A significant supporter behind multiple successful New Zealand technology start-ups and positive changemaking initiatives, what is it that keeps motivating impact investor Sharon Bryant beyond her introvert comfort zone?
Do not ever start your own business, it's not conducive to your personality.
This was psychoanalysis feedback Sharon Bryant received in her late twenties when considering career pathways within Telecom. A myth that one could easily let hinder, especially if extreme shyness and excruciating self-doubt have been all too familiar.
Thankfully, Sharon's internal calling to make positive difference has always motivated more strongly than fear. Although she did almost turn down the opportunity to co-found a business that went onto invest in Trademe, launch Givealittle and other wilding commercial ventures. This business grew into Movac, New Zealand's largest and most experienced technology investment fund manager.
Ultimately, the appeal of working with partners who put culture first and did things differently meant she just could not say no, despite much going on at the time. "Also from a personal challenge point of view, given that earlier feedback I'd received around starting my own business."
Not one to trumpet herself, Sharon concedes she is proud of strong foundations she has helped various start-ups to cement. "But I've always seen myself as the cheerleader, supporting entrepreneurs. They are the leader, they're the person that's out there doing it."
To avoid complex discussion, Sharon Bryant might call herself "retired", but her huge passion for early-stage investing has not waned. Especially where she sees potential to create large systematic or disruptive positive change, socially or environmentally - "because that's what we need in the world to solve some massive challenges we've got today."
Currently focussed on people and culture work for Toha Foundry, where she is on the Board, Sharon is also active in philanthropic work. This includes several board roles as well as supporting largely health and education initiatives in developing countries, New Zealand and the South Pacific through the private trust she and her husband established. There is grassroots work within her local Whanganui community too.
Coming from a family where Dad (the humblest person Sharon Bryant has known) would often say "empty vessels make the most sound", one of the biggest mindset challenges to overcome was realising that she could be self-assured and still humble.
"I've now realised they're not mutually exclusive, but I'm also not sure I can say that I'm quiet anymore! It depends on the situation. I listen and contribute when I have something that I think is worthwhile to say ...being prepared is important, knowing about a situation so I can do some thinking around it. This way I know I'm giving the best value rather than just flying by the seat of my pants."
New situations, work or social, still make Sharon nervous. Grabbing a platter and putting food in front of people beats having to actually start and hold conversation, while fronting presentations is just daunting.
"I'll be having a fabulous day and then I remember I've got to speak in four months, three days, two hours and 10 minutes. It's like a black cloud that follows me around.
I still have some procrastination and avoidance in play - it's a balance between the personal cost to me versus whether I think I can make a difference, but I'm slowly overcoming those things. Like many people, I am my biggest critic."
It is probably her never-say-never curiosity and desire to challenge and improve herself which has shaped her path, she says. Self-reflection and continuous personal development are key to finding strength, as well as just trying new things and knowing that sometimes there will be failures.
"Fundamentally, I've been extremely fortunate to have people that have believed in and supported me and known me for who I am. That's enabled me to give opportunities a go. I've had amazing business partners, bosses, teams, family and friends - you only need one believer, but I was lucky to have much more than that."
Being an introvert can be debilitating, but there is real strength in overcoming that mentality. Choose your facilitators, bosses and teams wisely she says. Align your work with the difference you want to make and your values, take safe-to-try risks, and make fast conscious decisions to move forward.
No longer just about "culture fit", Sharon now thinks "culture add", where diversity of personality and thoughts are also critical to a team.
"When introverts have something to say I listen carefully as it's usually incredibly articulate and very considered. Being able to use three brains: your head, your heart and your gut are strengths that we bring.
I'm an introvert at heart, it's always there and I'm okay with that now. I don't want to waste energy on things I can't change. Instead, I just embrace it because there are so many challenges in the world and sometimes having a profile and a voice is necessary.
Show up to your own values and purpose, embrace who you are."
This is part three in the 'When Quiet Women Succeed' article series, where inspiring New Zealand women share insights into their journeys as introverts working and reaching success within their chosen fields.
Image: kindly supplied