Can I tell you a story?
Once upon a time, there was an introvert. We will call her Noelle. Noelle didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. In fact, she had such terrible social anxiety that she could barely even function in grade school. Talking to people made her so nervous, that often she just…didn’t. She had a small group of friends in high school, and they were great friends, but they were all she had. When social functions came around, those friends had other friends, but Noelle didn’t. Noelle was shy, reserved, and absolutely convinced that everyone thought she was weird and annoying and crazy, when in reality, they didn’t think much of her at all because she was, well, nobody really.
In college, Noelle had a hard time making friends, but she tried. Her first year was kind of miserable, but then she kind of found her groove. Eventually, something broke through that hard shell that she kept around herself, and she just let herself be. She stopped worrying so much about what people thought and allowed her true personality shine through. At her college graduation, Noelle stood up in front thousands of people and gave a speech. She left college with a great group of close friends. She no longer had panic attacks upon meeting someone new or being around strangers.
But, you see, Noelle was still socially anxious. She didn’t really care what other people thought, but she knew that some people still judged her. Some people still didn’t actually like her. But it was okay, because she had friends and knew how to make friends and if someone didn’t like her, it was their problem!
Noelle was really good at a few things, and decided to make a career out of one of them. Let’s say she was a great baker. She made really beautiful, elaborate cakes, and eventually people took notice of her talent! Other people wanted to work with her – and it just blew Noelle’s mind! This was a girl who had spent the majority of her life thinking that she wasn’t good enough for other people to even talk to, let alone work with.
Noelle began surrounding herself with an incredible group of people, some of whom became her great – no, best – friends. Together, they were unstoppable. They made the most stunning cakes you could imagine, and they all knew it. They knew they were all good individually, but they knew they were better together. So when other people wanted in, Noelle and her friends shut them out. They were always kind and courteous on the surface, but nobody was fooled. It was obvious that Noelle and her friends thought they were better than everyone else.
It felt good to Noelle to finally be on the top. She had felt inferior for so long, and now she was one of the cool kids. She was popular, and had a great reputation for her work. She was happy. Or so she thought.
See, the funny thing about building yourself up while putting other people down is that it will never last long. And it didn’t. It all came crumbling down, and then Noelle found herself on the outside again. When you hit rock bottom, you discover who your true friends are. There is no blame or anger at people because you no longer fit. There is only taking from it what you can. Admitting that while together you were the best of the best, you weren’t your best self. And that is what is important.
We are all pieces in a puzzle that has an infinite number of possible solutions. There are some puzzle pieces that fit better with others, but there’s never going to be a perfect fit. As individuals, we are all equal. Networking and collaborating with others is an essential part of life, but we are still our own selves. We all have our own talents, our own values and priorities. But we are all just people, getting by the best we can.