The first in a series of articles, New Zealand creative practitioner Padma Naidu provides insight into her journey as an introvert working within her chosen field.
"Maybe introverts can't fudge it. Like if you're not feeling it, it's very hard to put on an act that you are". Hence why Padma Naidu, who runs her own consultancy facilitating exciting community and creative projects, is still working on her poker face.
"Once I saw a video of myself at a meeting. My face was like... well it epitomised openly what I was thinking, which wasn't necessarily prudent to show. I cringed watching it - oh my goodness, how public!"
Perhaps, however, there is an upside to such unintentional authenticity. Being that when Padma finds something interesting, meaningful and her passion is ignited, a more extrovert side of her typically highly introverted personality breaks out.
"While I can be a bit standoffish, I'm also friendly. I would describe myself as quite shy, but not timid. Generally quiet, but pretty bold as well. It's a bit peculiar, but it highlights that we're all on a continuum," she says.
Hollywood actress Helen Hunt puts it thus: "I'm a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring. I can feel both those things working".
Could it be that while extremes are easier, equilibrium is for the truly bold? Padma Naidu has certainly hedged toward seeking balance.
"My upbringing was very loving and comfortable, but we weren't particularly encouraged to speak our minds or discuss a whole lot of topics at the dinner table. I was brought up being quiet and kind of a background person, definitely not to be the centre of attention.
My shyness, quietness or the just holding back goes with that. It means you don't necessarily put yourself forward for things, and so others take up the opportunities. That's still there for me to some extent, but I'm more comfortable embarking on the adventure now for sure."
A career she once called chequered, but now colourful and diverse, sees her moving around a lot within the spaces she enjoys. A mix of things both intellectual and physical is her ideal, so in addition to consultancy projects Padma also teaches architecture at Auckland University and art workshops in her own studio. Oh, and digs deep into plenty of gardening, enjoying the fact that she can't be pigeonholed into a role.
What began with a chemistry major and industrial lab work transmuted into high school teaching for several years, before setting her creative juices flowing in her thirties at architecture school. Rekindling a passion from her teens, when she was interested in draughting but encouraged to pursue a career in science instead.
The most significant training of her life, she not only conquered a drawing phobia (enabling her to exhibit her own art) and went onto practice architecture, but it also brought together the sciences (including social sciences) and the arts. Ultimately, this diverted Padma onto an education and community-based work path.
"Architecture is the kind of discipline where you're asking a lot of questions - of yourself, of others, of the environment you live in. You're bringing things together, making connections... it impacts not only the design process but your personal life as well. I became much more inclined to experiment and welcome failure than I did before."
Experience also brings confidence and strength. Like when she and her extrovert husband parted ways, certain aspects of herself had to be further developed in order to retain a fulfilling social life!
She has also come to the mindset that, as an introvert, it's okay if sometimes your voice isn't heard. It's not about giving up, but it can also be an ego thing and there are other good opinions out there too.
"I definitely have more appreciation for different personalities now, and realise that you can still be a supportive leader from further back ... we're in a time now where we're moving more and more into valuing different things and ways of doing them, and this is something to really appreciate."
This is part of the 'When Quiet Women Succeed' article series, where various New Zealand women share insights into their journeys as introverts working and reaching success within their chosen fields.
Image: kindly supplied