HomeRule BreakersCaroline Smith: Transforming Social Anxiety into Connection with The Introverted Misfit

Caroline Smith: Transforming Social Anxiety into Connection with The Introverted Misfit

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As part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who encourage and do incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Smith.

Caroline Smith started her business, The Introverted Misfit, to help socially awkward and anxious people create fulfilling personal and work relationships by improving their social and communication skills. After about a decade of being frustrated, depressed, and unsatisfied with how much her lack of social skills was stunting her personal and eventually her professional growth, she had had enough of constantly avoiding social outings just to prevent potential social interactions with people and being viewed as that extremely shy and socially awkward woman that won’t even look people in the eye. Because she was able to overcome her social and communication skills deficits with education and practice, she sought out to help anyone struggling with socializing and finding community learn how to connect with others, create fruitful relationships, and live a full life.

Here’s what we found out about Carolina’s daily routine, followed by an exclusive Q+A.

Can you share the story behind your journey as an entrepreneur? What inspired you to start your own business?

Since I was a child, my parents began to notice some very noticeable differences in the way I communicated and socialized with my peers versus how other kids my age socialized and made friends; it was clear to them that I had some pretty severe deficits in my communication skills. Worse yet, these differences didn’t seem to be getting better with age and maturity as they had expected. This led them to seek professional help for me when I was a teenager which led to my diagnosis with high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. 

In my case, ASD manifested in me displaying socially awkward tendencies that made it very difficult for me to make friends throughout all of my schooling years and the first few years of my professional life as a software engineer. All of those factors were the source of social anxiety that made me so scared of social interactions that I would do anything just to avoid attention to the extent that I was severely limiting my personal and professional growth.

Fast forward some years later, and I took the necessary steps to overcome my severe social awkwardness which consequently cured my social anxiety, and that inspired me to launch my business, The Introverted Misfit, so that I could help anyone – with or without a disorder – improve their lives by overcoming social awkwardness and the social anxiety that often comes with it.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the business world, and how have you overcome them?

Although I know there are women out there who may face some stigma and bias in the business world and those problems may arise further along in my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve been lucky enough thus far in my career to have a network of professionals that believe in my business enough to give me and my ideas support and space in the industry. I believe in myself enough that if and when challenges arise relating to being a woman entrepreneur, I can face them head on just like any other challenge I’ve overcome.

How do you balance your professional and personal life as an entrepreneur? I think it’s a little different in my case, because since my business pertains to a disorder that I will live with for the rest of my life, I feel like my business and my personal life are indistinguishable a lot of the time. I’m constantly having to remind myself not to behave in a way that will make others perceive me as socially awkward, closed-off, or unaware of my behavior, which is really the whole premise of my business, so by default my mind is always in business mode. 

Generally, though, I’d say I balance my professional and personal life by doing things that I genuinely enjoy which have nothing to do with work, like gardening, going for long walks with my phone on silent, hanging out with friends and family, trying new dinner recipes, doing puzzles, and reading. I also have rules about not checking business emails or website sales on the weekends and/or when I’m spending time with friends and family.

What strategies have you found most effective for networking and building connections in your industry?

At this stage in my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve found that hosting my own podcast, guest appearing on other people’s podcasts, and doing social media outreach have been great ways to network within my industry. My podcast Small Talk for Big Connections gives me more visibility among my industry peers because a lot of them also have podcasts and are therefore always looking for other podcasters with whom they can collaborate, and it’s also a way to gain credibility in my industry because my peers can hear that I have valuable and insightful commentary about common topics in our realm.

I also participate in my industry as much as I can with social media outreach. This includes leaving insightful comments on people’s posts, videos, and other forms of content. This approach has helped me build a strong rapport with other business owners and potential clients, which has allowed me to make a handful of high-quality connections with peers less than a year into starting my business.

How do you approach mentorship and seeking guidance in your entrepreneurial journey?

I always try to approach seeking guidance from mentors with both confidence and humility. When you’re asking someone you admire for wisdom, I think it’s important to come from a place of respect and humility so that they know you appreciate their expertise, but I also don’t think you have to lower your own value and abilities to do that; in fact, I think maintaining a healthy level of confidence makes it known that you’re admiration is coming from a genuine place and not just trying to flatter them.

Can you talk about a specific setback or failure you’ve experienced in your business, and how you bounced back from it?

I’d say a major setback that prevented me from moving my business forward when I was just starting was underestimating the value of networking and collaborating. I went into it thinking that I could establish a name for myself without anyone else’s help, which I can admit was a pretentious attitude to have. Now that I’ve moved past that mindset of trying to do everything alone, I’ve gotten to see the value that comes when other credible business owners in your industry endorse you and trust you enough to share your work with their audience. Nobody gets ahead in this world alone, especially not as an entrepreneur.

In what ways do you prioritize diversity and inclusion within your company or startup?

Although I am a solopreneur, I aim to collaborate with a wide variety of business owners with different backgrounds, experiences, ages, and identities via my  podcast. When it comes to my field of communication and social skills improvement, I believe everyone has something valuable to offer the conversation because we all are expected to work well with each other in one form or fashion, whether it’s at school, at your job, in a community service gig, at the grocery store, or anywhere.

How do you stay motivated and resilient during tough times in your business?

I use my long term goals as motivation to not get discouraged; I remind myself that the work I do with my business is important to the world and this period of struggle will not last forever; and I take things one day at a time by asking myself, “What is one thing I can accomplish today that will get me closer to helping my audience in some way, and eventually closing a sale?”

What advice would you give to other aspiring women entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Quickly get rid of the mindset that your entrepreneurial journey will have immediate success; it’s a recipe for being disappointed and unmotivated. Starting a business from the ground up really is a long term game, and if you enter with the mindset that things are going to be easy and/or fast, you’ll always doubt yourself and your abilities when things don’t go as planned. Progress is usually slow and steady, but if you’re patient, put in the work, and network/collaborate with people in your industry, you’ll see the rewards eventually. In regards to starting your own business, I’ve come to find that the old saying is true: nothing worth having or worth doing comes easy.

Can you share a memorable success or milestone that you’ve achieved in your entrepreneurial career?

My most memorable milestone thus far in my journey wasn’t even making my first sale; it was booking my first guest podcast collaboration just 1 month into starting to do industry outreach. It was the first time someone known as a trusted expert in my industry saw the value in what I was doing with my business, and from that point on, I’ve carried a new level of confidence and motivation in my entrepreneurial journey. No matter how down and out I feel about what I have to offer the world, I just think back to that time when I first felt that my services and ideas had been publicly validated.

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