I am shy.
I test as an extreme introvert.
This Surprises People Because I Do Okay In Social Situations these days.
But not so long ago, I’d panic visibly at networking events.
I’d scan the room for a familiar face and latch onto that person for the rest of the night. If I were introduced to someone or made to talk to an "Important Looking Person," I’d end up doing a strange combination of excessively fawning over them, and falling silent and weird. This behavior then left a weird feeling with the persons I had just had contact with.
A Few Years Ago, I Found A Way To Combat This Problem.
I was on a huge boat in Vladivostok, Russia, at the kickoff party for the 2012 APEC Summit.
Definitionally, the boat was full of truly "Important Persons." There were heads of state and CEOs of companies that controlled the world’s economy.
I’d only been invited because I had won a model APEC competition. That turned out to be a mistake, too. In the competition, they were supposed to choose and send someone who was from mainland China. By the time they figured out I was Taiwanese, they had already aired the results on national television.
I was told to keep to myself and I was continually reminded that nobody wanted to talk to me anyway.
As an additional embarrassment, I had printed my own business cards with the name of the company I was interning for at the time. To my horror, I discovered that you weren’t supposed to bring business cards with your company's name on them. I still cringe as I think about how "out of my element" I was.
I Walked Around Trying To Look Small.
I was stammering and red-faced -- hotly aware of my youth -- and my fake business cards. The Banana Republic dress I was wearing was completely wrong for this occasion and my lack of experience running countries was, of course, zero.
I could feel people looking at me and I just knew people were thinking in between the lines of feeling sorry for me and wanting to avoid me.
A few minutes into the formal affair -- of which I was not in formal attire, I couldn’t take it anymore, and so I left the ballroom and tried to find someplace down the corridor to gather my wits about me and decide what I should do.
I took a few wrong turns and ended up in a dark little dining room area where a thin elderly man sat eating all by himself.
I Could Not Have Been More Relieved.
Sitting right before me was another sad soul, who like me, didn’t belong here either.
Because I felt that I knew exactly how awful he felt, I immediately introduced myself and sat with the man whose name was Levin. We talked a bit about family, a bit about work, extensively about education, which I love, and finance, which Levin loved.
He made a Monica “Levin-ski” joke. Time flew and before I knew it I had been chatting with my new friend for hours.
He Was So Kind, And I Felt A True Kinship With Him.
I looked him up later; my jaw dropped when I learned that my new friend was Levin Zhu, the CEO of CICC, the largest investment bank in China. His father also happened to be the last Premier of China.
He was probably one of top ten most powerful people in the country I now called home!
Since the Summit I’ve tried to remember that even Levin Zhu was happy to talk the least important person in the room.
I was not an important person and it had not taken an important person to introduce us. It had not taken a great business card or even a real business card to make this friendship happen. All it took was for him to treat me like a friend and a peer.
I relaxed and enjoyed a real persons' friendship in that evening.
This experience taught me that I can converse with anyone. I spoke with the most important person I have ever met -- for hours. All I need to do is take Levin Zhu's example and speak with others as if they are my friend and peer.