As an introvert, my default position when I receive an invitation is almost always: No thanks. (Notable exceptions include weddings, some birthdays and close friends.) I am aware of my reluctance, which means it is less likely to influence me. I also understand that too much of anything can be harmful (in this case, isolation) and my experience tells me that social situations can actually be fun, so I tend to accept invites more easily these days. But not automatically.
A few weeks ago I received an invitation to attend the 30th Anniversary of Webster University in Leiden. I had given a couple of talks there and, thanks to the feedback they collected, I had been included on their list of people to invite back. As I read the email I could hear the conflict in my head. More accurately: in my body, because the dialogue was happening between my head and my heart. Cognition versus feeling.
First came the feeling: that familiar reluctance, almost aversion, followed quickly by an audible sigh as I acknowledged the difference between what I’d like to do and what I know will happen, before settling finally into the sure knowledge that I would be attending. As a final check, I imagined a quick conversation with someone I trust. If it were her, she would not hesitate to attend (she is beautifully extroverted), and she would surely advise me to go too. Without any further thought or feeling, I accepted.
The event was last Thursday and, of course, I had a great time. I met people I knew from my previous visits, and I met new people. I attended a moving presentation from three filmmakers and animators, and listened to a panel discussion on leadership. I celebrated their anniversary well into the evening, connecting with people who all contributed to my life throughout the day.
Friday was the same. This time I was out in Haarlem with a close friend, finishing the evening as I had the previous one: speaking German and enjoying the company of new people.
On Saturday, in Amsterdam, I attended a sneak preview of the film which had been introduced at the university two days before. (Another accepted invitation.) Quitte Le Pouvoir is a documentary on the power of resistance, charting the 2012 elections in Senegal. An empowering and uplifting film, it seemed to have brought everyone involved closer to the world in which they wish to live. It showed just how much is within our grasp and that, if we set out decisively on our path, with a long-term commitment to our goal and a determination to serve the people, we can achieve anything.
After the film, my introvert started tapping his watch. I collected my coat and made my way towards the door. The curator of the typically Dutch exhibition building, with whom I had shared a few words an hour ago, approached me again. Within minutes a woman joined us, and within another she was calling her cousin over to meet me because, from what I had just said about the work I do, we have to meet each other.
With my coat in hand and within reach of the exit, I found myself exchanging cards with my last contact of a three-day, three-city tour filled with inspiring connections and conversations. All because I accepted an invitation.