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  • Caroline Ridgway

Never the Loudest, but I Take Good Notes

I tended to struggle with classes that mandated spoken participation as a component of my overall grade. Law school was a challenge, with its culture of Socratic inquiry and ripe competitiveness. In meetings, I am seldom the first to raise my hand to declare a real-time observation. When it’s my turn to speak up, I flush and can lose my train of thought, even if I’ve practiced a script in my mind.

I’ve only recently begun to learn, and tentatively embrace, that my introversion in group settings is not a failure. It’s a simple reflection of the way I think and process information. It can be an asset. Though it also means I often fly under the proverbial radar. I have to find other ways for my abilities to shine.

Writing is one. I’ve always been comfortable with writing, and found refuge in words. As an awkward kid who wasn’t involved in team sports, books held the promise of solace. I love stories for their transporting magic. I could commune under the apple tree with Black Beauty, or go on adventures with Anne of Green Gables. I’ve explored Hogwarts, and Narnia. I’ve traveled to South American jungles, African savannahs, European villages, myriad mountain ranges, stars, oceans, islands, and places to call home. I’ve lived in all eras and centuries. Communication and language are treasures.

Even if I’m quiet, it’s not the case that I’m disengaged. Just look at my notes. I was once, a decade ago or more, in a professional meeting taking notes, seated next to an elder stateswoman in our field, a person I respected for her achievements, kindness, and perspective. She quietly, privately commented to me at the end of the meeting, “You take very good notes. I was watching you, and you get just the right pieces of information.” I bloomed silently at her words.

I like to observe, process and consider, and then opine. This serves me well as a writer and consultant because I can acquire information, synthesize it, and finally translate and package it. I’m good at pulling out meaning. I’m good at crafting and discerning the story.

Because I’m a good listener, I develop strong, enduring relationships. People trust me and will share details with me they may be uncomfortable otherwise disclosing. They trust my discretion, and my compassion.

I don’t want to be all things to all people. I appreciate working in collaborative teams where everyone is recognized and valued for their individual talents and contributions. Working solo, I get weary from having to do and be it all. I wish I had someone to strategize with and delegate to.

What I do want is to be respected for what I do well. There’s value in my work, as there’s value in all honest work.

I write this as I’m in a bit of a crisis of professional faith, compounded by concurrently stressful personal circumstances and a world in disarray. So, I say to myself as much as to anyone else who may need the same encouragement: Keep going. Keep doing what you do. Purpose and impact don’t have to be world-shaking in scale. It’s ok—even potentially advantageous—not to be the loudest person in the room. Someone will notice your notes in a meeting, or whatever the applicable corollary is for you. Someone will say, what you offer matters.

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