Updated: Jul 8, 2020
The 4 P's for Surviving in the Lion's Den
Like many introverts, I have grown to loathe the 3 C's: conferences, conventions, and cocktail hours. Now I'm getting ready to return to the Lion's Den this week. But this time I'm prepared and hope for better results than one of my many examples from the past, this one in Lima, Peru:
In 2005 I transferred to London on an ExPat assignment. The family experience was amazing and my global business travel was generally a silver lining. But the social pressures of the job nearly broke me.
“After an amazing weekend touring Machu Picchu in the countryside of Peru, Oliver and I arrived in Lima for an industry LPG conference. I was thrust into the heart of my kryptonite: cocktail socials with people I hardly knew - amidst a crowd of seasoned veterans. Furthermore, I was also tasked with introducing Oliver to key counterparts. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility.
“Hello,” I interjected as I nudged us into a small group conversation. We often received no more than stares, as they appeared offended at our intrusion into their friendships. Feeling any confidence slipping, I took advantage of a brief moment of silence.
“Hello, this is Oliver and I’m Steve. We’re with Shell’s LPG team.”
In the pit of my stomach, I was scared. I was overcome by fear.
A bit awkward, but perhaps we were now part of the conversation? However, often they would just nod and continue within their own group. Other times they might lob a question our way: “How do you see natural gas production impacting LPG supply in Latin America?”
It felt like an opportunity to earn our way into the group and seemed better than idle chitchat. However, as a newcomer to the market, my rambling response made it clear I had failed their test. They returned to their discussion of old times together and their plans for dinner or drinks later that evening. Clearly, I had not earned an invitation to either.
Oliver seemed to sympathize with my struggles as I abruptly backed out of the group, only to have to walk the floor in search of a welcoming face to approach next, which rarely presented itself. I grabbed another drink to try to relieve the tension, but I could not drink enough that night to soften my approach. I continued to torment myself for hours that seemed like days of pain.
I wrote an email to Jennifer later that evening: “It zapped my energy just trying to maintain such a façade. Jennifer, I describe myself lately as puny, timid, socially regressive, lazy, stressed, and basically fragile. I’ve never prided myself as a social butterfly, nor do I care to. But lately I feel like more of a social wallflower. Unable to hold even the basic social conversation.”
Realizing the depressed tone of my letter and not wanting to scare Jennifer from halfway around the world, I tried to reassure her: “However, I must emphasize, I’m okay. I’m not going off the deep end.”
But in reality I felt like I was. In the pit of my stomach, I was scared. I was overcome by fear every day: of people, of losing, of speaking, of being quiet, of not providing, of not being enough, of not being courageous.
Excerpt from Chapter 14, STRETCHED, from In Search of Courage
Over the past five years, I've reflected and I've grown. I've learned a lot about introversion and how to embrace many of my strengths to overcome my insecurities. Now I see this week's Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) convention in San Antonio as an opportunity to test how far I've come. The AWP is a huge convention - over 10,000 attendees filling the Convention Center and beyond. So my prep work is even more critical...
My approach is simple...the 4 P's:
1. PERSONAL PRIDE: Who am I? What are my strengths? What are my personal objectives? How will I deal with social stress? I want to be myself! In my past, I had no personal objectives beyond survival...try not to belittle myself with low self-confidence and poor coping skills like binge eating in the hotel room or excessive drinking before and during events.
I want to set reasonable priorities and objectives that will build a sense of pride.
I will leverage my strengths of preparation and self-awareness while stretching myself at times.
If I find myself itching to pound drinks or binge-eat on the between session snacks it's a clear sign I'm overstressed and need a break.
It's important for me to be myself. If that helps strike up conversations, great. If other conversations fizzle out quickly, it's not me or him/her, it's just fine...move on.