We see them every day. The child at school recess playing by themselves or in a small group away from other kids. The day dreaming teenager who gazes out the window during a class lecture. The shy college coed wrapped up in a good book in the corner cubicle of the library on a Friday night. The reserved colleague who clutches the podium tightly as she makes a presentation and rarely makes eye contact with the audience. The hesitant co-worker full of great ideas but can’t find the strength to verbalize them during a staff meeting. The job seeker who mingles on the fringe of a networking conference, not fully sure of their next move, yet desperately trying to link up with someone like them.
We see other kinds of people as well. The outgoing jokester who serves as the life of the party. The gregarious leader who matches names to faces with everyone she meets. The charismatic coach who can motivate her players to would run through a wall for her. The smooth operator who rarely accepts no for an answer and can negotiate the shirt off the back of a used car salesperson. The omnipresent colleague who remembers everyone’s birthday in the office.
We call the first group of people introverts. We label the second faction extroverts. Author Rachel Stafford calls them something else. She refers to them as fireflies and butterflies.
She discovered these terms during a conversation with her 7 year old daughter. Her daughter had described a school activity that day where the teacher asked, “What is Your Favorite Insect?” Stafford’s daughter indicated her favorite insect was the firefly even though the other students in the class chose the butterfly. She reminded her mother that sometimes she fills different at school as a firefly.
Stafford told her daughter that she agreed that her little girl was very much a firefly because she shines from within. She assured her daughter that Stafford’s role as a mother was to protect that light. She asked her daughter to let her know when others at school tried to dim her light.
How I wish more leaders in the federal government recognize what Rachel Stafford sees. The fact of the matter is most workplaces favor butterflies or extroverts. According to thought leader Jen Runkle, the current office environment is more advantageous to extroverts than introverts:
(1) Extroversion is a leadership best practice.
(2) Collaboration is a more natural skill for extroverts.
(3) Reduced office size has forced more intimate workplace conversations that benefit extroverts.
(4) The over stimulation of noise pollution, needless chatter and information drain introverts of emotional energy in the workplace.
Other workplace assumptions favor extroverts in the federal bureaucracy according to Psychologist Laurie Helgoe where:
(1) Being well liked is more important that being competent.
(2) Who you know is more important than what you know.
(3) Networking is a requirement for success.
(4) It is important to be seen as a team player.
If you look hard enough, you can discover fireflies in the workplace.
• A firefly may be someone who gives up their seat during a staff meeting so others don’t have to sit in the back.
• A firefly may be someone who jumps at the chance to help their fellow employee with an information technology problem.
• A firefly may be someone who has eyes for the lonely, looking for employees that feel invisible.
• A firefly may be someone who sticks up for employees who are rejected, lost or abandoned.
• A firefly may be someone who is lost themselves, excluded, on their own, just waiting for someone to notice their light among all the bright, fluttering wings of butterflies.
Maybe you know a firefly. Maybe you work with a firefly.
• I see your light.
• I see it when you hum your music in the office.
• I see it when you laugh at a colleague’s jokes.
• I see it when you day dream about that next promotion.
• I see your light, my brave and courageous fire fly.
And regardless of whether anyone else sees it, I know it is there:
• So keep shining.
• Keep singing.
• Keep creating.
• Keep helping.
• Keep caring.
• Keep making your magic.
Just you wait. One day your workplace will see what I see. And your light will be so beautiful, so brilliant, so bright that your workplace will stop and wonder where does that light come from.
You and I will know that light because it has been there all along.
Because you are a firefly.
You shine from within.
I am here to protect that light, my brave and courageous firefly.