My hand is raised.
These feelings are unfortunately common amongst self-identified introverts. I’ve experienced them many times over the years and it’s what I am most asked about in my work with introverted professionals.
“I feel like no matter what I do, someone always ends up stabbing me in the back”
“I just can’t seem to click with my boss”
“No job ever feels like the right fit for me”.
I’m asked how to prevent these experiences.
My answer? You can’t. At least, not in way you think.
Instead you must learn from them by staying as present in the moment as you possibly can so that you can change how you respond.
Let me explain. Often, we find ourselves getting stuck in patterns where we experience similar situations; engage in similar emotions no matter what the setting.
But here’s the thing. If we experience them over and over, this is a sign that we are trying to be taught something. Those negative experiences are our teachers. Nasty professors with bad breath, coke bottle glasses and missing fingers*… but teachers none the less.
Instead, use these feelings of embarrassment and frustration as tools. Let these fuel your anger and disappointment because if used correctly, these feelings are motivating.
Let me tell you a story. Years ago, when I was an administrative assistant for Arthur Andersen LLP, then one of the largest public accounting firms, I found myself sitting in a meeting with several partners, senior managers and a few associates. The partners were discussing a plan to implement a strategy to attract and retain more clients. One partner suggested a tracking system that was so simple “that anyone could use it, (looking around the room) an associate could do it ... or even... an admin like Christian.”
All eyes on me. Me red faced with humiliation. Even someone as insignificant as me would be able to use this system. What was worse was that some of the other partners and managers winced in pity for me.
Somehow, I made it through the rest of the meeting. I didn’t cry or vent to my other admins. I didn’t save it up to spill all over my husband when I went home. I could have fallen back in my normal pattern of ruminating over the events of the day.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I let myself get really, really angry.
While it was absolutely true that I was in fact, angry with the partner who made the comment, I was angrier with myself because the truth was that I was allowing them to play myself small.
It infuriated me that I was allowing someone to make me feel as if I was less-than, an unintelligent nobody.
There was nothing wrong with me or my job as an administrative assistant but if I allowed myself to believe that I was as insignificant or worse- incapable of striving for something more then I would be agreeing to live my life in the mini-container defined for me.
My anger began to ablate the inner dialogue that caused me to feel self-doubt and fear. It motivated me to take action.
I began to research graduate schools, find out what was needed for admissions and what the cost would be. Sure, I was apprehensive but the more action I took, the better I felt.
Just filling out the application was thrilling and I did not tell anyone at work what I was doing until after I was accepted. I was on my way!
The degree program was an intense eighteen months and I completed it while working full time, when my two daughters were aged four and one.
People at work began to look at me differently. Some of the partners smirked in surprise. My true friends and family rallied behind me.
But I knew that I was doing this for me. I took what people were thinking and saying about me and used it as a tool to help connect me to what I already knew to be true deep inside.
I was worth it.
Completing my graduate degree gave me a huge confidence boost. I met the most wonderful, genuine people in that graduate program. It gave me the opportunity to connect with other like minded adults who were attending school because they knew they could do something more.
It taught me that there are supportive people out there and sometimes we just don’t find them at the places we work or live.
The danger of giving into other’s beliefs about our selves is the potential to miss out on finding out what were are truly made of. We stay stuck. We experience the same things over and over. And then all of us miss out on your unique thing. Your art, your leadership, your invention, your masterpiece crafted over a hot oven or in long hours scribbling in your journal.
I know it’s corny and over used to say that we are all here for a reason. But it’s true. We were not designed to spend eternity in perpetual, high school-like environments, I promise you.
There is a lot circulating around the web and on bookshelves about the power of introversion and the strengths that come with it. But what are you doing with this information?
I see a lot of angry comments on the forums about introverts being misunderstood and wishing that others would just understand.
This is good. But it’s only a start.
Take that anger and disappointment and let it burn away fear and procrastination. Use it for the tool that it is.
Because you are worth it.
Over to you. Please tell me in the comments section about a time you allowed yourself to play small and what you decided to do about it.
All my best,
* Actual description of my 9th grade Algebra teacher.