I’m an introvert… sort of.
It’s a rather negative connotation, though a totally harmless denotation. I guess there’s a name for my breed now, “ambivert,” which is cool, but I still feel like I lean “introverted,” so I’ll stick with that label for now.
So, I’m an introvert who’s working in the relatively well-known “extroverted” world of public relations – how did this happen? First off – I’m really an ambivert, because though I was an extremely shy kid and pretty unpopular teenager, when I got my first customer service job as a barista at 16 years old it immediately broke me out of my shell. Because, well, you can’t be shy and good at your job in customer service. So here we are a decade later and I still think the “leaning introverted” aspect of my personality is hurting my career.
I’ve had jobs where my boss has told me to “be more social.” Would this EVER happen to a man? My boyfriend was shocked and appalled at that feedback (and posed that question), though he’s a through-and-through introvert. It was in one of my 3-month reviews for god’s sake – “maybe if I wasn’t drowning in work I’d have time to be more social,” I thought. It felt like I was literally being told, instead of working hard and straight through lunch, and a 10+ hour day, I should kick back at the water cooler and blow deadlines. Now that might sound dramatic, but this isn’t the first time I’ve received that “feedback.” So much so, that during the pandemic I was forced to do virtual “coffee dates” with my new coworkers – an introvert’s nightmare but again, as an ambivert, it wasn’t the most dreadful thing in the world. A topic for another day – “why is it so hard to muster up the motivation to be social, but then, enjoy it, once we are?” Just me?
What was dreadful, however, was that effort not being acknowledged. In countless jobs, I’ve done those coffee dates, I’ve chit-chatted in the break room, shot the shit when there’s a lull (not common), and what feedback did I receive on my next review? There it was again: “Be. More. Social.”
This made me wonder – is it that I’m not kissing my bosses’ ass by asking more about their personal life? Am I not communicating those coffee dates and moments of small talk with colleagues enough? Dear god, did I need to keep a fucking diary of every exchange about the weather or how expensive Ubers are now with cohorts? Is it me? Is it my boss? Is it the company?
There’s no easy, all-encompassing answer – but in my experience it was the company and everyone in it, because for the first time, I’m now at a place that values merit, hard work ethic and authenticity. So wow, guess what – I’m social with my coworkers not because I’m forced to be, and certainly not because I have more free time on my hands (because hell no I don’t), but because I genuinely like the people I work with and find them extremely authentic. Unfortunately, it’s such a rare feat that I’m being rewarded for being myself for the first time in my corporate career (3.5 years in).
If you’re starting a new job – try not to make the mistake I’ve made in several jobs past, which is somewhat misrepresenting yourself (albeit innocent enough) in the job interview and in your first three months of work. Of course, when I say “misrepresenting” I mean putting on an act every day to appear extroverted, because it will exhaust you and burn you out so much quicker than your ambivert or extroverted colleagues, and ultimately the mask will fall. Sure I’ve done the “fake it til you make it” routine and it’s worked in the past, but only at my part time/manual labor gigs, and it’s small, concentrated efforts as opposed to the long game, which is 100% the corporate world. When I really shine as a faux extrovert, it mirrors my moments from being a barista – it’s when I’m with clients. Those are the times I just put on my customer service face and turn on the charm – but I couldn’t do it 24/7. The truth is, you don’t want to work somewhere that won’t be OK with the real you.
Now, as an introvert in ambivert’s clothing, I’m not hiding anymore, and I urge my sheltered brothers and sisters to come out of their closets and denounce anti-introverted notions and stereotypes directly (literally the most uncomfortable thing to do) with their bosses or cohorts. Remind people what you “need” and “want” and equate it to a “work style” – just like extroverts have a work style, introverts do too, and you can’t really argue with whatever works for them. Speaking of “can’t argue with” techniques – start with “I’m most productive when…xyz” or, “I do my best work when…xyz,” and again, no one can argue with your “xyz” if you produce great work.
What’s your experience been like or what tactics have helped you, introverts of the white-collar world? Are you faking it til you make it? Did you switch industries? Jobs? Departments? Use the old standby excuse of “I’m keeping my camera off for bandwidth purposes”? Share your story in the comments!
Final note: My boyfriend, John, and I work literally side-by-side ever since the pandemic forced everyone to WFH (I’m elated – I could go into an office once a month and be happy) and it’s been fucking fascinating to get each others’ POVs throughout the day on everything from gender and authority differences, workplace politics, and much more: Him, as a straight white male with almost a decade of work experience in marketing. Me: A bisexual half-Hispanic woman going on four years of similar work in the corporate world, and seven years on the ground in hospitality. Stay tuned for those conversations that always stimulate curiosity or send me on a tirade.
Photo credit: WisdomQuotes