I've always been an introvert. On the Myers-Briggs scale I am an INTP (strong NT, slight P and solid but not overwhelming I). People would probably not describe me as shy, but it absolutely wears me out to spend an entire day on the phone or in meetings. I need my reflective time.
I also have plenty of anxiety. My last year in little league I pitched, and the night before a game I would often be up with stomach cramps all night. It is pretty normal for me to break out into a sweat within about 5 seconds of being in an uncomfortable situation. I've been lucky that it has never stopped me from doing anything. I've never been paralyzed or had a panic attack or anything like that. Actually, in a chaotic situation I usually function quite well. It's those small group situations I hate.
I've seen a million books in the bookstore about how to deal with anxiety, but I have my own solution – become an entrepreneur. I don't know if it would work for everyone, but it has helped me tremendously. Over the last eight months or so I have had so many meetings with people I don't know, made so many phone calls I didn't want to make, said "no" to so many employee requests, interviewed so many applicants, and argued with so many vendors that at some point my body seemed to stop responding physiologically to the same cues that it used to.
I used to be very uncomfortable during long pauses in conversation, but now they don't bother me. I've made so many little errors and mistakes on things that I've given up caring about them (the errors, not the tasks themselves). It is a bizarre feeling for me to go into a meeting with people I don't know and not feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I am too busy to worry about it all and have stopped pre-playing the situation over and over in my head before I arrive. It probably has to do more with the fact that so much of what I am doing makes me uncomfortable that I am used to it and have become, well, comfortable.
I'm sure there will be some events in the future that will bring those feelings back. But if any of you have ever wondered, like I did before I went into this, whether or not you could deal with the constantly selling and management issues entrepeneurship brings, I would say if you want it bad enough your shyness or introversion or anxiety or whatever can be overcome.
The introversion is still very strong in me, and I wonder how it will end up and if I will be happy long-term in the highly visible role I have now. It seems that most leaders are extroverted, but there is value in introversion because we introverts usually value self-reflection. (Or as Mike once pointed out, maybe I am biased because I am an introvert). I think self-reflection is helpful because it allows a leader to make those small changes necessary to stay on the proper course, instead of drifting far from it and having to totally change gears. There are definitely a few strong introverts in major companies (Michael Dell comes to mind) but they are in the minority. I would be interested to hear from those of you who do have significant management roles as to your level of extroversion or introversion and how that has affected your business life.