The Introvert Entrepreneur author and business founder Beth Buelow explains how to overcome imposter syndrome, manage one’s energy, and generally succeed as an artist in business without all that pesky extroversion.
Beth Buelow is the founder and CEO of The Introvert Entrepreneur, a personal and professional development company that shares its name with her brilliant book as well as the popular podcast, which has been downloaded 1.6 million times and counting. She’s also a professional speaker and certified coach, and very generously took the time to share her insights with us – creatives and artists – many of whom are likewise, as Beth says, learning to understand and appreciate being an “innie” in an “outtie” world…
Get the book on Amazon.
00:14 Daedalus Howell: So growing up in Petaluma, California, there was this dollop of local color, who called himself, “The Captain.” He was one of these grizzled, old beef-jerky looking dudes, animated by the smoke of prison-grade cigarette tobacco, whose only claim to the name Captain was from the fact that he had once painted a boat on the back of a restaurant. It wasn’t like a commission, it was technically graffiti, but there it was, he had painted that boat. And he did a pretty good job of it. Enough, so that at one time, a well-meaning bystander said, “Captain, you can make a living doing this!” And the Captain said, “I’m too shy to get a job.” Clearly, the Captain had other issues. But the fact remains, a lot of creative people are introverts, and a lot of creative people turning their creative pursuits into businesses need to know how to integrate that aspect of their personality into their work.
01:06 DH: That’s why we’re stoked to have Beth Buelow here. She’s the founder and CEO of the Introvert Entrepreneur, a personal professional development company, that shares it’s name with her brilliant book, which is also “The Introvert Entrepreneur,” and that’s also the name of her podcast, which has been downloaded 1.6 million times and counting. She’s also a professional speaker and a certified coach, and she very generously took the time to share her insights with us, creatives and artists, many of whom are likewise, as Beth says, “Learning to understand and appreciate being an innie in an outie world.” Let’s chat with Beth Buelow.
01:42 DH: I’ve really been enjoying your book, and I’ve been reading it on the Kindle. So I have access to all the deluxe extras and all of that, which are really great, it’s really a feature-rich experience. I’m digging it. I think early on in one of the first chapters, there’s a comment that the stereotype of the introvert, of being melancholy and depressed. To me, that is really the same stereotype that gets applied to artists a lot.
02:04 Beth Buelow: Yeah, yeah.
02:05 DH: What is it about the creative personality or the entrepreneurial personality, the personality that wants to create things, that oftentimes is more… Well, turns in to itself a little bit more?
02:16 BB: Yeah, I think that we are… I think we’re particularly intense people. [chuckle] I think that’s part of it. We tend to have an intense… Sometimes an intense personality, and an intense… In order to be successful, whether you’re doing something that’s entrepreneurial, and if you’re creative and entrepreneurial, that kind of doubles it a little bit. But you have to be passionate about it. You have to be immersing yourself in that world and it becomes, especially as a creative entrepreneur, you and your business or your work are somewhat inseparable. And so there’s a very thin line between those two things. And I think that leads to a different level of intensity than there might be in some other professions or even tracks of entrepreneurship. And that intensity, and especially if you’re an introvert, you can tend to turn it inward much more than turning it outward. Because turning it outward is much more vulnerable. You’re already exposing yourself through your art, through your creative expression. And so to continue to share even more beyond that, personally, can be even more… Just more intense, that’s the word I keep coming back to that I think is what kind of contributes at least to that stereotype.
03:40 DH: I hear you, and it compounds issues like… Well, there’s a rather vogue notion that failure, as an iterative concept, is something I wouldn’t say we need to pursue, but that we can work with and learn from and all that. And as an entrepreneur, there’s a lot of room for failure, and there’s a lot written about that, as a phenomena. But as an artist, if your work fails, it’s really hard not to think that you have failed.
04:06 BB: Exactly, ’cause you are so closely identified with it. So as an author writing a book, if people say, “This is a terrible book,” it’s like they’re saying, “You are a terrible author. You’re a terrible person.” And how can you divide those things in your mind so that you don’t lose heart? You don’t just wanna throw in the towel?
04:25 DH: So that’s my question to you, how do we divide those things?
04:29 BB: I knew you were gonna do that. [laughter] How do we do that? I think that there… I had to… I struggled with this a little bit myself when I was writing this book, and at first I thought, “I am the book.” I am. And you can say that, “I am the music I perform, I am the art that I create,” whatever that expression is, you can collapse it and say, “I am it,” and there is certain truth to that. Because otherwise, you it wouldn’t be you. And I realized, “I am not the book.” It is a separate creation that does stand on its own. No matter what we’re creating, it’s a combination of a lot of different factors and influences, and there’s time and place and who it’s resonating with, there are all these different variables that I have no control over to some degree. And to recognize that helps me to separate a little bit from that work, and enables me to say… I hope this doesn’t sound lofty, but I know a lot of artists have put it this way, and it helps me, like, “I’m the conduit for the information, the information is not me. I am receiving it, I am processing it, and then I’m putting it back out,” and the goal is that it changes something. It resonates with the right people. Yeah, it’s filtered through here.
05:57 BB: And I read something, and I’m blanking on the author’s name right now, but it helped me so much where… In fact, the author was… He was a pastor and he was talking about writing a sermon. And he said, when he’s thinking about his success as the messenger, he says, “I don’t ask myself, ‘How did I do?’ I ask, ‘Did anything happen?'” That is a very… To me, that’s a very powerful shift. ‘Cause it takes it off of me and that judgement of me, and it’s more about, “I put this out there; did anything happen?” Good, bad, indifferent. But if something changed, then I can say it was a success.
06:39 DH: That is very interesting and very useful, I think. [chuckle] Another thing was…
06:44 BB: Yeah. Because we can’t predict how people are gonna respond to what we’re producing. And so if we’re able to just say… Even if they said, “I don’t like that,” if they are responding to it, then you’ve shifted something. Something has changed and that has had an effect that wouldn’t have been there if you had not created what you did.
07:06 DH: That’s a great way to approach it. I was particularly interested in the idea of building a tribe and sort of coalescing one’s own network and pursuing that and overcoming whatever internal barriers we put up for ourselves in terms of creating that. I’m thinking of tribe as audience. First off, is that a sort of safe comparison?
07:25 BB: I think so. The tribe, the community, and as part of that, I think there’s a subset that gets at what I think introverts can leverage for growing that tribe, and that is forming a circle of champions.
07:37 DH: Okay.
07:38 BB: So concentrating on finding… It might even just be a handful of people that you connect with, that you resonate with, that you get what they do, they get what you do. And you’re happy to talk about each other, to share, introduce other people to you, and you’re happy to connect with them, like you feel this natural resonance. And when you find those folks, they naturally help to start spread the word for you. And you’re spreading the word for them about their work. And then there becomes this web of interaction that happens. So instead of thinking, “I need to get 1,000 people on my Facebook page,” it might be, “I need to find the five people that can help me get 1,000.” Starting a little bit more intimately and with the people that are… One of the things I advocate for is finding the things that are within your comfort zone, starting there, and then being able to work out.
08:38 DH: That seems wise, but even those first five people, that’s a challenge. I can’t even get my brother to read my book.
08:43 BB: Uh-oh.
08:44 DH: So if you’re starting from scratch, if you are… You’re descending the stairs of your hovel, your garret, you’re seeing the bright sunshine of day for the first time in weeks, you have your moment to engage the world, where do you start?
09:01 BB: I think you go where you feel the most alive, where you feel the most awake and present. And that might be… I’m thinking, of course, kind of entrepreneurially or creatively, it might be you go to a place where you know… Even if you don’t know them, you know where your people are hanging out. In practical terms, you might go to something that’s… You might find a meetup that you’re gonna go to. And you’re not putting any pressure on yourself, you’re just like, “I’m just gonna show up. I’m gonna go to this meetup of other people who are photographers or artists or musicians, and I’m just gonna see who’s showing up.” And no pressure of like, “I have to find the person.” I think that’s also where we get into trouble. Just show up. [chuckle]
09:46 DH: Yeah, that’s a great idea. In fact, I did an interview last night with a fellow who runs artist mixers, and his inspiration was “Bowling Alone.” [chuckle]
09:57 BB: Yeah, yeah.
09:57 DH: Right, that book?
10:00 BB: The book? Yeah.
10:00 DH: Yeah. Yeah, hopefully not the activity.
10:01 BB: Yeah. [laughter]
10:02 DH: Okay, so I found an error in my thinking here, Beth. Okay, so I was trying to draw a relationship between tribe and audience and then the next step would be audience to market. But tribe and market are not the same thing.
10:15 BB: Not necessarily. I think it depends on what you’re trying to do. But if you think of your market as who you want to purchase from you, who do you want to have financial transactions with, I think it’s a subset of that tribe. So if you’ve formed the right tribe, then that subset is gonna come forward. And a mistake would be assuming, of course, that market and tribe are the same thing in that everybody who’s in your tribe is your market.
10:38 DH: Right, right. I can guarantee none of them are.
10:41 BB: Yeah. It’s highly likely that like 99% of them are not. And you’d need those 99% to find that 1%.
10:51 DH: Right. No, I can see that that there’s sort of a radial factor that occurs where…
10:55 BB: Exactly.
10:56 DH: Their associates can become your associates. But one thing that I notice, and it took me a while to overcome, is when I’m building a tribe, sometimes I wanna be the other guy and now sometimes I feel the other guys wanna be me. How do you get around…
11:11 BB: So say a little bit more about that.
11:13 DH: Well, there could be professional envy.
11:15 BB: Yes.
11:17 DH: How do you overcome issues like that and build a credible career without damaging yourself psychologically?
11:23 BB: Yeah. I don’t know if this is answering your question or not, but a friend and I have come to realize that there are so many strong voices out there, and they have wonderful things to share and we feel like we’re part of those voices. But we can get kind of… In an attempt to appeal to both those strong voices as well as the people that they attract, we can kind of fall into guru worship. And like I said, I don’t know if this is on track with what you were asking me.
11:58 DH: Oh no, I’m worshipped all the time. It’s a real drag.
12:00 BB: Exactly, yeah. And we decided to declare ourselves GF, so Guru Free.
12:07 BB: That we needed… Introverts tend to like to go deep on things. We want mastery, we want depth of knowledge as opposed to lots of… A wider breadth of things. And it follows that our acquaintances, our friends, we would rather have deep friendships than play the field, so to speak. But when it comes to… When I’m looking out there at peers and colleagues and folks who are doing something similar, I really prefer to stay on the surface.
12:40 BB: I really do, because what happens is there’s… You can get to the point where you don’t know if what you’re sharing or what you’re saying is you, or if you’re just echoing what you read on Facebook or somebody’s tweet, or what you read in their book. And it’s fine to take that information and absorb it. The step that I think we often miss is that we don’t take the time to think about what we think about it. I realize that with Brene Brown, who is one of those folks that is hugely popular and has a very important message, I think especially for creatives. But I found myself… I remember I did a podcast interview where I was saying, “Well, Brene Brown said blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And I thought, “Why am I not thinking deeper and saying, ‘Well, what do I think about what Brene Brown says and how does that inform how I show up?'”
13:31 DH: That’s a great next step. Wow. Yeah.
13:33 BB: So I think we need… That’s part of how you cannot be a parrot. Not just be a phone for other people, as well as not get too wrapped up in everyone else’s world and what they’re doing and comparing yourself and competing, is to be able to take and say, “Okay, that’s interesting. That point resonates with me. Why does it resonate, how does it apply to me and then how does it apply to my audience?
14:00 DH: I love that idea of sort of internalizing. Once you internalize something, taking the next step to actually process, and make it yours at that point.
14:06 BB: And make it yours. Yeah, exactly. ‘Cause that’s all anybody is doing. If you really were to take the bookshelf and boil down the ideas, you’d probably have five of the same ideas, but they’re all articulated slightly differently because they’re all through a different lens and those people have that book because they took the time to form that lens.
14:24 DH: Right. That’s beautiful. In your book, you profess an aversion to the “fake it till you make it” approach to living. Now, that’s been my MO essentially. I pretended to be a writer until I became one, and it’s worked thus far, and I’m wondering, what have I missed? [laughter] What could I have done better? What can our listeners do better?
14:47 BB: Yeah. Well, let me ask, what level of success do you feel like you had with that, and where do you feel like there might have been something not connecting?
14:57 DH: I was fortunate in that I had a small town newspaper that I was able to develop a relationship with. So very early on, I think around 23, I went pro, when I started getting paid for the writing and then staffing with them. Prior to that though, I was doing a lot of self-publishing, noodling around, kind of finding a voice, if not my voice. And it was a hot mess of really terrible writing for a long time. And it wasn’t until I was in the newspaper context that I learned economy, and I learned how to focus my thoughts and that kind of thing. Didn’t learn a damn in college, I’ll tell you that much.
15:30 BB: No. [laughter] I know. It’s amazing that we paid thousands of dollars and…
15:35 DH: Yeah, some of us are still paying it.
15:37 BB: Yes, exactly.
15:38 DH: So I did feel like I did fake it a bit until I made it, but I also had a conviction that, that was my calling and that’s what I’m going to do. But for others out there who maybe don’t have that same conviction or are still finding or creating that identity for themselves, what can you do in lieu of faking it?
15:55 BB: Yeah. Well, I would suggest that when you were saying you’re a writer, you weren’t faking it necessarily. You weren’t saying you were a great writer, that you were a Pulitzer Prize winning writer.
16:07 DH: I’m pretty sure I said I was a great writer.
16:09 BB: Oh, did you? Okay.
16:10 DH: And I was totally wrong, but yeah.
16:12 BB: But there’s… I think sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we have accomplished. And I remember when I decided I wanted to go down the coaching path, and I was friends with a group of coaches who had been coaching for numerous years. And they knew my story, they knew my background and what I had been doing professionally. And I made up some mock business cards and I gave it to one of my colleagues and it said, “Coach In Training” on the business card. And she said, “No. Coach. You’re a coach. You are still training, but you also have years of experience of doing this kind of work.”
16:49 DH: What was your reticence or reluctance to just commit to being a coach right off?
16:52 BB: I think there’s a little bit of imposter syndrome that can happen, and it’s a desire to be honest. I have respect for people who call themselves coaches. I feel strongly that a true coach… Coaching, just like any of the arts, when you think about it, anybody can put up a shingle and say, “I’m a writer, I’m a painter, I’m a musician,” without any training or certification whatsoever. And coaching is the same thing.
17:21 DH: True.
17:22 BB: The point of entry and the threshold is very low from a technical standpoint. And yet, I respected the profession and I said, “I don’t wanna claim that title until I have it.”
17:35 DH: That’s great. But then your friend encouraged you to…
17:39 BB: My friend encouraged me. She said, “You already have earned that title through various experiences and training that you have had. You are just simply now putting the polish on it, making it official and stepping into that role.” So in a way, she was encouraging me… She wasn’t encouraging me to fake it. She was encouraging me to own what already existed.
18:01 DH: There you go.
18:01 BB: What I already knew. So instead of saying, “Fake it… ” Sometimes when we’re faking it, we’re saying like, “I am a great writer,” even if you feel like you are just crap writer.
18:15 DH: Right. Which I was.
18:17 BB: Okay. [chuckle]
18:18 DH: Sometimes I am, still.
18:20 BB: And don’t we all? I mean everybody was at some point. You can own that and you can also say, “And I’m becoming a better writer,” or, “I’m working on my craft.” So you don’t have to fake it and say, “I am a great writer,” and keep talking yourself into that. You can say, “I am beginning to move in this direction. I am becoming. I am taking steps towards this.”
18:42 DH: I love that. Thinking of it as a process, that’s great.
18:45 BB: Exactly. It’s not like the great writers just flipped a switch and overnight they were fabulous. It was blood, sweat and tears [chuckle] to get…
18:53 BB: How’s your… You’re working on another book?
18:55 DH: I am [laughter] still.
19:01 BB: Loaded question, okay.
19:02 DH: I know, I know. Well, the direction I’m going has to do with… It actually has more to do with creative entrepreneurs in the introvert space. And thinking about my working title, and nobody hold me to this, but, “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t,” and it’s talking about that kind of tug-of-war between visibility and vulnerability, of showing up in the world and how do you balance those things and honor your introversion while also knowing that you have this calling to be seen and heard and be putting yourself out there, and how do you do that authentically while still taking care of yourself.
19:40 DH: Oh, that’s fantastic.
19:41 BB: That’s an angle that I’m exploring at the moment. [chuckle]
19:45 DH: Oh, I live that every day. I’m so looking forward to that book.
19:47 BB: Oh, good!
19:48 DH: If you don’t mind, can I get a little triage on my personality [chuckle] ’cause I’m gonna tap your generosity for a little bit of coaching here. What you’re talking about right there, that kind of schism between being visible and being invisible is something I deal with all the time. I can be really on and very present and I almost enjoy being out there a bit, but man, I need to go into the cave all the time. And I used to think, “Clearly, I’m bipolar.” [chuckle] I’ve gotten over that [chuckle], but I’m wondering for myself and others like me out there, how do you manage that energy, to be available to your public and to be the wonderful person that they perceive and think they know, and then retreat and have to shut down? How do you manage that without looking like a total jerk?
20:39 BB: Yeah well, I think first it’s about not feeling like a total jerk yourself, recognizing there’s nothing wrong with you for that need. It’s not beating up on yourself and saying, “Why do I have to go away for x number of hours or days or weeks in order to be present when other people seem to do it so effortlessly?” So there’s a removal of the self-criticism and judgement that I think needs to happen to where you just recognize, “This is how I’m wired. This is who I am.” And one thing that’s helped me is… And I’m gonna speak in sort of concrete terms of a calendar. When I look at my calendar and I’m scheduling whether it’s a networking event or a coaching session or even conversations like this, I look at my time not so much as time on the clock, but as energy. So a half-hour of putting myself out there and projecting my energy outward or extroverting, as a verb…
21:37 DH: That’s great.
21:38 BB: Is actually like an hour or an hour and a half of energy.
21:41 DH: Oh, man, I so owe you, okay?
21:46 BB: [laughter] And so as soon as I recognized that and owned it, then I was able to pace myself and create a schedule and a framework that was much more positive in terms of saying, “Okay, I know that if I have this particular event or I have this time when I need to be out there and exerting myself, I have to have this ratio of maybe two-to-one or three-to-one in order to make that happen as fully as I can and to be as present as I can. So it’s really about owning it and then recognizing your own rhythms, seeing things as energy as opposed to time, and seeing how that might shift, how you decide to pace yourself, and what you choose to show up for.
22:28 DH: Yes, yes, I’ve been saying yes to too many things.
22:31 BB: That’s the other thing, yes [chuckle]
22:33 DH: So how do you mitigate that? How do you decide what’s worthy of your energy?
22:36 BB: Do I feel myself… When I think about doing whatever it is, can I visualize myself doing it with ease? If it seems like a struggle in my head, like if I’m trying to talk myself… If I have to talk myself into it… I think of the classic thing that an introvert would probably have to talk themselves into is a happy-hour networking event. Even if my best friend is gonna be there and it’s right down the block, if I have to talk myself into it, then I’d say, “It might not be worth my energy.” There’s some of that that is about personal preference, and then other times, it’s about what’s the return on the investment of my energy? Just looking at it purely as, “Are the people that are going to be there my tribe?” And then a subset of that, “Are any of them going to be in my market?” Is this somehow… There is a little bit of that everyone’s favorite radio station, WIIFM… What’s in it for me?
23:34 DH: [chuckle] Right.
23:35 BB: Looking at it and saying, “What’s in it for me?” and even, “What’s in it for you?” could be, “Oh, this might be a really good place where I’m gonna meet some people where I can share resources and maybe make some opportunities happen for somebody else.” If it feels like it’s worth it, then I will make that effort. But I think it is important, and it’s not selfish, to look at it and say, “What is gonna be the return on investment, and what’s in it for me?” because you can spread yourself way too thin, and say yes to way too many things. And then it becomes this cycle of, every time you think of going somewhere, it’s like exhausting.
24:11 DH: Right.
24:11 BB: Right.
24:12 DH: And then you begin to shut down.
24:13 BB: And then you shut down, and then you say, “I’m not doing anything.” So if you are just very discerning and selective, and, of course, that requires that you’re clear on, “What do I have to offer? Who do I have to offer it to? What are the kinds of opportunities that most often lead to connection that is beneficial?” And for me, it’s not the happy hour networking. So that one is an easy, “No.”
24:37 DH: Yeah.
24:39 BB: But yeah. I hope that answers…
24:40 DH: Oh, it does. Yeah.
24:41 BB: Okay.
24:42 DH: Beth, I really appreciate you taking the time, and I wanna remind everyone that all things Introvert Entrepreneur are online at theintrovertentrepreneur.com. Special thanks to Shannon Ferguson at Ferguson for the excellent theme. And to Karen Hess for editorial help. And I just want to shout out to the captain, “Man, it’s not too late. You’re boat hasn’t sailed yet, because it’s on a wall.” I’m Daedalus Howell, and this has been Culture Department.
25:11 S2: Visit culturedept.com to sign up for your free e-book, the Tea Cup Whale: How to Find Your Creative Niche, for more tips on making a living, making art. Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn. Culture Department is a project of FMRL, the Future Media Research Lab at fmrl.com.
25:32 S1: To learn more about Daedalus Howell, visit dhowell.com.