Last week, while visiting with the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce's Professional and Inspired Leaders of Tomorrow, I got one of the nicest compliments.
But let's rewind to what preceded it.
While in a roundtable discussion about job-related challenges, I said, "I'm an introvert in the communications field."
Yes, before I came to Crestview, you wouldn't find me doing much after hours except for cooking and "unwinding" with a movie, cable news or exercise — and honestly, "after hours" itself didn't exist, as most people know it. I edited two twice-weekly newspapers, a quarterly senior citizens magazine and touched up reporters' video, on top of everything else.
It was a morning, afternoon and evening job, and I loved every second spent in that Daphne, Ala., shop.
I've always been a workaholic, probably because of my farming father's work ethic. No one forced me to overdo it; I just did.
"After hours," I would go to book stores and purchase style and journalism books or read trade magazines like the American Journalism Review. Journalism was an addiction.
My family has deep roots in that community, having been one of the first Italian American families to settle in the area. And even those I didn't know (those new to town, like some of our city officials) I called weekly.
So everyone knew me; it wasn't like they needed to see me, I thought. Especially since it was a high-production, behind-the-scenes, closed-door, minimal interaction kind of job.
And it allowed me to revert to an introvert's tendencies — and even become downright reclusive, as many creative types can be. (Back then I also designed every inch of those three publications minus the ads. That takes time, especially for a perfectionist who wants his weekly newspaper to look more like a polished, highly engineered daily paper.)
That isolation was familiar, as it's how I grew up: in the country, on a farm, with no neighbors in sight. I had a few close friends, but only saw them, for the most part, in school or at summer camp. I participated in talent shows here and there, edited the school yearbook and poetry publications, but usually kept to myself, especially after my father died. (Unfortunately, as I learned, classmates took that silence and grief for being stuck up. Being an introvert has its drawbacks as people often "read" into things that just aren't there.)
Things loosened up at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution in Mobile, Ala. You saw me everywhere. Vice President of the Multicultural Student Union, handling public relations for Campus Ministry, in the church choir, hosting and producing school-wide talent shows, participating in community outreach and leaving annoying — as friends later revealed to me — campus-wide voicemail reminders about student activities.
But after leaving that familiar college bubble, I reverted.
Because that college experience involved people reaching out to me rather than me reaching out to them. Yeah, they got me to join their organizations, and I enjoyed them. But I was an accidental extrovert.
And that was evident for those six years I worked in the Daphne shop.
When Alabama's journalism opportunities temporarily dried up in 2011, a friend (who, of course, I met online), turned me to insurance. She and I did it together for awhile, and I stuck it out for year.
Anyone who's sold insurance knows that a year is an eternity in that industry. Plus, you leave your comfort zone. A typical work day involves driving four to five hours from home to set 15 appointments, knowing only 10 would be at home and probably two would buy. So you knock on doors, talk with strangers and learn how to be social really fast!
I'm sometimes shy, but thankfully can rise to the occasion every time, and can carry a conversation with no problem. It's just the introduction — the most important part — that always stumped me.
Insurance was successful, and they were even considering me for the leadership team because I could sell and communicate effectively.
But it wasn't my passion. And that was evident because, despite being able to pay the bills, I still edited for national publications on the side to keep my resume up. Which meant there was a social life at work (with clients) and isolation at home, although I hung on to that close friend I mentioned.
Anyway, flash forward to 2012 and a wonderful opportunity in a smaller area much like my hometown opens up in Crestview, Fla.
Here, no one knew me or my family. That was both scary and refreshing, as it opened opportunities to get out there and meet people again.
And have I ever! Being Relay For Life Crestview's publicity chairperson, visiting monthly with the Crestview chamber and PILOT members, joining the local Toastmasters International chapter and guest speaking for various organizations, including an April 10 date with the Crestview Civitans, has been the opportunity of a lifetime.
And I'm always looking to learn more about the area and visit with other organizations or clubs I don't know about. (Hint, hint!)
I didn't even do this stuff in my hometown.
Which brings me back to the nicest compliment from last week's PILOT meeting. One of the attendees said she sees me around the community, sees the activity generated on our new Opinion page and can't remember anything about the last News Bulletin editor.
I feel for him, but felt reassured that we're on the right track.
And I'm so grateful for this opportunity to bring you the news, meet everyone I can in North Okaloosa and, on a personal note, really come alive.