The term “introvert” gets thrown around a lot these days. There’s a widespread impression that it just means “likes to binge on Netflix and eat junk food on a Friday night.” (We all like to do that.) But its true meaning is being explored more and more, from sleeper hits like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking to listicles of all the famous introverts in the world. An introvert is someone who, while they certainly can and do enjoy being around people, needs time by themselves to recharge. We all say we need “me time” – but an introvert will quite possibly have a mental breakdown if they don’t get that time to do their own thing, veg out, or just not see another human being for 64 hours straight.
That’s me. Hi.
There’s still a major problem with introversion in today’s day and age, largely driven by constant connectivity and the expectation of availability via Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and all the rest. If you don’t respond to a text – because, well, you just don’t want to at that moment in time – people will think you’re a snob or that there’s something wrong with you.
And to be identified as a high-potential, career-driven young person in the modern world, you need to be present. You’re expected to network, to be bubbly, to be “always on.” Given that the mere thought of networking fills me with panic, this is… not ideal.
How do you stand out when there’s a constant voice in your head saying, “I quite like this quiet corner, thank you very much”?
When I thought introversion was a bad thing, I heeded only that voice and made every excuse in the book:
Happy hour with coworkers? “Uh, my… friend, yes, my friend is in town. Just tonight. Right now. Bye!”
Meet-up for professionals in my field? “Probably so valuable, definitely. But I have laundry to do, so…”
But then came a clear need to get out of my job at the time – only for me to find there were no easy ways out without actually having met other people in my industry. I realized I was, quite possibly, destined for a life chained to this very desk, in this very shitty work situation.
So I made myself a vow: I would put myself out there for the next few months, connecting to new people on LinkedIn, reaching out to former colleagues, anything that might help me get out of this trap.
And it was those electronic avenues that were my saving grace. An email here, a LinkedIn invite there, and everyone was so busy that I could rely on the Internet and phone calls to serve as buffers until a coffee meet-up or in-person interview was required.
Thus I found myself a new job, and all was right with the world. Of course, I was then faced with an entirely new set of colleagues who I would have to get to know, likely – oh, god – outside of work hours.
And thus the dilemma has continued.
But I realized that it’s this very pressing digital age that continues to save me.
I can reach out to new people on LinkedIn and chat by phone about what they do – connecting not just with people attending a conference near me, but also with influencers on every social media channel imaginable and role models an ocean away.
I can build my brand online, as well – tweeting about topics relevant to what I do and to me as a person, writing about topics I love among people who get it (H/T to La Femme Collective), and turning into a LinkedIn “All-Star” (yes, that’s a thing).
Even when it comes to my day-to-day work environment, I’ve got the digital equivalent of a “Do Not Disturb” sign at my disposal – Outlook. If you block off an hour or so for yourself, it looks to everyone else like any other appointment. I can slip into a quiet room (thankfully provided by my workplace) and have my solo time. When I know there’s an after-hours work event, I plan these solo sessions meticulously.
And since connectivity has made remote working more and more acceptable, I’ve also benefited from flexible work-from-home arrangements. This does, of course, rely on an understanding workplace and a trusting boss – which I thankfully have had. Those days at home have kept my sanity intact on many, many trying weeks when I just needed to not hear another person’s voice for a few hours.
So don't despair if you're a fellow introvert wanting to make your way in the working world. The modern world may seem like a scary place in which it’s impossible to succeed – but with a little help from the Internet, you can still be as accomplished as our more extroverted counterparts.