Guest Blogger, Kimberly Gates, shares how a bit of feedback changed her life!
Words have power, six small words changed the trajectory of my life – “People don’t know who you are”. That statement was the feedback I received after a job interview for an assistant manager position.
These words still resonate in my mind, they still bring up feelings of anger, confusion, and gratitude all at the same time. Those six words were the start of my introversion journey in 2019, it has been quite an amazing journey.
Prior to 2019, I did not know what introversion was. I considered myself a quiet person, a deep thinker, and very observant. I love reading and learning new things. In high school, the only times that my quietness bothered me were at wedding receptions or large social events. In school, I always carried a book to read. It was a way to not feel awkward while everyone else was socializing. I preferred deep conversations versus chit-chat. I had only a few friends. My sister was my best friend so even when I did not have a lot of friends, her friendship was enough.
My mother and sister are extroverts and my father, brother, and I are introverts. Since my father was also the quiet observant type, it was not strange that I was the same way. I wanted to be more outgoing, I tried to be but I was not good at starting conversations. I did not know what to say or what questions to ask to engage people. I was better at listening than talking.
My Cuddly Confidantes
I love animals. I knew by 5th grade that I wanted to be a veterinarian. Statistically, most of the people working in the animal care field are introverts. I picked the right field; it fits my introverted personality. I have a bachelor’s degree in animal science and went into a career in laboratory animal care. I started as a husbandry technician and then was promoted to a supervisory position. I am a breeding colony supervisor with a staff of 10 colony managers. My staff and I breed transgenic mice and rats for medical research purposes. The animals we generate are used to help create better treatment options, for human patients.
I love my job but I needed a mental challenge - I was bored. I was looking to advance my career after 17+ years as a supervisor. In 2019, an assistant manager position was posted in my department. I applied for the job. I met and exceeded the job requirements. I had led a great team of colony managers. I created and implemented a lot of innovative ideas and practices to improve animal care management along with having supervisory experience. I felt I had a great chance of getting the position. Several managers and supervisors were surprised I had applied for the position. That theme of “surprise” resonated throughout the entire 4-hour-long interview. They were “surprised” by how professionally I dressed, by my responses to the questions, and by the initiatives I started.
A Tough Pill to Swallow
I did not get the job. All the feedback I received after the interview was awful, especially the statement, “People don’t know who you are.” My first thought was, “since when does being seen and known a requirement for being a manager?” The other two feedback statements were vague. I was advised to be more visible and supportive of other supervisors so I could be seen.
I did not ask the right questions when the feedback was given. I was still processing all the information. I was very angry, hurt, discouraged, and emotionally defeated. I tried taking on more tasks to help other supervisors. When I suggested projects to help the supervisors, my boss rejected all my ideas. Instead, she suggested grunt work that the other supervisors did not have the time to complete. I stopped suggesting ideas and doing the grunt work. I was seen and known by a lot of people; however, not by the right people. I grew up believing that if I worked hard I would be recognized and my career would advance, but that is a lie. With all the years of hard work, I was invisible.
I realized the groups of people I interviewed with did not really see me or know me. A lot of questions started racing through my mind, like, “why didn't they see how well I led my team? What about all the innovative ideas I brought to our department? What about the ways I help my fellow supervisors on a daily basis? What about all the training and consulting presentations I gave? Why?"
I answered my own questions. I did not tell them all the things I had done. Since I am not an extrovert, I had to find a way to tell other people (extroverts), who I am to be seen. This was my “AHA” moment, it was the start of my introversion journey.
Not getting the assistant manager position, I was faced again with the dilemma of, "How do I advance my career?" My field is very niche so there were very few job opportunities. I did not want to move just to have a slightly different job and make less money. I even considered changing my career completely, but having little to no paid experience, that didn't seem like a feasible option.
I prayed and read books to help find direction to what my next step should be. The Powerful Purpose of Introverts by Holley Gerth was the first step in my mindset shift. She incorporated information about introversion and spirituality. I started learning about how the brain of an introvert is wired, how we process information differently, and the ways we are different than extroverts. I watched the TED Talk by Susan Cain - The Power of Introverts. I discovered my superpowers are Planner and Loyalty, from taking a quiz on Steve’s website.
Finally, I understood that my quietness, my dislike for wedding receptions (large social events), and my struggles with small talk were actually because of being an introvert. The more my mindset shifted, the more I embraced who I truly am. This new self-awareness grew my confidence, my self-worth, and my sense of value as a person. I stopped striving to please or be accepted by others.
If I can’t accept myself for being the special, uniquely made woman that I am, then I can’t expect others to view me that way. I celebrated being a process thinker, detail-oriented, creative, and a planner. I honor myself and know when I need breaks from “peopling”.
It took a while for the “celebrating me” to happen because I also had to learn to say “no” a lot more. Getting comfortable with saying “no” to others and myself was hard. I did not like disappointing people, even though the “yes” answers were easier. However, answering “yes” was helping/pleasing others more than myself.
As my self-awareness grew, I became more aware that other people are struggling with being an introvert too. I wanted others to experience the same awakening and self-acceptance that I had - that being an introvert is not a weakness, it is a strength.
A good friend suggested I present a lunch and learn, on the topic of introvert leadership. Anyone from the whole university could attend – cringe moment! I reluctantly agreed, knowing it was not about me but about helping others. The presentation was well attended with over 70 people registered for the presentation titled “The Power of the Introvert Leader”. It was well received and it helped people become aware of their own introversion. Several people afterward shared that after the presentation they started having conversations with their boss and loved ones about being an introvert. They shared with others how they navigate social gatherings, their need for time to process information, and how breaks help when over-stimulated by people/noise.
Paving My Path Forward
I started questioning how I navigate my job now as a supervisor. How do I advance in my career? I started using my written voice to communicate who I am. I document all the presentations, projects, and goals I complete. I included all my achievements in my annual evaluation which resulted in a higher annual raise.
Now, I write a script for every presentation. It helps my thoughts and communication to be concise and clear. I write out my notes/questions prior to any meetings. My confidence has grown as a speaker with each conference I participated in because I wrote down what I was going to say and practiced enough to memorize the presentation.
Along with using my written voice, I started verbally sharing with my staff and my boss what my introverted nature looks like. I can come across as aloof or intimidating to others because my facial expressions and demeanor are hard to read. Since I am not chatty, people make assumptions about me that are not true. I do not excuse or change my behavior just to be more outgoing or make others feel better.
This introversion awakening of sorts, allowed me to rediscover my creative/ entrepreneurial spirit. In 2022, I started a side business making unique baking extract flavors called Uncommon Extract. I participate in a lot of craft/vendor shows. The hours of talking and “peopling” make me tired, but I love it. In addition, I acknowledged to myself that I am an expert in my field of transgenic colony management. My current job could never pay me enough for the knowledge and expertise I have. I want to be my own boss. I have decided to start a consulting business in 2024. My knowledge and unique skillset can help other lab staff at other universities. I am scared yet excited for my next journey. I am grateful for the awful feedback I got 5 years ago. Without it, I would not have become the strong, confident introvert that I am today.
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