Conversations – or why does an introvert want to spend a year talking to strangers?

I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again….Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard , and we each listen well.

Margaret J. Wheatley

I first read Margaret J. Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World more than fifteen years ago and I’ve considered myself one of her students ever since then. I was, and still am, captivated by the rethinking of organizational and leadership dynamics. But I think my favorite of all her books may be Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, the source of the quote above, because I think she’s right. We need to be willing to talk to the people around us.

Oddly, for an introvert, I chose a people career. Though I didn’t know it then, I was starting my career in higher education during my junior year in college when I took a position as a Resident Assistant (RA). Here I was, someone who had barely left her room as a first-year student, and now my job was to help a group of forty new students in their transition to college. And I learned my first lesson on my first day – one I share with new RAs when I talk with them and one I often share with people who aspire to leadership – to be successful as an RA (or as a leader), you have to leave your room.

You have to leave that comfortable space you’ve created. You have to be willing to knock on a stranger’s door and say hello. You have to be the person who takes the first step. Not usually considered an introvert’s favorite thing to do. And yet I worked up my nerve and did it. Over and over, throughout my career, I have faced times when I need to ‘leave my room’ and talk with people.

My job now is not campus based. I’m now an educational consultant, working out of my home and traveling to a variety of campuses to do my job. It’s a particularly difficult combination for getting to know a new hometown. So I have a choice just as I did in college. I can choose to stay at home, do my job, play with the dogs, and explore San Marcos with my husband. Or, I can choose to ‘leave my room.’ If I want to get to know people in my new community, I have to find a way to ‘knock on doors’ and meet them.

But, while speaking to strangers at various events is possible, this kind of conversation is random and pretty superficial for the most part and I can weasel out of it easily. Setting myself a goal and blogging about it creates a frame work that pushes me to leave my comfort zone and gives me a reason to talk to a variety of people about topics they care about. And that of course, gives them a reason to be willing to talk with me.

And that’s what gets a introvert to plan on talking to 52 people over the course of a year – because I agree with Margaret Wheatley, we need to find ways to be in conversation, to be in community, and to reach out to each other. After all this time, I’m still working on the first lesson – leaving my room.

4 Comments on “Conversations – or why does an introvert want to spend a year talking to strangers?

  1. Great piece. Interesting how it all circles back. Looking forward to your next conversation.


  2. Gage,
    I am happy you’ve created a place that is a wonderful resource of how and why to step out of that comfortable environment of being an introvert.
    People are often surprised to learn that I am an introvert and have to push myself to meet people and every job I’ve ever had has required considerable interaction with people, many complete strangers.
    I sincerely look forward to your posts and I will be subscribing to your site.


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