Friday, March 30, 2018

Shy? Sometimes

Shy in my backyard
Yesterday, I blogged about the ISA and gave some tips about how to meet people even when one is shy.  The only disagreement that post has received thus far is the assertion that I am shy sometimes.  I get it--I am loud online and pretty loud and extroverted in person.... among folks who know me.  But when it comes to strangers, I am not so comfy.

I never did go up to the big names and say, "hi, I am Steve, I love your work and you should love mine."  Ok, not a great opening line.  So, maybe I am smart not to approach big names with strategery like that (and tis a good thing I have not been single for 30 years).  But one reason I advise networking sideways or down is because networking upwards is something I don't feel comfortable doing.  The only big names I know well in the discipline are those who were at the place I went to grad school or who I met in smaller meetings.  I can't think of a relatively big name I know that I approached without a smaller context that caused us to meet.  But as the late Will Moore reminded me, I could get away with this because I am privileged, and as Christian Davenport argued, one can go up to big names successfully.  So, this sideways and down approach is one I prefer because I am shy in this particular way.

People think I am not shy because I approach folks online quite eagerly.  Yes, I engage strangers,
including famous ones (Henry Winkler and Morgan Fairchild engage back!), on twitter because it is a conducive environment.  I have spent this week contacting young civ-mil scholars to meet up at the ISA, which is a not-shy thing to do, because the wheels are greased by some twitter interaction and because it is actually a one to one kind of thing.  Which presents an irony: I teach best in large rooms but interact best in small meetings.

To be clear, I was very nervous when I first started public speaking.  For some reason (mostly to meet girls at the girls camp), I started getting involved in drama--plays, that is--and that helped a bit.  But I remember my very first day of teaching--I forgot to bring the syllabi (pre-internet, yeah, we brought 30 or 50 copies of syllabi to the first class) not just to the first class on my first day, but to the second class on my first day, and yes, my third class on my first day.  After a while, I stopped being nervous about speaking to undergrads and to grad students, but remained nervous when speaking to professors.  That declined after much experience, including job talks that ranged from terrific experiences to awful..

Anyhow, this gets to where I am still quite shy: larger groups.  Just a few nights ago, I was at a reception at an embassy, and I ended up mostly hanging out with the one guy I knew.  I have never been comfortable approaching strangers in person, unlike my brother who strikes up conversations with everyone he meets, and so at cocktail parties and receptions, I tend to cling to the few people I know or I do not stay very long.  Mostly, I don't stay long.

When I am really shy,
I wear camoflauge
People who know me now think I am not shy because they didn't notice me in the corner at the big receptions. They notice me now chatting with a bunch of people every time they see me.  Now at the big receptions at the ISA or APSA, I am not in the corner because I have been at this for, gulp, 25 years.  So, despite being very bad at remembering names and faces, I have accumulated many friends and acquaintances over the years as I have attended two conferences a year, worked at four places, participated in numerous workshops, etc.

Yeah, I have always been loud among my friends, and I am definitely not shy about sharing my opinions and my advice online. And, yes, the years of submitting articles to journals, manuscripts to presses, and grant applications, not to mention job applications and many failed job searches, I have developed a thick skin about much stuff.  But put me in a larger group of strangers, and I turtle or I scamper.  My friends don't see it because when I am with them, I am not alone.  And I am so very thankful that I am rarely alone at conferences these days, unlike my first five or so APSAs and ISAs.

See you at the Hilton bar next week.

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