Saturday, July 30, 2011

Work Meetings and the Introvert

Is there ever an appropriate time to explain your introversion in the workplace?

Group work meetings are painful for me. I know that I am expected to pipe up, but I also know that I won't unless called upon to do so. I have no problem answering any questions, or speaking up when something directly relates to my job. When I do speak, it's strong and purposeful.

But when the general banter and chitchat starts, I sit quietly. I'm not the type to initiate a conversation about the party I attended last weekend or the TV show I watched the night before. Personally, I have no problem with my level of participation and I've even noticed a few of my other co-workers exhibiting similar behavior during these meetings...but as we know, this makes extroverts uncomfortable.

And then it happens, as every introvert experiences hundreds of times during their lives: someone feels the inexplicable need to point it out. Last week during a meeting, one of my co-workers decided to go down the line at the table and tell each and every one of my introverted co-workers how quiet they are. They politely smiled and laughed off the comment. I felt so deeply for each of them, because I knew the frustration they were feeling. I, of course, was not spared, but she pointed me out last. Out of a brief moment of anger, I curtly replied, "Yes, sometimes I'm quiet, always have been". I wanted to go on and tell her "And you have brown hair and the person next to you is tall", but I bit my tongue. I know she meant well. For whatever reason, it seems that extroverts believe that by telling someone he/she is quiet, it gives us permission to be more talkative and makes us more comfortable.

These are the times when I wonder whether or not if I should explain my introversion. I could have continued and explained that I am an introvert. I do my job, and I do it well. I speak when necessary, but I like to think about my responses, making my predisposition very non-conducive to group meetings. I don't dislike you. In fact, I actually enjoy your company, think you are a really nice person, and truly don't mean to offend you.

After that speech, my extrovert-dominant workplace would undoubtedly decide that I was bizarre...or would they? Are not enough of us introverts sticking up for ourselves? One of them clearly already thought I was strange because of my quiet nature, so would I really lose anything by explaining it?

I'm conflicted and quiet frankly, enormously frustrated. I fear that by explaining this to my co-workers or boss, they will incorrectly assume that I am incompetent in the extrovert-dominated field of law. Even worse, could I lose my job over it? Then again, my job is a place I spend a huge chunk of my time. Should I sit idly by while people inaccurately label me?

The past week involved a couple of moments like this at work. My introversion slapped me in the face like a ton of bricks, making me worry that I will never progress or be successful in this field because of an attribute that I cannot change. I know my introversion is advantageous in a lot of ways, especially in the workplace. It's just a matter of figuring out how to use those strengths in a way that shows my bosses and co-workers that I'm invaluable, and not seen as a liability.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Back to Dancing

For anyone who could relate to my earlier dancing at weddings rant, you should take a look at this article (the second question). I came across an etiquette column in Boston Magazine a couple weeks ago on this very topic.

I'm not the only one after all!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Treating Your Introversion

I caught such an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times.

I can relate to this very well. Over a year ago, I had my first panic attack. I've always been overly worrisome. Little things that probably wouldn't inspire a second thought in others can consume me for days. With law school graduation, the bar exam, moving home, and no job in sight looming, I experienced a panic attack in the middle of the library while doing homework one night. Anyone who has had a panic attack can attest to how frightening it is.

Long story short, after the doctor promised me that I wasn't dying of a heart attack, I ended up with a prescription for anxiety medication. Now that I knew what the symptoms, I started taking a small dose of Ativan whenever I felt an attack coming on.

The few times I took the medication, I found myself actually mustering up the energy to engage. I was no extrovert, but chitchat and interactions were that much easier.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I began popping the anxiety medication to get through social events. I didn't do this because I wanted to or felt that it eased any social anxiety that I had (social anxiety and introversion, contrary to popular belief, are not interchangeable). I was doing it because I worried about how others perceived me. I was "curing" my introversion and fitting in, something I had never been able to do.

The more I "treated" my introversion, the more I became depressed. At the risk of sounding like an after school PSA, I wasn't using the medication to ease the physical symptoms of anxiety anymore. I was using, abusing change who I was. Taking the pills only exposed how insecure I was as an introvert. If people enjoyed my company at these functions more than they had in the past, it was only a sham. I tear up as I write this, because it still upsets me to realize how little I valued myself during those moments.

Although there are many necessary and life-altering uses for psychotropic drugs, I refuse to medicate myself because of who I am. Introversion is not an illness. My anxiety and introversion are completely separate. The author of the opinion piece I linked to above, Susan Cain, states it best:

"Perhaps we need to rethink our approach to social anxiety: to address the pain, but to respect the temperament that underlies it. The act of treating shyness as an illness obscures the value of that temperament. Ridding people of social unease need not involve pathologizing their fundamental nature, but rather urging them to use its gifts."