a ball gets selected by being screamed at, “you’re it!” and suddenly, it’s you verses the world (i.e., every kid in the playground), chasing you across an entire grass field, until your crushing demise when 10 of them tackle and pile on top of you. Inevitably, one kid gets the wind knocked out of them and can’t breath for about 30 seconds while a small group of others lean over the top of them to see what going to happen. The only disappointing part is the game never quite lives up to its name.

A line of kids with locked arms sweetly chants a playful “Red Rover, Red Rover” and calls a lucky contestant by name, challenging them to break the locked arm grip. As they run in full-sprint towards the challenger line, you and your fellow comrad look at eachother in unison with a knowing and evil smile and attempt to “clothesline” them across their neck forcing their legs to fly upwards while they land on their arses.

PLEASE SHARE your: asphalt-rash, blue/green/yellow bruises or grass-stained stories with me either directly or in the comments on this posting.]

Back in the classroom, I sobered up real quick from the playground. I was quiet. And when I would get called on by the teacher I would clam up. I had little confidence, compared to my outdoor physical abilities, as attested by my grass-stained, Toughskin™ Jeans.  But I was also restless as bored as a police officer with a radar gun working an Amish highway. 

I didn’t see the point of learning about the perils and triumphs of “Janet and Mark” (or Dick and Jane) and how that had anything to do with building cars or airplanes or becoming an astronaut. So, other than recess, not only did I find school less than exciting, but also quite uncomfortable. 

They say your environment heavily influences introversion. And in my case, being a subject in a dictatorship regime, ruled by my United-States-Marine-Korean-War-Veteran-and-proud-Teamster-dad, my older sister and I weren’t allowed to say much. (However, the home-leadership ruling party would temporarily flip to a Democracy for my youngest sister, when she decided to sass-back and say what she felt). To say she could get away with murder was close to the literal truth as she somehow had some cosmic ability to put dad under a spell.  This ability could have been freedom for me, but instead I had to learn how to argue like a lawyer when I wanted to go out with my friends.  But had my father known about the amazing effects of Psychological Safety, perhaps things would be different.  And if so, monkeys would fly out of my butt, to coin a phrase by W. Campbell, a public access television show personality. 

But in school and throughout college, I preferred chatting with the quiet, the socially-awkward and the quirky people – yes, the Introverts. And for me, that was freedom. Freedom from peer pressure and to choose to hang out with people of interest to me. I didn’t need to hang out with the popular kids with one-dimensional, hormonal interests. These other quirky people were far more interesting.

One of my first best friends was Andy, in 1st grade. He had very little physical ability, spoke with a lisp, and had pasty white clammy hands – seemingly always clasped together. He was almost tragically shy and very nervous. Classically trained in piano, he adorned a t-shirt with a cartoon of Beethoven on it for our class photo, which was in high-contrast to others with Scooby-Doo or Starsky and Hutch t-shirts. I felt it was my duty to transport this kid into coolsville to at least let the world know how amazing he was. And for me, that was freedom. I got the feeling that his first-generation German parents were concerned about his and his older brother’s aversion to toys or outside activities as they created this amazing, massive playroom in the loft of their large, A-frame house. They even build him a treehouse that was painted white inside and out. A far cry from my fort that I had built with overlapping scrap wood in the back of my parents tool shed that was ground-level (I later build a hatch and ladder where yo u can climb up to the top of the shed that was pretty badass – digression #2). But still, Andy’s was very plain. So I talked him into mounting his Snoopy pennant and other posters on the inside walls. I brought my Oakland A’s 1972 World Champions pennant to juxtapose his, along with some other posters I had. It was still sterile as tree houses go, but it was cooler and he liked it. And for me, that was freedom – to help a homie out and to show him he can let loose a little bit. All we needed was some firecrackers to throw out the windows and slingshots to shoot squirrels in the nearby trees. (Which I really think his parents would encourage).

And so this trend continued through high school and to college. In high school, I was part of a small contingency of off-the-beaten mischief instigators. We had gross-out contests with each other, initiated “egg wars” in nearby orchards and fields and had unapologetically cruel nick names for those kids in school who had obvious but less-than-appealing physical features. We never put harm on anybody and preferred that we had our own inside world of language, starting off and ending every sentence with, “Swear to God” (definitely far from any religion intention). Aside from this, I still had an affinity to hang out with the quieter people and although I was in sports, preferred to hang out with the mischief-makers and quiet people, rather than adorn my jersey on game day. And for me, this was freedom.

In college, I befriended Steve, whom I met in a speech class which started first thing in the morning. As we waited outside for the classroom to open its doors, he explained his completely whacked-out and bizarre dreams to me. He was like a mad scientist when he talked with his waving hands and fingers constantly moving doing a kinda hocus-pocus magician thing. He had all kinds of fascinating projects he worked on at home too but for the most part he was a huge dream enthusiast. After his speech on dream definitions and tips on how to remember your dreams, many people came to him before class asking him what their dreams meant. It was fascinating! Mind you, not a popular thing of that time. He was extremely creative and had a lot to share and apparently, he felt comfortable with telling all of his thoughts and ideas to me. It was super fun – and that was freedom to me.

When I got into the professional world as a project manager, I worked with many personality types and among them were the creatives and engineers who tended to be less likely to speak up – yes, the Introverts. And I found out an amazing thing:  when they’re comfortable and also during one-on-one meetings, they speak more. A lot more.  Perhaps my expectation bar was low, but it was surprising. And when what they had to say came out more, I was able to use that to find out how to better get the project done. There was a lot of holding back key information that would have been really helpful in a meeting, but they were comfortable to tell me in the hallway after the meeting or when we met one-on-one. And in business, that sometimes is too late. I saw it as an opportunity to help the project via efficiency or better communication.

So if that doesn’t help you to understand a bit more of why I choose to coach Introverts, I hope you’ll not feel you’re in a dictatorship regime and that you can tell me in a freedom-to-protest way, Introvert-rant way, or any way you feel.

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