Lessons from a public introvert

For the past five years, I’ve been working “in public” to some degree. Currently, I am a sponsored contributor to the WordPress open-source project. Before this, I worked on domain and internet policy at ICANN, the organization responsible for developing and enforcing policy on domain names. In different ways, both of these communities are highly focused on transparency and openness.

I, on the other hand, am an introvert. Over the years, I’ve learned that I operate best when I have time to process by myself, at my own pace. Without a buffer, I struggle to separate the noise of other’s opinions from my own.

While I’ve had moments where it felt my personality was at odds with my work, I’ve realized that many things I consider a weakness in myself are hidden strengths. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on some things I’ve learned, and learned to accept.

  1. Modeling what works best for you can create space for others. There isn’t one way of participating in a community, but sometimes it can feel that way. If and when you feel comfortable doing things a little differently, do it. It can make others feel more comfortable doing the same.
  2. As an introvert, real-time conversations are great when I need a thought partner or want to invite others into the brainstorming phase of a project. When it’s time to form an opinion or decide, it’s okay to take time to do that alone.
  3. When working alone, leave space for others. When creating something in the open, the goal isn’t always a finished product, but a collaborative project. Imperfections and unfinished drafts are opportunities for others to get involved.
  4. Time block social or collaborative times. This helps me mentally prepare, and leaves space for me to process in solitude. I have roughly two to three hours per day when 90% of my meetings happen, and I equally reserve two to three hours per day when I have quiet focus time.
  5. Your audience feels much bigger than it is. When contributing to a discussion or writing a proposal, I sometimes have the feeling I’m about to read my diary to a football stadium. I find it helpful to remember that the number of people engaged with what I have to say is often (though not always) much smaller.
  6. Similarly, when in doubt, focus on one-on-one outreach. I mentioned that personal conversations are often my greatest source of inspiration. While proposals, discussions, and decisions need to be made publicly, research, brainstorming, and encouraging others can happen in those private spaces. In fact, it may even be more welcoming for some.

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