Everyone is faking it

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Many quiet changemakers I speak with compare themselves to other changemakers in the media or who are known in their social change/entrepreneurship/innovation circles, and feel like they don’t measure up.

What’s the secret to the uber-successful?

They are faking it.

Faking it until they make it. Presenting themselves as they hope to be, not necessarily who they are now.

Talking about a project as a done deal, when really it’s in its infancy and funding is sketchy and the board of directors is in chaos and their full time job is pulling them away from achieving true success.

Acting the entrepreneur, working independently/consulting, when really they still hold down their old job, they have few/no clients, and they have no idea how they are going to pull it off without going into debt.

This isn’t bad, it’s just doesn’t present what it’s actually like to move an idea forward. It’s like Facebook, where everyone share the best of themselves, leaving the vulnerability and sadness in the dark, leading to us feeling that we don’t measure up to friends, when the truth is we’re all just trying to survive in a world of uncertainty.

Doing great things isn’t easy. It takes time, effort, failure, try-trying again.

Spend less time on your issues, and more time on your purpose.

It means being vulnerable. It means understanding that many of us feel like impostors. It means deliberately making mistakes in order to move ahead. It means getting your stuff out there before it’s perfect.

Fake it until you make it.

Am I faking it with the Quiet Changemaker Project?

You betcha! In reality, I have little idea what I’m doing here with Quiet Changemaker Project. It’s an idea I had, that, when shared with others who I identify with, drew interest and excitement. It seems to resonate with people.

I want to write a book, because….introvert. I enjoy having intimate conversations with other people ‘like me.’ While I sort out what a book might look like, I thought I’d build a website, learn and share with others I might not run across in my interviews.

Sometimes the rest of my life pulls me away from spending the time I’d like to spend on this project. Also, this is a passion project, and doesn’t pay any bills.

So, I’m just muddling through like most people, trying to focus on my purpose. And, as most people, I appreciate the support.

What do you think about the idea of a Quiet Changemaker?

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I asked this question in a short survey on this site last fall.

The results have been enlightening, and I want to share some of them with you. It’s great to know that the concept is resonating with people.

Thank you to those who have responded so far! Here’s a peak at some of the responses.

I love the idea of a quiet changemaker! I prefer the term to “leader,” which seems tilted toward extroverts or at least people who want to stand in front of a crowd and give a rousing speech. At the same time, any change I’m making is from my role as a board member, and it’s creeping along at a glacial pace. No instant gratification here.
– Elizabeth, in fundraising at a health care organization/ board member

I think it’s the future. Peaceful, individual change and responsibility is the only thing each of us has control over.
– Janet

The concept of a quiet changemaker resonates well with me. I have (relatively) recently discovered that my passion and mission in life relate to social justice, yet I have always known that I was introverted. But, as in all settings, even the spheres where the topic of conversation is helping people, or making the world a better place for everyone, are dominated by extroverts. As such, introverts like me may find it difficult to find their place and to learn how they can contribute in a way that is safe and comfortable for them. I think it’s important to raise awareness about the quiet changemakers that are out there and help create a space for them to live their missions and passions in a healthy way.
– Paul, social justice student/ researcher/ board member

Nice to have a name to put on this big concept that has been floating around in my head — and a community to boot! Excited to contribute to some dialogue and content about the subject, to see what comes out of the wood work. In my career I work with many extroverted entrepreneurs, often supporting them so much I feel a bit overshadowed and undervalued for my own entrepreneurship.
– Jocelyn, in communications and experiential education

It’s great.  I struggle a lot with the pressure to be outgoing in order to be successful in my line of work.  I feel like the work I do, and excel at, is just as valuable and necessary but far less recognized.
– Alisma

I think it’s a wonderful. A necessary window on how the world works for many changemakers.
– Michael, in labour and political action

I think there are a lot of introverts in community work and sometimes it can be hard to consider that you’re doing “as much good” as the people who get written up, speak out, and generally put themselves more out there. I know there are lots of quiet changemakers and I love the idea of celebrating them and giving them a voice in a new way.
– Virginia

I think this is a great way to identify what’s already a very large group of people in the world and connect them.
– Sandra

I think that this is a great idea. A changemaker is someone who makes change – either through loud and attention-grabbing ways, or in quiet and subtle ways. Either way, a change is a change. As an introvert I am more inclined to go with quiet and subtle ways on to affect change. To thrive in an loud and noisy world is a struggle – which I believe every introvert goes through, has gone through, and will go through.
– Raisa, student

I love it! I often feel so surrounded by extroverts, or folks who I perceive to be driven by ego and comfortable schmoozing and networking. I find this challenging, as I’m often looking for deeper, more meaningful connections but don’t always see this as immediately being rewarded.
– Anna

I think that the term ‘quiet changemaker’ is truly needed. It’s a space that has been overlooked in our extroverted society.
– Rebecca

It’s not a concept often discussed, but I identify with the idea of a Quiet Changemaker. The term in itself offers permission for me to be myself instead of trying to raise my voice to match others’. I used to think that to be a leader, you’d need to be the person at the podium addressing a crowd, but I’ve learned there are many ways to be a leader and change maker. Its taken me a long time to accept the fact that while I am quieter than many people I work with (at a large activist organization) I am both a leader and quiet changemaker. As a quiet changemaker, I like that I can hold space for deep emotions through listening. I like that I encourage reflection. I like that I can help draw out wisdom from teams and transform ideas into action.
– Laura, environmental activist

I know a lot of Quiet Changemakers – I think with the internet we’ve been introduced to these people who may not have had the front-page charisma of so many other leaders and changemakers and that’s awesome. Let’s build a strong commmunity.
– Juliet

I appreciate being acknowledged for being influential even though I don’t shout it from the rooftops or talk in front of assemblies.
– Cindy, in nonprofit capacity building

A More Beautiful Question [book review]

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One of my favourite questions comes from Shift by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. When looking towards a future, an aspirational future different from the present that currently exists, ask “Where do we already see a glimpse of this?” in order to build on strengths and see opportunities to grow without throwing the entire present away. I use this question in strategic planning, in brainstorming, in much of the facilitation and change work that I do.

So when I picked up A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger I was hoping for similar gems, plus guidance for asking good questions in various general contexts (e.g. staff feedback, coaching, strategic planning). The book was highly recommended to me, and I went in excited, with high expectations.

One this to know about my lens when reviewing books

When I read, I’m looking for either 1) big ideas 2) interesting conundrums or 3) practical tools.

Overall, the book didn’t meet these high expectations.

Nice: It was full of stories, dotted with questions relevant to very specific contexts. However: Storytelling is not a tool that resonates with me (though I acknowledge it does with many), and many of the questions were too topical to be applied in new situations. After the first few chapters I found myself scanning the book, not reading the book. I wanted fewer stories, more critical analysis of good questioning, more general good practice. Because of my shift to scanning, I can’t say that I can give a very robust critique of individual chapters.

Who would enjoy this book?

If you like interesting stories of businesses or people trying to dig into a situation, and appreciate reading how a specific questions moved that specific situation forward, this book has that galore.

If you haven’t given much consideration to the power of a good question, this book gives you a great overview of a variety of examples in which a powerful question was key to moving a situation forward.

The one gem that I can share…

A good reminder: Depending on your situation and your goals, the best question often starts with one of three phrases:

What if? Why? or How?

Not who, or what, or when, or where (my favourite question above notwithstanding).

Can you give some examples of great questions?

Why, yes I can. I’ve done training in dialogue and civic engagement and have examples of “deep” questions at my fingertips. Here are some great ones from the resource The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs. I’d actually recommend it as a concise alternative to A More Beautiful Question, in that it meets my book expectation #3 – practical tools.

  • What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than we do say about our situation?
  • What question, if answered, could make the most difference to the future of our situation?
  • What’s missing from this picture so far? What so we need more clarity about?
  • What’s the next level of thinking we need to do?
  • What’s possible here and who cares?
  • If our success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we choose?

“Coming out” as quiet

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At an event early this year I was chatting with an acquaintance about the Quiet Changemaker Project. At that time I hadn’t decided what to call the project, and described how I was interviewing introverts who work in social change. “Oh I’m not introverted,” he responded.

“Oh, I’m not introverted,” he responded.

“I can do both.” He denied being introverted, instead sharing how he could do both – enjoy being alone and being among people, as he described it. As we chatted further, it became clear that he identified with many characteristics more often associated with introverts. This story has repeated itself many times this year.

People become teflon when it comes to labels.

I get it. When a label sticks, people begin to make assumptions and extrapolations that define you in ways the label isn’t meant to. The introvert label is no different. People assume it means you’re a hermit, you’re socially incompetent, you’re shy, you’re awkward. In Susan Cain’s Quiet, respondents describe introverts as pale, weak. It’s not pretty. No wonder people avoid the label.

Learning about introversion was transformational for me.

…introversion/extroversion differentiated by where a person’s energy originates. It helped me appreciate my personal characteristics  that I hadn’t understood before, or that I had tried to change about myself. Learning about introversion for me led to acceptance, as well as an understanding of how better to communicate with others.

So now, when it makes sense, I come out as introverted

in conversations with others, when participating on panels, when speaking in public. Especially when I’m interacting with young people or university students, who may not have had the opportunity to take part in workplace professional and personal development or come across information about introversion and extroversion. I try to represent an introvert who –shocker– is able to interact positively with others, speak in public, etc. And who often gets tired when she does, and who enjoys lots of time alone in order to enjoy being out and social.

I try to be honest about my experiences

so that others feel OK, perhaps validated or more positive about their own. I’m happy to own the introvert label.

How do you feel about the ‘introvert’ label? Are you “out” as introverted? Is it something you talk about with others? 

How to network at conferences

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I was at a large conference recently, and a younger quiet changemaker asked me how I networked – he found the prospect really overwhelming, especially at such an event.

I reflected on how I approached it, and here is what I uncovered.

  1. I know I’m not going to be able to meet everyone, and accept it. At this large gathering in particular, I would say I met 15 people well enough to have easy name recall and hope to stay in touch with–6 of them I will actively remain in contact with.
  2. I generally try in advance to determine who I want to connect if the opportunity arises.
  3. As I meet people over time–in breakout sessions, at meals, or other smaller groups–I quickly categorize people as:
    • Group 1: I want to know you better, or
    • Group 2: I don’t need to know you better.
  4. Why people fit in one category or another depends on the circumstances. Friendly? Smart? Shared interests? Work opportunity? etc. For me it’s a gut feeling, not one I consciously think about each time I meet someone. It’s automatic.
  5. As the conference goes on, as I see members of group #1 again, I actively reengage. “How has the day been?” “Did you find _______ that you were looking for?” “Do you think it’s worthwhile to _________?”
  6. As I see members of group #2, I smile and say hi, but don’t actively reengage, so as to focus my time and my energy on Group 1.
  7. In order to build solid relationships, all of this means identifying as many of Group #1 as possible early at the conference so that relationships can be built over time. I take as many opportunities as possible to connect with people in smaller, breakout groups. Near the end of the event I try to solidify the relationship by at least making sure I say goodbye.
  8. If opportunities exist, I try to speak publicly/facilitate a workshop, etc. so that people likewise can find me if we might have a reason to connect.

How do you approach networking at conferences?

Viewing public speaking as a performance

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The ability to speak in public (or the fear of speaking in public) is not unique to one group of people. I know quiet people who enjoy speaking up, and extroverted people who have had to work to overcome fear.

Many of the quiet changemakers I have interviewed do public speaking as part of their work. These people are often leaders of organizations, spokespeople for causes, or are educators. And again and again, I heard them use the word “perform” when it came to their experience public speaking.

They are on stage.

They are “on.”

They perform.

And then they are “off.”

It’s not to say they are faking it. It’s more like a bit of an out of body experience. Perhaps a heightened version of one’s public self.

I have a few theories on why public speaking works for quiet changemakers, and the main one is that public speaking is fairly one-directional.

It doesn’t require the back and forth of a conversation and it doesn’t require paying attention to the emotional energy and body language feedback to the same extent that small group discussion does. A good public speaker reads the room, most definitely, but not in such an intimate way as in small groups.

It doesn’t mean that public speaking doesn’t drain our energy reserves. Many quiet and introverted folks need alone time to recover after speaking. However, we do it because it’s important to our work and our cause.

In addition to taking a performance approach to public speaking, I suggest:

  • focus your speaking opportunities on topics that you are knowledgable and passionate about
  • take a class on movement and voice to practice different use of space when speaking
  • know your talk well enough so that you can focus on performance and not recalling every word you want to say

When I speak in public, my goal is generally to educate. Share a new idea. Provide option for people to take action. I will never be a charismatic motivation speaker. I help people ponder and learn. That’s my role and I’m happy to own it.