A Curse or a Blessing
This article has been difficult for me to write, but I feel it’s about time somebody explained how it is to be an introvert in the professional world. Perhaps, in some small way, it may help others understand and accept an introvert’s daily struggles.
Disclosure. I use Generative AI tools to help me when writing. From outline suggestions to topics or subtleties I had yet to think of.
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An Inner World Explored
We all invest so much physical and mental energy in our daily work that we have so little over at the end of the day for our passions, like writing this blog, for example. Why is that? In my case, perhaps the self-discipline from my military background in the Royal Air Force. But I think more that it concerns my lack of confidence and being an extreme introvert.
The fear of failure is real and intense for us, and it manifests itself by holding our professional lives to a very high standard. We are disappointed and frustrated when others don’t do their absolute best. Maybe ’ordinary’ people are right to care less, working to live rather than living to work. I can’t care less or take less care with my work-related tasks, a concept that feels so alien to how I approach my profession.
Making mistakes, as everybody does, deeply troubles and hurts us. We never feel that we’re good enough in our professional lives; we are always looking for validation. I feel that it could be described as a form of Imposter syndrome, which has become a well-known expression in recent years; the Wikipedia entry states:
Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as frauds.
As a result, we strive every day to perform to our absolute best; the result is an exhaustion which builds as each week progresses. At least half the weekend is needed to recover, only to do it all over again the following week. Does this sound familiar to you? Such is the life of an introvert, especially an obsessive-compulsive professional such as I know myself to be.
The Dichotomy of Introversion and Professional Obsession
It’s an odd situation to find ourselves. On the private side of the coin, we loathe being the centre of attention. We will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid any situation that makes us uncomfortable or anxious. But in the Professional world, we are often at the centre of many situations which, you would think, we should avoid at all costs.
Why is that? Well, it depends on the age and life experiences of the individual. I can only write from my own experiences, but I suspect many of us have experienced a similar evolution during our professional lives.
From my mid-teens until well into my twenties, I was painfully shy, especially of girls. I could not even think about talking to girls before I broke out in a cold sweat. Sounds cute, possibly, but from my side at the time, it was a constant reminder of what I perceived to be my inadequacies. Of course, it was no such thing, but it felt real to me.
As I got older, with more life experiences under my belt, I began to build strong defences around my fragile ego. I am loud and, to all outward appearances, an extrovert. But it’s all fake; underneath the skin, I’m still just as shy and introverted as I always was. I suspect that most introverts who find themselves in a professional environment later in life have followed a similar trajectory. Although I have never knowingly discussed this aspect of my personality with another introvert, so I suppose I’m guessing here.
For a time, we can even convince ourselves that we are outgoing, open to criticism, and super confident. If we do this long enough, it becomes second nature. We exude confidence and professionalism every minute of every day, at least in the work environment. When what we want to do is to run away and find some safe corner to hide in.
The Drive Towards Perfection
And, of course, others always take advantage of us; perhaps they can see through our defences and know exactly which buttons to push. I don’t know why, maybe only because they see that they can; it is possible that they don’t even consciously know that they are doing it. But because we are so professional, we can’t stop ourselves from investing all our time and energy again.
We can always be relied on to figure things out, eventually. We can never admit defeat and will keep pushing, devoting all our effort to resolving the problem or task. This aptitude gets us into trouble occasionally, but we are so devoted to figuring things out that we tend to lose track of the bigger picture. We’re also often dumped with all shit jobs to do, unfortunately.
Personally, I can lose sleep over a problem. Waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea or approach to try. When I solve something new, I’m rewarded with a satisfied feeling of a job well done. Not that we ever receive any acknowledgement for our dedication and efforts. As we can always be relied upon to get to the bottom of almost everything, I suppose our abilities are taken for granted.
Praise is almost unheard of; criticism, on the other hand, is quick to come. The only criticisms that get to me, though, are to be critical of my professionalism or call me lazy. They are guaranteed to make me furious. Introversion be damned. We strive to do every task assigned to us to as close to perfection as is humanly possible. And when we succeed, that is all the reward we need. An occasional bonus would be nice, too. 😉
Embracing the Quiet
The main difficulty we face daily is striking a balance between our personal well-being and our professional obligations. Too easily, the professional side of life can take over and leave us with nothing left to be able to enjoy life. Experience has taught me to take a step back and breathe a little. It helps enormously that my life partner won’t let my work life impact our private life. The break away from the office is enforced, which is exactly what I need.
Other techniques for managing introversion are all defined by self-discipline. For example, I will not ever look at my work email from when I leave the office until the moment I’m in the office again. Finding a diversion for our professional needs is a great help; I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and now I am, perhaps not a great writer, but a writer nonetheless.
Some find relaxation with gaming, others with movies and series, and still others with music. There are any number of ways to relax and let professional life go for a few hours. All it takes is discipline and a determination to not fall into the trap of workaholism. Fiction reading is my preferred escape, much to my partner’s irritation. I can spend literally hours living in the worlds I create in my mind thanks to a good book.
Taking time out from the daily grind to reflect and redirect your energies into something unrelated is sound advice for introverts, but also for everyone. Yes, take pride in your work, but don’t let it take one hundred per cent of your life. After all, when you’re dead and gone, as is inevitable, unfortunately, nobody will care how devoted you are to your work.
Life is too short, so live it while you can.
Well, that was by far the most difficult article I’ve written. As I write these final words, I’m still debating whether I should publish it or not. I’ll read through it again tomorrow and decide then. Obviously, if you are reading this, then I decided to go ahead anyway.
Even if you aren’t an introvert, I hope this has given some insight into the daily struggles of those who are. For you introverts, it does get easier as you get older. Your defences strengthen until you reach the stage where you even half-believe you’re not introverted.
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I apologise to my readers for some of the spellings you may feel are incorrect. I was born and brought up in the United Kingdom, and this is the spelling I am comfortable with (Grammarly is happy with it anyway).