I’m shy. I’m not just a little shy when I meet someone for the first time, I’m shy almost all of the time.  I’m a classic introvert; talking to people isn’t easy for me, I don’t know what to say, I freeze. It takes me a long time to open up to people and feel comfortable being myself.

It’s been a struggle for most of my life, and now that I’ve entered the working world, it’s something that takes on a whole new set of challenges. Take Basecamp: this an onboarding training that all new hires at Populus Group attend. We learn about the history of the company and a lot about the culture. I was recently hired, this is my first job out of college. I soon learned I had to fly from San Francisco, to Detroit and spend a week with people I had never met. Think that made me anxious? Um, ya, you can definitely say it did.

But going to Basecamp was an important experience for me because it reminded me that there was more to me than just an awkward introvert. My experience during those few days gave me the confidence and extra push I needed to get out of my comfort zone again. It reminded me of a part of myself that I had forgotten. It reminded me who I am, it inspired me to stop hiding and allow others to get to know me. I want to leave my mark, but I won't be able to if I remain invisible. And even though I am an introvert, it doesn't mean I can’t stand out.

March 2018 Basecamp Bowling

That's me on the far left! You probably can't tell, but I'm getting over my mega butterflies,
and actually having an great time with my new team.

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone (Literally)

It all started a couple weeks ago, my coworker Hazel and I woke up at the crack of dawn to fly out to the PG headquarters in Detroit. When we finally arrived to the hotel, it was after 5:00 p.m. Stepping out of the Uber, we were able to enjoy the cold breeze in the air, along with the beautiful evening sun. Throughout the week whenever someone asked us about how we were dealing with the cold, they were shocked to hear that we loved it. It was Hazel and my idea of perfect weather.

The first night, two of our coworkers, Fadi and Irene, picked us up for dinner and afterward, we walked around the local gigantic mall.  So far, so good. Just small groups and easy chatting, and I had Hazel. I was feeling pretty good, but nervous for what was to come. 

Basecamp Day 1

In the morning, another coworker, Jackie, picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the office after a pit stop at Starbucks for our morning coffee. Great! I love Starbucks. Then we entered the office, we were greeted by so many people. I was overwhelmed. But I was also excited. We were taken to our desks for the next four days. Hazel and I sat in different areas, but we were still close to each other. I was amazed how quickly she hit it off with her new neighbor Rema. It usually takes me years before I get comfortable with someone.

Then the entire payroll team joined us for breakfast and we went around the room answering a question, "What do you think your kids will ask you?" A million thoughts went through my head and I started freaking out. "Oh my god, oh my god. What do I say? KIDS?! QUESTIONS?! Should I just say something simple and boring? Or try to say something that makes me stand out?" I decided to give an answer that tells them a little bit about me, "My nickname is Mars, so my kid will probably ask me if I'm from Mars." There was some laughter and that made me happy.

Though I’m introverted, I can be funny. I can be dry and sarcastic. I kind of have dark a sense of humor, which can come off the wrong way sometimes. Most of the time, I keep these jokes to myself unless I feel really comfortable with the person I’m talking to. Notice I said person, because I don’t do well with communication when it involves talking to a group of three or more people. Breakfast went well though, it was really nice to meet everyone, especially since they were so friendly and welcoming.

After lunch, we had some time to work and then a quick introduction session with the other Basecampers. Afterwards, we went bowling with some people from the office. I was nervous because I haven't bowled in years and I was never the best player. I would be happy if I didn't gutter too much. Hazel said she doesn't bowl, but ended with a Turkey and probably had one of the highest score of the night. After three games of bowling, we got ice cream with Stephanie, another Detroit coworker on our way back to the hotel. All the socializing sounded intimidating, but it the moment, it was actually pretty fun.


Basecamp Day 2

Then came the heavy lifting of Basecamp. We learned about history of Populus Group. We learned about all the service lines. We also learned about some deeper things that are expected of us. As PG employees - Climbers we’re called - we’re expected to stay true to ourselves and speak up if we see an opportunity to improve a process, or if we see something that doesn’t seem right. I was reminded that it’s important for me to stay in touch with what I think, to have the courage to be honest. It was something I think I needed to hear. The next two days flew by and in the blink of an eye, we were heading home to San Francisco.

If It's Not Easy, That's Probably a Good Sign

Part of what Basecamp taught me was about myself. This is my first professional job after college. Watching how natural it was for Hazel to talk and connect with everyone gave me the motivation and confidence I needed to participate and ask more questions. There were times when I was hesitant and held back, but she gave me the extra nudge I needed to learn and ask more questions. Whenever I felt like I said something stupid or didn’t make sense, people in the room laughed with me and it made me feel more at ease. Before that week, I was stuck in a rut of being afraid I didn't have enough to say or I was too awkward or I would embarrass myself. Just attending Basecamp really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. By the end, I was proud of myself for being able to come out of my shell and go up to people and make small talk. There were times when the introvert part of me came out and I didn’t know how to respond or what to say, but I realized that these are learning opportunities for me. It’s okay to feel awkward and shy sometimes, the important thing is to accept myself and push myself to do better next time.

If We Want to Grow, We Have to Open Up

When I got back to the office, Hazel noticed that I had turned back into an introvert. It took several weeks and some encouragement before I finally decided to come out of my shell again. The President of Populus Group, Bobby came to our Bay Area office for a Town Hall Meeting. Later that same day, I went with a group of coworkers to see Michelle Obama speak.

Seeing both of these leaders speak on the same day inspired me. Both of them talked about being proud of who you are and not being afraid to be authentic. It made me realize that I should be proud of myself and proud of how much I have accomplished and I want to encourage others to do the same. When you’re shy, it sometimes feels like you’re the only one who struggles to come out of your shell.  To all the other introverts out there, you’re not alone. You can break your habits, share your ideas and put yourself out there. It’s scary at first, but it’s worth it.

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