The problem with being an introvert is that there’s no polite way of saying “I love you, but I’m tired of being with you right now”
I’m an introvert working in an extrovert’s world. When I started my first job out of college, I thought this put me at a disadvantage. Everyone was incredibly social, wanting to spend as many hours a day together as possible, but I didn’t. The introvert in me could only take so much social interaction before I needed to spend time alone. Sure, I can be outgoing and social when I need to be, but I also really need time by myself to recharge my batteries. I don’t have an aversion to being social or going to social events like the stigma introversion might suggest, but I do enjoy spending time on my own, and this can prove to be a problem when you work in an office, because you’re surrounded by people for nine hours a day! That’s nine hours of possible socialization that drains all of your energy.
The biggest problem with being an introvert in an extrovert’s world is how you’re perceived by your extrovert counterparts. There are stigmas associated with introversion, like that you’re shy, rude or socially anxious, even if you aren’t, that’s how it can come across. When I started my job, everyone was very social. They wanted to do everything together, and after a while it was too much for me. I started backing off a bit. Eating lunch at my desk and skipping those extra social gatherings. Soon though, I found myself surrounded by these strangers that I really had no relationship with, but who had all built friendships with each other. People noticed my absence too. Once I realized that people were starting to talk about why I wasn’t at lunch or why I didn’t go to the happy hour after work, I knew I had back off a little too much.
So I decided the best thing I could do for myself was figure out what was the right socialization balance for me. How much could I handle and how could I optimize that time to cultivate meaningful relationships with my coworkers, but also not overdo it to the point where I become exhausted? Essentially, I was looking for what I needed to do in order to survive the social office setting. Thankfully, after a year, of trial and error, I think I’ve finally struck the right balance. Here are the tricks that I now realize were my saving grace.
Find people who value you
This one was a major game changer for me. I was lucky enough to find a pretty amazing work BFF who has now become my best friend in real life. She’s much more extroverted than I am, so she really helps me break out of the shell I sometimes find myself in. She understands that I have certain limitations when it comes to social interactions, and she never makes me feel bad for it. Over time, she has helped me form bonds with people that have since become great friends, both in and outside of work. I was also fortunate enough to have a boss who was an introvert, as well. She understood how to utilize my strengths and how to help me overcome my weaknesses, especially those related to my introversion, like speaking up for myself. Everything becomes so much easier when you have people in your corner who understand you, accept you, and value who you are as a person.
Take time for yourself
It’s important to take periodic breaks where you can get some time to yourself. Sometimes there are moments during the day when I just need time to decompress, so I have a few different things I do to recharge. If I know I just need a minute, I’ll go to the bathroom or find an empty meeting room and just sit for a couple of minutes in silence. If I need a real energy boost, I’ll find an area outside or leave the office for lunch. I also listen to music or podcasts throughout the day. I use it as a way to block out the noise and stimulation of everyone else around me which helps me keep my energy up. The secret is understanding what helps you best deal with certain situations you find yourself in.
It’s ok to say no
This is a hard one that I’ve struggled with for a long time because I hated the thought of ever letting people down. I’ve learned that that such an unhealthy way to live. I can’t allow myself to be pressured into certain situations that were so emotionally and mentally draining for me. I can’t do everything I’m asked to or please everyone around me, so I started turning down invites for some things. However, when I started saying no to everything I began isolating myself, which wasn’t good for me either. I’m very choosy about what social events are worth putting my energy into, but I try to make an effort to go to them every so often – or as I like to call it ‘making an appearance’. I also know now that it’s ok that I prefer to stay at home on the weekends, and I don’t want to feel bad about that. It’s my life after all, and I can live it how I want to.
Have one good social interaction a day
I’ve found this one to be very important to my personal growth. It would be quite easy for me to go all day without saying anything to anyone in the office – maybe a little too easy, but I’ve found that my days seem a little bit better when I have made a connection to even just one person. In order to form a relationship with your coworkers, they need to feel like you care about them! Check up on something personal to them that they’ve mentioned to you before – like how their presentation went or how their new puppy is. I hate small talk more than anything in the entire world, so bringing up something specific to someone that you know they’ll want to talk about makes the conversation go so much smoother. As introverts, we thrive on these deep connections with people, and we’re so good at getting to know them on a personal level – so take advantage of that asset! You’ll find your day to be much more fulfilling if you have a connection like that with someone, and that person will really appreciate the connection, as well.
One of the hardest things I’ve learned this past year is that being an introvert is far from a personal weakness, especially in the workplace. In fact, researchers have found that introversion is a natural leadership trait because we are generally more diligent, creative and focused (not to say extroverts aren’t those things as well)! So while it may be difficult to work in a social space, we already have the tools and skills we need in order to succeed. Despite the challenges I faced at the beginning of my job, I have learned a lot about myself and how to work in environments that are out my comfort zone.
All images found via Pinterest: Image 1