I have confession and a very personal one at that. I’m a chameleon and a reader of rooms. Or I was until I met WordPress.
The Making of a Chameleon
As a small child I stuttered and I was extremely shy. In grade school I was an under performer to the point of being way below grade level in reading and other fundamentals. Getting to school and being physically present in the classroom was my achievement. Excelling seemed beyond my abilities.
In my early years my caregivers included a very sick mother, an absent father, in-home nurses, and a variety of church members who would come and go. At age eleven I became a ward of the state and moved north to where my extended family lived. My new set of caregivers included grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and the parents of my friends.
A village raised me and as I shifted from one group to another, I cultivated some hidden talents I did not know I possessed. The diverse environment taught me to read a room and become a chameleon of sorts. I would monitor those around me, watch for shifts in their demeanor, and adapt my behavior to match.
Becoming a chameleon was my way of working through uncomfortable situations. If I could adapt to those around me and become more like them, I could blend in and thus make the situation easier on myself.
Like the chameleon, I learned shifting colors created a sense of security and helped the weak survive.
As I left high school these talents strengthened. I used them as I waited tables and worked my way through college.
After college I entered the workforce and it was then that I mastered the art of room reading and color changing. An eight-hour sales presentation to c-level executives was survived though my chameleon efforts. The more presentations I gave, the better I was at shifting colors and adapting to the environment around me.
I still do it today and have found it to be a significant part of business success. My chameleon ways have helped me qualify prospects, close deals, and manage unpleasant situations with clients.
And while my room reading and personality shifting has been a core part of my behavior throughout life, I only recently became aware of it.
That’s because you can’t really see such personality traits until you take a break from them.
Quieting the Chameleon Within
Throughout life I was never able to truly “fit” within a group of peers. Sure I had friends, work associates, and close relationships but they did not come naturally. I had to work hard at creating them, building them, and maintaining them.
I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Always accepted, but never naturally fitting within an ecosystem.
Then one day the recession came and I desperately wanted to leave my long-term employer. There were virtually no jobs available and I knew the only way I could make a change was to create my own path. I was forced to branch out on my own and become an entrepreneur.
I had zero interest in becoming an entrepreneur and honestly, I still struggle with it today. Running an agency was not my goal in life.
But this path brought unexpected blessings. While I first thought these blessings included my salary, pajama office attire, or the ability to sponsor my son’s baseball team – I was mistaken.
Those were material things and they didn’t touch the core of who I was or who I was becoming.
My greatest blessing became apparent years after founded Web Savvy Marketing.
It didn’t arrive with a singular event or even in a manner that was initially apparent. It was a transition that took place within me and it was brought by those around me.
This transition started at PressNomics with a small gesture from someone in the WordPress community. It was the visual reaction in seeing me across the room, the swift movement towards me, and the big hug that arrived shortly thereafter.
Months later the transition progressed further with a trip to WordCamp Vegas. I wasn’t planning on flying across the country to go to a conference by myself, but I had just gone through a cancer scare and many months of testing. I had been given the all clear and I just needed to clear my head. So I booked a plane ticket and a hotel and off I went. Vegas brought forth many introductions, new friends, and some wonderful moments of entertainment and laughter.
My transition continued to take momentum as I stepped onto the stage at WordCamp Miami. It was early morning and I was giving my first presentation to the WordPress community.
My presentation topic was on building your personal brand. Thinking back now, this topic seems ironic, because I’m not sure how one can successfully create a brand for a chameleon.
As I started my talk, I looked out into a large room and I saw many faces I knew and recognized. These fine folks were sitting, supporting, and smiling back at me. And while I still didn’t realize it yet, these faces were slowly becoming my people.
Months after that day I found myself floating in a pool at CaboPress. At this low key and limited attendance event I had the opportunity to sit and casually chat with other WordPress business owners. Later that night, in a round table type of event, I spoke openly about my success and failure. Okay I didn’t just speak; I openly spewed about my insecurities and concerns.
And for me, that was a turning point. For the first time in a very long time, the chameleon stopped reading the room and she let down her guard.
At that moment an amazing thing happened. People – my WordPress people – offered help. And while I didn’t immediately accept it, I took note of it and I stored that offer away with me as I left Mexico.
At CaboPress I opened up and I quieted the chameleon just long enough so that the real me could live and breath. It was just that – a long breath of relief.
My guard was done, my hyper awareness settled, and I was allowing the true me, deep inside, to emerge.
And when I finally let the real me escape, I realized I wasn’t alone.
To my surprise, there was a community of like-minded people all around me and the best part was they were like me. We shared the same interests, we had common goals, and we struggled with similar issues.
I didn’t just find my people, I found people who loved binary code, who wanted to do good, and who were quirky.
I no longer felt like I was displaced or didn’t fit in. I had magically found others who were also square pegs.
Meaningful and Effortless
Today when you see me at a WordPress event, you’ll most likely find me chatting with the same people from one event to another. While I do mingle around and meet new community members at each event, I cherish the encounters and opportunities to reunite with my WordPress friends.
I do so, because these relationships are meaningful, enjoyable, and entirely effortless for me. I don’t have to worry about reading the room and color shifting. Instead I focus more on the personal interaction and the moment.
If I meet someone new at a WordPress event, I do not attempt to calculate the person and modify myself. Instead I reallocate that moment a more meaningful encounter. I’ll start asking a ton of questions so I can better understand this new friend.
While I’ll still closely watch facial expressions and reactions, I do so for different reasons.
I’m no longer worried about fitting in or existing. These days I’m worried about you the person because you are part of my people and my new happy place.
With each event I find more people to call friends and I shift my colors less and less. The chameleon in me gets weaker, while the real me flourishes.
If you are reading this, you are most likely a member of the WordPress community. This means you are my people, my community, and my happy place.
And the really strange thing is this – I didn’t realize I was such a square peg until I found the WordPress community. Once you find someplace to finally call home, you clearly see how you were lacking in the past.
Have You Found Your People?
I know the WordPress community is filled with a lot of introverted people. I also know that while many of us love and embrace WordCamps, there is a large group of folks that are fearful of attending their first camp.
I understand the idea of heading to a WordCamp can be overwhelming. Heck I felt that way the first time I ventured to a cross-country camp myself. But I pushed ahead and I went and I was so thankful I did.
And over the last year or so, I had forgotten that such events can be incredibly scary. But I was reminded of it recently at WordCamp US.
There I was standing in the hall and someone I know from Twitter came up to me. He said he was so happy to meet me in person and that he felt as though he was meeting a rock star. While I laughed at the statement, it really touched my heart. We talked then and again a few more times throughout the event.
Then this sweet person confessed that WordCamps are really hard for him. That he feels “socially awkward” and that attending an event was emotionally difficult and very draining. His raw honesty was heartwarming.
The interesting thing was this gentleman was doing just fine. I had watched him communicate with me and other WordCampers. He put himself out there and I think he was rewarded for it.
I was happy we finally met in person and I hope he felt the same.
If you’ve considered going to a WordPress event and have hesitated, I ask you to reconsider.
You are stronger than you think and you’re more special than you believe.
There are people like you out there who are waiting to meet you and call you one of their people. They’re square pegs looking for other square pegs.
Your friends are sitting in a chair at a WordCamp listening to someone talk about code, design, or community. They are waiting for your arrival and would be thrilled to have you say hello.
Heroes Are Everywhere
Our WordPress community is filled with heroes.
Our heroes are coders, designers, marketers, and business owners.
They are men, and women, and some are even in their own transition.
They are teenagers and grandmothers.
They are tall and they are short.
They have pink hair and nerdy tattoos.
They live next door and they’re also from the other side of the world.
You are my hero. Each person I’ve laughed with and those I haven’t yet had a chance to meet.
Should you decide to come your first WordCamp and you see me, know that I’m waiting to meet you. We’re friends who simply haven’t yet met. But that’s okay. We’re probably both square pegs so we’ll get along just fine.