The extraordinary adventures of an introvert at work
As a preschooler, I was a quiet and shy kid. I enjoyed being by myself.
I loved to sit in a corner and make shapes with play dough. Or stare out of the window and watch the world go by.
I found group activities uninspiring. Daydreaming was my default resting place.
My teachers observed this and raised the alarm with my parents.
They discussed how problematic it was as I didn’t speak much in class. Neither was I enthusiastic about participating in group work nor making friends.
They expressed concern about how I was ‘inclined to be reserved’. My quiet nature seemed like a defect that needed correction.
As a young impressionable kindergartener, I took it to heart.
I carried immense shame, a feeling of inadequacy and not being as good as others.
Being outgoing, gregarious and extroverted was the norm.
I didn’t fit into the norm. I felt separate and disconnected.
So I decided to take charge and change this.
I began behaving like an outgoing person. I spoke with everyone in class, especially those who were new in school and felt lost.
I went overboard. I spoke with strangers only to prove that I was good enough too. I was an introvert who acted like an extrovert, remarkably well. I later learned that this is a coping mechanism called masking.
At school and home, everyone grew fond of how smartly I spoke and mingled with everyone. I received applause and praise for it.
I began scoring an A grade on social adaptability by the time I was 5 years old.
I got rewarded for being who I was not.
From then on, I hid my introverted nature - not only from the world but also from myself.
At age 5, I had no doubt that I was now extroverted and hence normal. No more a weirdo. After all, I’d overcome the ‘dysfunction of being the quiet one’.
My assumed extraverted behaviour continued through school, college and years of work.
I was enthusiastic, passionate and engaged in my corporate jobs. I loved the interactions I had with people. I thrived on the chaos and buzz.
At the same time, I felt drained and exhausted.
I often felt pressured to be like others. To like what they liked.
Heading to a noisy, crowded bar on a Friday evening with office folks seemed like everyone’s idea of fun. It energised them.
For me, it was less fun and more punishment.
I felt completely worn out. I needed the entire weekend to recover.
It felt like an obligation and a necessary rite of passage at the workplace.
I felt singled out if I didn’t pretend it was fun too. The pressure to be someone I was not, weighed on me.
I preferred bonding with colleagues over lunch at the office or an arty new restaurant in town.
I enjoyed connecting while working on a project or brainstorming new ideas.
A long weekend spent daydreaming or reading a good book was perfect to replenish me. Solitude was nourishing. That was my idea of fun.
As I quit my corporate career to start my own business, I joined a few online business communities.
I got the chance to interact with amazing entrepreneurs from across the world.
I came across conversations in these groups led by introverted business owners. These included celebrated authors, artists, coaches and creative entrepreneurs.
I listened intently.
They shared how they ran successful businesses showing up as introverts.
They talked about the challenges they experienced in a world designed for extroverts. From the pressure to socialise, make small talk to being visible all the time.
Yet they carved their own ways to run thriving businesses. Embracing their introverted qualities, quirks included.
They celebrated these qualities. From being great listeners to bringing depth into their work. From being reflective & self-aware to being fantastic problem solvers.
I could see how creative and purpose-led each one of them was. I could see how they were quietly changing the world. And, they were fun people too.
They were unapologetic and vocal about being introverts. They even raised a toast to their low need to socialise!
They’d experienced the power and beauty of being introverts and carried it with pride. Even though the world labeled their introversion as ‘weird’.
I found that inspiring.
I learnt that introverts lose energy from being around people or in noisy places for a long time. They tend to recharge by spending time alone, especially in nature.
While extroverts, get energised by being social and may feel drained spending too much time alone. Unlike introverts, I learnt that extroverts need others to stimulate thoughts and conversations.
I could now see how being an introvert was not necessarily about being a shy person. I was far from that myself.
Conversations in these business communities resonated with me. I felt at home.
This was introvert land, where being introverted was the norm. And it didn’t feel odd. They shared 'my weird’.
It restored a sense of connection and belonging.
Being a part of these groups opened a whole new understanding of myself.
I could see how I was living life as an extrovert when I was actually an introvert!
Up until now, I was familiar with negative connotations associated with introverts. They were seen as shy, loners who lacked social skills and wallflowers who didn’t matter much.
Damn! No one spoke about the gifts of being an introvert.
I wondered why popular culture didn’t tell us that several accomplished scientists, artists, musicians, writers, actors, inventors and business owners are introverts.
Why was that never a mainstream conversation? I wondered.
Later I took the Myers-Briggs personality test. Not surprisingly I tested to be an INFJ - i.e an introvert. Also, the rarest of rare personality types make up only 1-3% of the population.
Ah, that’s why I often felt like I’d landed on a planet that was designed for people unlike me.
It explained why I felt weird.
I now realised our work culture was not designed for someone like me.
It gave me the clarity, confidence and power to show up in life and business, as who I truly was. Without bending myself like a pretzel to fit into a world that only seemed to make space for extroverts or those who behaved like one.
I was able to wean myself off the exhausting ways of the hustle and grind culture. That was huge for me. It’s something I struggled with for the longest time.
The more I was able to tune into my introverted self, the mental and physical exhaustion I carried for years began to melt away.
I must admit it’s taken several years to make these changes and stick with them. I’m still learning.
Many of the ways I now work are counterculture, hence can be challenging to sustain.
Old ways creep up. But as I keep experiencing how efficient, energising and productive the new way is - I'm less tempted to go back to the hustle and grind way of working.
Here’s how my work has transformed to become introvert-friendly.
- Rest, self-care, fun and play are a part of my daily work schedule. Result = better productivity, excellent work with less effort.
- So no guilt about taking a midday nap or listening to soulful music to refuel me.
- Journaling, eating nourishing food and exercising (still a growth edge) are now a necessary and non-negotiable part of the business.
- A walk in nature = fresh and fantastic new blog post ideas.
- Walking delivers out-of-the-box solutions to challenges and sticky situations. Don’t get these sitting at my desk. The health benefits are a bonus.
- No pressure to be visible on social media to a point of exhaustion. I’ve given myself the permission to create and post content based on how I feel v/s being held to ransom by social media algorithms that never seem to be satisfied. (Yes, I know it can be challenging!).
- Content created from a well-rested and relaxed place tends to have better engagement. This develops stronger relationships with my audience, positively impacting sales and business. No uncomfortable sales strategies are required.
- No obligation to meet for business at a noisy bar or a stiff & formal networking event that feels inauthentic. Showing up fully wherever I do is what matters. Creative morning sessions, art & music shows and community events at co-working spaces, are my favourite.
- I’ve developed some of the best business relationships online.
- My most precious place was a small business mastermind group with 2 business buddies, from Australia and Mauritius. We’d meet online regularly. We’d support and encourage each other on our business journeys and growth. We’d share insights & knowledge and hold each other accountable.
- I choose energising workspaces with like-minded folks, to work from. Aesthetically pleasing co-working spaces are ideal. Especially those with high ceilings, pastel walls, spacious halls, natural light and plants. I've made my home office equally lovely.
- Working in communities is such a boon, albeit for a short while. During the pandemic I discovered virtual co-working spaces. I spend a part of my workday on Focusmate - one such virtual platform. It teams me up with a coworker for a joint working session. This ensures I’m focused, take breaks and meet interesting people from across the globe.
Adopting an introvert-friendly lifestyle has not only made my work nourishing and sustainable but it’s also enriched the quality of my work. Something I couldn’t achieve by putting in more hours or applying the best strategies devised by an extroverted work culture.
Maybe you’re an introvert working at a job and don’t have much flexibility to schedule your work day. But you can start with a few small steps that make your work introvert-friendly. The reality for many of us is that we need to hustle to pay the bills. But we can make at least a little space that suits our introverted identity. You may even choose your next job that's introvert-friendly. Small steps can go a long way. So start with your small steps now.
Are you an introvert too? Would love to hear about your experiences. Do share them in the comments below.
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Are you seeking to create happiness at work? Do check The Happy Work Guide: 8 Steps to Freedom from Toxic Work.