Here’s the second edition of my “Faux How-To Guide” series. Today’s topic is on surviving my extroverted work-life. I am a quiet person but I always end of picking jobs where I have to talk to a lot of people. I am not sure why I do this to myself. It must be Bre the Diva calling the shots. Anyway, my jobs are always community-oriented, where I get to work directly with the person. In one of my jobs, I hosted health fairs and actually had to take people’s blood pressures, glucose, and cholesterol. I was low-key a nurse…well, maybe more like a CNA. I had to do TV interviews and give presentations on health. Let me mention that my background is in marketing and general business. I don’t do math or blood, and I was pricking fingers like a pro! I honestly don’t know how I got that job. I only lasted a year though!For a person who does not like to talk to people, I hate being trapped in an office. However, I do need some social interaction, that is why community outreach is more of my thing. A strong trait for introverts is our ability to listen more than we talk. That is probably why I prefer to work directly with the people that need the help/services as opposed to just working in an office. I get to listen to people’s problems, which I have done allllll my life, but I get to help solve them. This specifically works with my INTJ personality type because I am a problem solver. I listen and work to find sustainable, long-lasting solutions. Working in community-based organizations allows me the opportunity to truly help people. But in these jobs, I always have to turn on the faux extrovert. Faux extroverting has become a skill and a survival mechanism in my introvert life. I can put on the mask of an extrovert and work the room, and sometimes it kills me because I am still a very behind the scenes person. I am more comfortable in the shadows like Batman… although a lot of my work requires me to be Bruce Wayne.
Lol! I know for sure I would not excel in positions where I have to talk to people for money. Sales or teaching kids are not my things. Forced conversation is the worse! I am not made fakery. Anyway, here’s how I am making it as an introvert in an extroverted world.
How I survived…
I’m all about finding the right balance of a job…one where I could be out in the community and still spend time in an office. I was at a job that deliberately and discretely discouraged socializing in the workplace. I had to sneak and talk to people. I literally called it “making my daily rounds.” I would leave my desk and take the long way to the bathroom which was less than 20ft away. I would stop by 6 of my favorite co-worker’s desks for a brief conversation. Now, I am an introvert and I enjoy avoiding people but I do it because I want to and not because I am forced to! Let me be “funny-acting” on my own…I don’t need anyone’s help! That forced isolation does something to you mentally. That place was hell. Fortunately, I was able to find another job that was more flexible and that allowed me to isolate myself on my own!
It is always a beautiful thing to work with people who understand introverts. After 4 years, 11 months, 11 days and 4.5 hours of hell at my old job, I was fortunate to experience a supervisor who understands me and my strengths in the workplace. I listen. I ask questions. I solve problems. I let those who desire the spotlight have it. I don’t do “office politics.” Why…because I do not talk to anyone! In short, I drink my water and mind my business! My supervisor understands that I like to be quiet and alone. She also knows that if she needs anything, I got her and my door is always open…figuratively. I have to process and decompress…in a quiet space…in my office…with my headphones in…and the heat on because I stay cold. My co-workers now know that, too. And eventually, the interns and inner-office volunteers learn as well. They know that it is not anything against them… I just work better this way. Sidenote: I love when volunteers and interns leave me “thank you” letters. I literally say 150 words or less to them a year. But it is awesome to be thought of!
Right Amount of Convo
Don’t get me wrong, I am “friendly-ish.” I am cordial. I speak to everyone. I’ll even make painfully awkward small talk like… “I like your hair.” “Nice shoes.” “It’s hot outside.”… Yeah, that’s about it. Depending on the person, that will be the extent of our conversation. I know that seems rude, but look…sometimes people’s energy bothers me and I can’t take it. If I don’t feel comfortable with you, I’m not gonna fake it. In order to not be fake, I just remove myself, speak, and keep it moving.
In general, small talk is also very stressful. There is a science to it because I don’t know what to say…especially when it is forced. I am a thinker and listener, not necessarily a talker. Like I said before, forced conversations are the worst. I would rather just be “silent.”
What I Learned…
Surviving the Overload
Working in the community has caused me to go into social overload. There are so many people…so many problems…not enough time or resources. The burden of so many people and not being able to do what you do best (solving problems) can cause an introvert like me to shut down. When I feel that happening, I have learned to do one thing…run away! Not literally, but I mean leave, take a break, hide, find a safe place!
Here’s what I mean…I am not sure how I would handle working in a cubicle. I have been blessed with having an office door at most of my jobs. Outside of always being cold and having my heater on, I close my door for a couple of reasons. One reason is to escape all the extraness of people. I am not trying to hear your personal conversations. I get easily distracted so I will stop what I am doing to listen. Another reason is sometimes I just need peace and solitude at work, and having a door helps to carve out that solitude. That time is needed to recharge, regroup and focus on me and the task at hand.
While I understand that office doors are a luxury, I am not above hiding out in a bathroom. At my “hell-job,” I couldn’t close my door. Instead, I ran away to the bathroom where I would hide out to get my nerves back in check. If there are no doors or stalls available to hide behind, there are always other options. As I wrote this, I was at a training…Bored, frustrated and irritated to death. During lunch, I got my lunch and went to sit in the vehicle. I had to decompress for several reasons…1) it was cold AF in that room. 2) I didn’t have anything to say to anyone. I was not in the mood to meet new people. My coworkers and I talked in the car on our 2.5-hour drive. That was enough for me. Plus, I had to prepare to do the same on the way back. 3) I had no signal in the room so I couldn’t play on my phone or anything. I just had to sit there and listen. 4) Someone’s watch kept beeping and they couldn’t stop it. It was pissing me off…just throw the whole damn watch away! 5) Some bumpkin was smacking her teeth and I almost snapped. Do you need some gum to get that out your teeth? Use a piece of paper or something. FIX IT!
As you can see, my nerves were bad and I was completely overloaded. I needed a break from people…even if it was only for a few minutes.
I said all that to say…there are some things that you cannot control like your physical office, coworkers, or supervisors. However, you can often control how and when you “run away.” If your job has you out here faux extroverting…I mean, balancing your introvert and extrovert worlds, then finding 15 minutes to “hide” is important. Whether it is in the bathroom, in your office, or in the car, you have to build that time into your schedule. Introverts need it!