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The Uncomfortable Power of Connection

In my previous professional life I did a tonne of leadership training and regularly completed questionnaires which professed to identify your personality traits. They were at best fun to do but I found it hard to put too much stock in the results. They were often a crock of out dated, inflexible frameworks that didn’t help lead or develop. But let me just step off my soap box and get back to the point.

If these questionnaire results were to be believed, I’m an extrovert and most people who know me would agree. Only trouble was that the next time I did the same questionnaire it would flip me to be an introvert. The truth I suspect is that people are complex and often have both tendencies, I know I do.

I like the description of an introvert as having an internal energy source, like a personal inner battery. Extroverts on the other hand have a solar panel, needing external energy from others to fire them up- a simple explanation but it works for me. So there are times when I dust down my solar panel and soak up the energy in a room. But the majority of time I spend in my own company, enjoying nothing more than mooching, pottering and painting.

At New Year, like many I set out my goals and aspirations for the year ahead. Mine fell into three areas - practice, community and business.

Developing my art practice is pretty self explanatory - turn up, do the work, experiment and explore. Consistency builds growth - you get the gist.

Acquiring the necessary business skills has been incremental and with the help of Google and my social media savvy kids I’m getting there.

Engaging in an artist community is more complex however. I knew it was necessary if I was to inform my practice and grow my business. But, enter the introvert, I was the least comfortable about achieving this goal. I’m never happier than dressed in my scruffs painting all day in the studio. Watching but not participating in on line art groups, camera off on Zoom calls and excusing myself from social meet-ups with arty strangers.

So it was with some trepidation at the beginning of the year I pushed myself to get out there a bit more. I quieted the inner monologue that says ‘I hate the sound of my own voice’ and introduced myself to an online live event- and surprise, surprise the world did not crumble. All the participants did not turn and laugh at my chipmunk voice. Nor did they ask me to leave, or all leave themselves. What on earth did I think would happen?!

Bolstered by my 'bravery' I began to comment more on Instagram posts and struck up some lovely connections with kind, supportive and informative artists. I’ve even met up with three wonderful artists spanning from the east to the west of the country, because of those conversations. And when we met the chat flowed like we were old friends. They were so generous in their help, sharing their experience and practical advice. These are the joyous connections not to be missed, that open up paths of thought and growth.

In August I uncharacteristically accepted an invite to an Open Studios social event. To my amazement I met a network of lovely people, who were just like me! Well why wouldn’t they be! What was I expecting? As I write this I know how ridiculous it sounds, but these are the self limiting thoughts and fears that can hold me back.

Sometimes it was in the simple act of a question that a seed of connection was planted. During my Open Studio I asked artist visitors if they’d be interested in meeting other local artists? I’m now organising the inaugural meet up of the North Worcestershire Art Collective - any suggestions on a more catchy name are very welcome!

Nine months on it’s hard to see a downside to engaging in community, especially one as welcoming and supportive as the art one. Yet I suspect I am not the only one who feels out of their comfort zone in reaching out to others. But really what is the worst that can happen? We’re ghosted? Rejected? Dismissed? My experience has been that most folk are just like me and if a connection fails to materialise it’s probably because like me, they’ve forgotten to respond or are too busy (or scared)to commit.

The thing is, I know I am all the richer for these connections. Imagine what would happen if I made more of them? They’ve brought breadth and depth to my practice as well as my life in general. There’s a wealth of experience and knowledge that’s available just for the asking. So I am going to indulge my insecure introvert, but keep it in check. I’m going to ask the questions, say yes to the invite and turn on that web cam. Opportunity wins over discomfort- so bring it on!!

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