Tales of a Professional Introvert: Long Distance Sprinter

Sports day at school. Dressed up in my ridiculously tight white shorts, not forgetting the white socks pulled up to specifically show off my skinny legs and knobbly knees. I was pumped and ready to win the race I was partaking in, the 800m track. Dad was there too to witness my glory. 9 year old Ali, you got this. Needless to say, I didn’t in any way shape or form “get it” when I finished last. Not only was I devastated but embarrassed and felt utterly useless. What a failure I was in front of Dad’s eyes. Mother dearest did what most mothers do and tried to tell me I ran wonderfully. As nice as that was, mum’s just don’t understand. However Dad said something to me that to this day, not only do I remember but still practice. He told me winning or losing was not what I should be focussing on, but how I actually ran during the race. Sprinting like it was a short race, I ran as fast as I could. This subsequently tired me out to eventually slowing down to such a pace that everyone overtook me. I needed to slow down. I think you can guess what happened at my next race, I ran too slowly and then unable to catch up, coming last again. It wasn’t until my mid teens, I perfected the balance and finally attained victory, so much so I also competed and won at a national level. Skinny legs and knobbly knees in tow.

As introverts we are well versed to the metaphor of long distance running in both our personal and professional lives. We need to take our time to recharge, reflect, analyse, before even thinking of doing any action. Our natural characteristics; help us forge long lasting relationships that provide value, our empathy helps not only understand what others need, but also aid us to reflect on our own behaviour, and our observation skills pave the way for creativity, whilst our patience assist our recharge for the long run.

It’s nothing new to state that the modern business world is moving faster and faster. For introverts, we run into the danger of not being able to keep up with the pace with our long distance running approach, and as such we need to become long distance sprinters.

This is not simply to just move faster, as clearly indicated in my youthful story of failure, sprinting too fast will drain our most precious commodity; energy. Nor is it the case of thinking before acting. To be honest introverts are the masters of thinking before acting. Our skills of inward and retrospective reflections are our major assets. However whilst we are doing that internally, we will be left behind as everyone else is sprinting away. So in turn, we need to use that asset to help us reflect outwards. The very nature of reflecting outwards means we need to act to understand that reflection. How do we do that? What actions can we do to reflect outwards? Let’s take three core aspects: ourself, our daily work, our network. Focussing on actions that target each of these core aspects will form the catalyst to act with speed.

For example, playing with alternative approaches in our daily lives and work, will help avoid falling into the trap of habitual comfort and stagnation. Growing and enhancing our network will extend our reach to expertise as well as resources, and strengthening our relationships. The good news is that our natural core skillset are the best enablers for this already. It is simply down to adjusting the direction. These reflective acts form the bridge to positively impact the factors of acting with speed; trust, clarity and courage.

Our focus on valued relationships, our empathy and our ability to listen attentively, garners trust from our colleagues and network. Without that trust, there will resistance to move forward together, hampering our speed. Homework and research defines a clear vision and goal enabling our colleagues to see the finishing line and move in the same direction. Our fear of uncertainty will be one of factors stopping us from sprinting to the finishing line, thus we must use our authenticity to call upon and display our courage.

As Dad told me all those years ago, “Learn when to sprint and when to go slow”, we must then be long distance sprinters. Think of what reflective acts you can do in relation to yourself, your daily life and your network to not only keep up with the pace, but also sprint to success. With or without knobbly knees. Peace and Love.

Shorts or Hot Pants?? 🙂


Having over 15 years’ experience in freight forwarding and supply chain management, Ali has led numerous multi-disciplined projects and operations globally. A change management specialist having worked within multiple industry verticals. He is also a coffee-obsessed, solo-travelling introvert.

Ali is also a published author with his latest book; Building Your Bridge: An Introvert’s Art of SuccessA personal journey to help guide professional introverts to realising that as an introvert, the skills and traits for success are already within their grasp. Available now here.