Those who know me know that I’m an introvert and generally one of the quieter people in the room. But even as an introvert, I’m comfortable speaking in front of groups, making points and raising questions in meetings, making presentations and engaging with conviction as long as I am saying something meaningful rather than making small talk. In fourth grade, describing me as an introvert would have been a gross understatement. I was painfully shy and just getting me to TALK in a group was hard enough, but singing a spontaneous solo in front of my classmates? I froze. Mark me down for an “F” on the experiment.
Earlier this year, I met a music teacher. She didn’t ask me to sing, so we continued talking. As we became friends, we’ve talked about philosophy, current events, human relationships, mentoring, and many other topics. We barely discussed music except when I asked about her background, which was remarkable. Even before she had graduated with her music degree, she had traveled the world singing as a part of a group and as a soloist. She had sung at a presidential inauguration.
She was inspiring to say the least. But it wasn’t her craft for which she had meticulously trained that fueled that inspiration. It was her interest in so many other important and meaningful topics and her intellectual curiosity to learn more about each of them. It was her openness to debate, question and discuss so much more than her core area of expertise.
It reminded me of something I always told new people we hired even at the entry-level or as interns. That I expected them to not only learn, but also to provide input in our meetings and brainstorm sessions, which are plentiful in marketing. They would nod nervously wondering what experience they could draw from to provide ideas, having never worked in the “real-world.” I tried to sooth their anxiety by telling them they have unique experiences no one else did. Having been marketed to since they were about four, they had their own perceptions and attitudes about brands, products, advertising, culture, etc. They also had observed how their family or friends had responded to different types of marketing. All of that experience and perspective was their own, no one else’s. It was unique. It added to rest of the insight and intellectual capital from our team so could we come up with a more informed strategy or creative idea.
Sometimes, we get so busy in our line of work or profession, we don’t take the time to enrich ourselves with other interests, some which might even turn into a passion. The Gray Area, at its essence, is about broadening our horizons and looking beyond our own experiences.
Having met a friend who had clearly done that has inspired me to do the same. Even though I still have never sung in front of anyone, I’ve always loved music. So I bought a keyboard and am teaching myself how to play, with a little help from my friend. Maybe I’ll post a video of me playing the piano one day…once I know I’ll merit more than an “F.” I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m learning.