Here’s the problem: Nokia screwed me. And no I don’t mean by letting me go (well, at first, but that eventually wore off). I mean by yanking me out of my introverted comfort zone.
I was perfectly fine for years as a closet entrepreneur. I just threw my wild ideas at every employer and took backstage delight at the few that stuck. I could never be the guy working the exhibit halls at events, megaphoning my resumé and convincing strangers they should care about my opinion. I was just too shy.
Fun fact about introverts: get us talking about our passions, and act like you’re interested, and we won’t shut up. You’ll even swear we are extroverts. Especially on twitter.
But I’m not. And when I started working for Nokia I thought that would still be okay, like it had been for every other employer. Plug in, turn on, crank out. Collect paycheck.
I knew I was potentially in trouble, though, when my senior manager (read: ABSOLUTE BEST BOSS EVER) told me I needed to get a passport.
Because, she replied, I would be getting opportunities to travel. Probably to Finland.
What??? I had never been out of the US! Now I have to visit reindeer herders?!
This thought of overseas travel frightened me. Introverts can be confused for agoraphobics. We often prefer to avoid the over-stimulation that can come with getting Out There. Couple that with foreign languages, new cultures and invasive airport security and you get the picture.
As it turns out in my Nokia factory employment I dodged the bullet. I received offers to visit Oulu, Finland for product training but declined. In hindsight, this was stupid. I did make one trip to the big Nokia factory in Reynosa, Mexico, but that’s like visiting south Texas.
Eventually our beloved local factory closed, I lucked into a seat at Nokia House Irving days before my employment ended, and everything changed.
Suddenly I was flying to Finland after all. I was fortunate to wind up with a great travel mentor in colleague (and eventual great boss) Chris Loney, and that helped. By my third trip I was a practical Finn. From moi to kiitos to anteeksi, I am a stupid monolingual American, I could navigate my way through essential conversation and Helsinki City Centre. You learn to later grin at your own ignorance when you find the great Czech restaurant you had been calling Ravintola is really named Vltava, and that ravintola means restaurant (which, trust me, will confuse the hell out of your Finnish friends when you explain how good the food was and they try to pin you down on details). Oh, and Virgin Oil Company rocks. Stockmann, not so much (too expensive).
The real problem was that in this new, global role I was required to talk In Front Of People. Strange and different people. Important people.
And I realized, with an amazement that made me wonder if I really knew me, that it was actually thrilling.
Don’t get me wrong. The fear was still there. Every time I had to cross Charles de Gaulle airport in an hour or less (usually failing) despite one line for all of Customs. Every time I had to offer my assessment on a worldwide delivery network I didn’t yet fully understand. Every time I had to eat with my team at a nice restaurant (sorry, ravintola)… knowing alcohol would be served, I would drink it to overcome my introversion, and then carry on like a glib idiot to the embarrassment of my more reserved Finnish hosts.
Anyway, as my time in that last Nokia role grew, I had to meet and get in front of even more people. I had to communicate with Vice Presidents. I had to train unknown colleagues. And I came to actually love it.
After Nokia employment ended, I decided to expand involvement with the maemo.org community. I started grass roots marketing projects and got elected to the community council (three times altogether). This meant getting in front of even MORE people. Like several hundred in Amsterdam, where I learned the hard way that 1) paring a twenty minute talk down to 5 minutes at the last minute (without carving off critical content) is like building the Eiffel Tower with razor blades and 2) when you’re asked to perform such a miracle, request to speak last just in case. You really don’t want to get the stage hook halfway through. TRUST me.
Even with occasional embarrassments, at some point I simply HAD to pursue opportunities to travel. Why? Because I had made so many good friends around the planet. Hanging out virtually is fun but just not the same as being there. So every time Nokia or some other organization called, and paid, I went. To Tampere, Finland for KDE. To Dublin and San Francisco for MeeGo. To Bellevue, Washington for Intel. Every time was an absolute blast.
With each trip, each stage appearance, I expand that comfort zone further. I still get nervous, and still know fear, but I’m learning to manage it. And slowly finding that maybe a career behind the scenes might not be what I really want now. I’ve discovered as a Nokia Developer Champion that I really like mixing it up with people. Even ones I don’t know. Even outside of comfort zones.
Can an old introvert change his spot?