Is it actually a good idea to tell people at work that you are an introvert, and have always been one? This question seems simple enough, but throws up quite a dilemma, doesn’t it?
Big exhale! It was finally my Retirement Party!
Thirty years in corporate America. I spent 30 years in a dozen jobs at one company. I worked with hundreds of people along the way, and each team was represented at my 2018 Retirement Party.
Many rose to toast our shared experiences and finally it was my turn. I raised two surprising facts:
1. First, a surprise to me. As an introvert, I was astonished to realize that despite my anxiety-filled years of forced socializing and conforming to the extroverted norms of the corporate world, the people are what I would miss the most.
2. Second, I surprised everyone else by sharing that I was in the midst of writing my memoir, about my struggles as an introvert in an extrovert’s world.
Suddenly, many started looking at each other and the hush built to a rumbling chorus of “you’re not an introvert! I’ve worked with you for years. We’ve gone to dinners, parties, and conventions. There is no way you are an introvert!”
A smile spread across my face. Three decades of deception. I had fooled them all. I had pulled it off!
As more co-workers and managers wished me well, my joy turned to shame. What had I done?
Over the last couple of years since my retirement began, I’ve often considered that evening, and my thirty years. As my responsibilities built, my role strayed from my comfort zone of analytical, desk-bound logistical roles to more commercial, customer-facing jobs. It was during my climb up this pre-ordained corporate ladder that my discomfort and lack of skills in social situations and high-pressure conversations started to show through.
I longed for solitude, but I knew in order to provide for my family as my father had modeled all my life, I could not shrink from the challenges. Instead, I had to don a mask, to wade through the growing social commitments and rise to the demands of hallway debates, meeting presentations, and conference cocktail hours.
Decades of this personal conflict nearly tore me apart. I sought refuge through over-drinking, especially on team events and road trips. I often binged on carbs and chocolate in order to sedate my anxieties. I became a workaholic, convinced a strong work ethic would help hide my troubles and overcome my fears. I was exhausted each evening, collapsing on the couch; my family only getting whatever crumbs were left of me.
What Would I Do Differently?
Now, I’m convinced I should have shared my true personality with co-workers, managers, and staff years ago. It may not have been easy, but three main drivers convince me so:
1. Authentic bonds
My relationships were acquaintances, but they never became deeper friendships since I couldn’t take my mask off and be vulnerable.
2. Role model
Half of the US population are introverts. So about half of any work organization are introverts as well. Yet, I can’t remember anyone openly offering to talk about their introverted personality at work. How helpful could that have been for others if I had been that role model for others, introvert and extrovert alike?
Sharing my reserved nature could have opened up conversations about anxious situations, strengths I leaned on, and how others deal with their own anxieties at work. I always enjoyed mentoring, yet I missed out on the most impactful mentoring opportunity of my career.