It was the first day of fourth grade… an embarrassing day that was seared into my memory for life.
For a boy who was naturally shy and introverted, I cringed, as I became the center of attention.
There I was, clad head to toe in yellow: bright yellow slacks, a bright yellow shirt and a matching yellow turban my mother had made with her own hands.
The other kids were wide-eyed. My attire even prompted the teacher to ask, “Is it a special day for your people?”
I remember not being able to bite my tongue and exclaiming, “No! It is a regular day!” Her response: “Well, thank you for clearing that up for us, Gaarrrbaaaj (her pronunciation).”
I was part of an immigrant family from India, a traditional Sikh family. We were poor. We were struggling. And we were seeking the American Dream.
In those early years, it was even more difficult to fit in. The clothes were one thing, of course, but I looked different. I talked different. I felt different. Sometimes, I wasn’t even comfortable in my own skin.
I was not at all confident. I felt I wasn’t good enough, an outsider. At times, it seemed like it was me against the rest of the world.
I was even afraid to hear my name called out in class in case I had to answer any questions. And, yes, as I got older during those school years, I became a victim of bullying. Being overweight didn’t help. Kids can be ruthless.
People today find it hard to believe that as a kid, I was ever an introvert. But my journey is one I share because I think it gives hope to anyone else who has been the underdog. Anywhere from a third to half of the population can be classified as introverts and, of course, victims of bullying are usually selected because they are different in some form. But, to overcome this, I had to learn something by first asking myself a question: Why be the same, when you can be different?
Finding A Purpose
The transformation for me began when I was 16 years old. The difference was finding my purpose, one I could be passionate about. I watched CNBC every morning with my father. He had become obsessed with the stock market and together we picked stocks. It was obvious that a lot of people in our area, Silicon Valley, were riding the dot-com bubble and becoming very rich.
I became totally intrigued with the Internet and this entrepreneurial spirit. It ignited a spark inside of me. As I investigated the industry, I became fascinated by companies in the online advertising space. One advertising company’s IPO was valued at $300 million (although at its height, it was reported to be worth as much as $15 billion). Insane! But I’d found a purpose.
I’d found something that absorbed me. Why couldn’t I become a successful Internet entrepreneur? Why couldn’t I build a business like that? I knew I could, even if I didn’t know how, and that initial realization began to bring me out of my shell. The fact that I didn’t know all the answers allowed me to think differently and creatively solve them.
What People Think Of You Is None Of Your Business
I also had to come to terms with something: It shouldn’t matter what the world thinks of me. You write your own chapter, each word and each paragraph. No one else does, but they can read it when you’re done composing it. You have to have the strength of your convictions. You know the path you’ve chartered and you stay on course. Don’t deviate because some negative energy is precluding you.
Negative people do come into our lives, and they will doubt what you can accomplish and drag you down. But you can find the inner resilience to stand by your ambitions and, in doing so, you will find that you become more outspoken, more energizing. You engage people. You initiate discussions because you are compelled to defend and promote your plans. Imagine if you lived in a world where you spoke freely without doubt, fear or rejection. That’s called purpose.
On Stage: Lights, Camera, Action!
As you transition from introvert to extrovert, you get more comfortable with speaking in public. It’s said to be one of the greatest fears most people have, but it can be overcome. That kid who was terrified he’d be called on to speak in front of a small class? Today that kid doesn’t acknowledge that fear; passion and purpose had eliminated it.
Do I still get nervous every time? Of course. Even the most experienced motivational speakers still get 30-second jitters. It gives them that extra edge to get the adrenaline pumping and to be the very best. Remember, perfection is imaginary; we strive for it with our egos. Criticism follows. Negate it, and just keep going at it.
It helps to fully believe in your mission. With belief, you have natural confidence. That’s something people can feel. Over-confidence can get you in trouble; it’s not authentic. Don’t walk like you own the world. Walk like you don’t care who does. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and honestly represent yourself. When you do that, it has a magnetic effect that propels with your presence.
Can you be an introvert and be successful? Yes, you can. But, imagine living your life, sharing a part of you without hesitation. Your impact becomes limitless.
As Mark Twain once said, "The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why."