Bill Clinton's Innie

Insights for introverts during Inauguration Week.

Posted Jan 28, 2013

Inauguration Week gets me thinking of a different US President I had the pleasure of meeting—Bill Clinton. Late one night when I arrived at my favorite hideout to work. I was surprised to find Clinton there, holding court. As an introvert, I would normally "stick to my knitting." However, I had to try asking him a question for my readers. Clinton said something simple, but it really resonated with me—and I repeat it as a mantra whenever I challenge myself with a stretch assignment.

I tell the story on this video as well as in this excerpt from my book:

"I often would go to a certain quiet Park Avenue hotel lounge to work on this book. I won’t name the hotel, but it rhymes with Schmo’s Decency. One night, as I am approaching a table in the cozy room, a man at the lively table next to mine smiles at me. He looks just like Bill Clinton, only he’s better looking. I start fishing in my purse for my noise-canceling earplugs, which help me submerge into my introvert’s bubble to write, when the maître d’ heroically dives between me and the other table. It is only then that I become aware of two Terminator 2 types with clear plastic squigglies in their ears sitting at the next table. Apparently, the man who looks like Bill Clinton is Bill Clinton. So I take the only remaining table, about 15 feet away. I have to talk to him. I have to get a quote for my book. I have to be fearless and free of excuses. How can I ask my introverted readers to step out and promote themselves if I, their introverted author, am not willing to do so myself? I think to myself: I’m a private person, and I don’t want to invade Clinton’s space. Counterthought: He’s a public servant sitting in a public place, facing the public—me.

"So what’s an introvert to do? I run to the restroom and call Isaac. Urgently, giddily, we strategize: I will send our former commander in chief a drink. In retrospect, this isn’t the worst idea ever, but it’s close. I dash back to the lounge, where I tell the maître d’ what I’m up to and ask, 'What’s he having?' Gently humoring me, the maître d’ advises me to talk to the guys with the squigglies. I take my seat, which is next to the Secret Service guys and facing Clinton, who is making big, extroverted gestures. The waiter asks me, 'Will your boyfriend be joining you tonight?' Followed by: 'Would you like your usual?' Perfect timing to dispel suspicions that I’m a WMD-toting madwoman stalker.

“'Excuse me,'” I say to the Secret Service guys. I ask if they’re working for 'him.' Affirmative. My table is between them and the magazine rack. I take an issue of Gotham magazine, in which I’m profiled as an executive coach, and then I point to my photograph and interview and say, 'See, this is me.' I’m not trying to brag; I just want to establish my known-quantity-ness. No response. A more senior looking guy joins the table. I try again. This affable ex-Marine, who has one eye fixed on Clinton at all times, congratulates me. I tell him that this is where I always come to work on my book—that is, Clinton is in my space. I say that I would love to ask Clinton, the extrovert’s extrovert, to share some of his self-promotion know-how with my introverted readers. He thanks me for asking and says that Clinton wants some private time with Chelsea this evening. However, he says I can try to approach Clinton when he gets up after his meal Clinton and company are on their entrées, so I have to casually pretend to write for a while. I chat some more with the Secret Service detail. The senior guy says that almost all Secret Service agents are extroverts, except for one of his staff members, whom he’s been mentoring. I give the senior guy my card and encourage him to contact me if he ever thinks that I could help by coaching him or his sole introverted employee. Now he has my picture in a magazine, my business card, and no false moves.

"It’s getting close to show time. In true introvert fashion, I rehearse my opening line in my head. I recall what writer-actor Laurie Graff told me she had said to Clinton when she spotted him at an Upper West Side café: 'I miss you as president.' I resolve to deliver something based on that line, only much wittier. Clinton and company get up.

“'Excuse me, President Clinton,'” I say, putting out my hand. 'I miss you as president.' We shake hands, and I try not to focus on where my wit went. I tell him that I’m writing this book, and I make my request: 'Since you’re the ultimate extrovert, I would love any advice you could give to my introverted readers to help them raise their visibility.'

"Clinton focuses his intense gaze on me. The walls of the room fade away. 'I’m actually a bit of an introvert,' he says. Although he looks at me in earnest, my head fills with the same question that anyone who’s turned on a TV in the past 20 years would have: Is he being wry, or did he just reveal something shocking?' 'I need a lot of time alone,' he adds, thoughtfully, demonstrating that he actually understands what an introvert is. Everything I thought I knew about the world comes crashing to the floor, but somehow I’m able to hear the rest: 'The advice I’d give is to just throw yourself out there, like mud against a wall. Get out there, and make it happen. Just keep at it.' We stand frozen for a moment, like very large moths in amber, until Chelsea takes hold of his hand and pulls him away. It’s midnight, and she wants her famous dad back. Time starts to move again. The waiters and other patrons converge on Clinton. Everyone wants to shake his hand. As Clinton’s party leaves, the senior Secret Service guy drops his card on my table. The maître d’ asks if I got what I wanted. Affirmative. The busboy asks what he said. I tell him. Taking Clinton’s advice, I’m keeping at it!"

"What would you have done in my shoes? Would you have introduced yourself to Clinton or quietly observed him from afar? More importantly, perhaps: What do you need to do to get where you want to go? Whom do you need to reach out to, and how will you do it?"

Except from Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2010, pp. 239-240. 

Video produced by Larry Bograd and Coleen Hubbard, and edited by David Plakke.

Copyright © 2012 Nancy Ancowitz