Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Why we feel this way and how to fix it
Introverts are often exhausted by three very different forces.
1. Introvert Underdogs
Introverts are the underdogs. Everything society seems to be encouraging - friends, attention, challenge - are not naturally in our repertoire. Our comfort zone is peace and quiet, contemplation, soothing the mind and soul with thought, analysis, and planning. Yet because these are activities performed in solitude, we don't see role models around us to encourage us to be ourselves, to embrace our talents, to share our skills. So we opt to follow the lead of the more gregarious, the seemingly more successful. We should network more at work, lead meetings with conviction and confidence, be more forceful. While these may come naturally and with great joy to the extroverts around us, it takes a lot of courage and determination for many introverts just to get out of the house, let alone engage with dozens of people every day, and strive to do what others seem to do with a flare.
2. Conform to the Norm
Even as toddlers, many introverts are pitted against societal norms. We are encouraged to go out and play with friends all day and are expected to join clubs and sports teams like our more energetic siblings. Upon entering the work world, many cultures reward the more bombastic, the more opinionated, the "fire" in the room. Whether told explicitly or just understood by example, we are trained to believe that to be recognized and rewarded with raises and promotions, we too must light the room up. This drives many introverts to feel like they must act the part or wear a mask all day. How exhausting this becomes and, perhaps unbeknownst to us, we are destroying our self-esteem because we are sending a message deep into our soul that we aren't good enough so we must pretend to be someone else.
3. The "More" Culture
We are surrounded by a "more" culture as well. We are taught to want "more." Our parents are often perfect examples as they chase more money, more friends, bigger cars and houses. This mantra is supported in school and later at work as we too are encouraged to want more and do more. Take on more responsibility, aim higher, work more hours. We become trained to follow this approach until we just can't get off it. Even if our wellbeing is at stake, it would be shameful not to want more, right? We would be giving up. Who could be satisfied with less? With not aiming to be the very best? So we keep our blinders on and keep chasing the rabbit around the track as it remains just outside our reach. More!
These factors can accumulate like plaque in our arteries. We might not even notice that we are conforming, that we are chasing the expectations of others, that we are exhausted and unhappy. We may pretend to have everything because it appears on the outside that we do. Some may never dare to step back and ask the searing questions:
Why am I exhausted?
Why am I not happy?
What do I really want in life?
No really, not what others want. Not what others either tell you or role model to you that you should want. What do you want?
The Tipping Point
This story, these questions, are quite personal to me. I've gone down this path in my life. I've been driven by the forces of the ambitious underdog, the conformist, and the gluttony of wanting "more." Some may continue on this path all their lives while others may finally reach their tipping point, where our inner voice finally says "STOP. This isn't working. I can't stand pretending to be someone else. Isn't life about being happy? I'm not happy! Frankly, these "more" goals just arent' working for me. I may have attained "more," but happiness and personal satisfaction surely were sacrificed along the way."
This epiphany happened to me at the age of 41 in Hiroshima, Japan of all places, on a weekend break between business travel weeks in Tokyo and Singapore. I was journaling and realized, "I'm not happy." I may be doing what I'm supposed to be doing in my job, I've risen to a senior position, I'm leading a global team of thirty, I've got "more!" But I'm miserable with myself! So I asked myself there in the shadows of the Hiroshima Peace Park, "What am I going to do?"
The draw to continue chasing "more" through my extreme lifestyle despite my mounting melancholia was like a paper clip drawn to a large magnet - almost impossible to neglect or fight. The fear of admitting defeat, of resigning, or losing the status and security I'd worked for twenty years to achieve was overwhelming. I knew I had brought important feelings and questions to the surface, but I was not prepared to be courageous.
A Helping Hand
Finally, about three months later in early 2008, my manager shared that he decided to combine my team with another closely related product line, and my role was to be eliminated. I would be provided time to find my next role within the company. My initial shock and anger soon transitioned into surprising joy. My manager had forced me to make the changes I was just not prepared to make in Hiroshima. I now had a chance to remake my life!
My Warm Hug
I realized I needed to shed my mask and lead my next team authentically. But what did that mean? I reflected and began to identify my strengths like organization, preparation, and thoughtfulness as well as the issues that didn't sit well - networking, communication, and meetings. I had to break away from the cultural norms around me and approach these obstacles my way. Rather than run away from my true talents, I needed to give myself a warm hug and become my best cheerleader.
In the months during my transition to another role, I began to reset my goals toward more personal satisfaction and pride. As I reflected, I found my life completely out of balance. If life is like a pie, there are many pieces that make up a happy pie - family and relationships, personal health, work contributions, hobbies, spirituality, financial security, learning and growth, and others. The pieces may be different for you and they all won't be the same size. The proportions should reflect what is most important in our lives, what our true priorities are. Yet I found my "work" slice was huge - like 3/4 of my pie - and all other aspects of my life were compromised to obscurity.
Back in 2008, I was jolted to make some important life changes. It didn't happen overnight, but I began to reprioritize my life and discover my own talents and skills. But this is not just a one-time event for me, or for most of us. As life changes, new challenges and opportunities arise, and we are always influenced by those silent forces - introvert underdog, conformity, and the "more" culture.
Years later, I'm now retired. I'm very proud of the changes I've made to explore my introversion, to lead more authentically during my last decade in corporate America, and to speak my truth. Yet, I find today I am once again a bit tilted. In my book and blog writing. I am driven by a deeper purpose than I ever was in the corporate world, yet I feel I'm now filling my time with others' expectations, especially regarding how I should reach out to others and market my message.
I want to share my message of empowerment with many, especially college students and people new to the workforce because I believe this can be a tumultuous transition where a fractured foundation, one built on conformity, can be greatly exposed when entering a strong work culture that pulls us away from our true self. Yet, I also hear my own learnings and teachings whispering in my ear...don't lose my life balance, stretch but don't deviate from my true self.
Strategy Refresh 2.022
These are the voices I'm trying to reconcile. So I've entered a bit of a strategy refresh for my business during this holiday season. I'm trying to work smarter, not harder, focused on making a difference within an acceptably proportioned pie.
This process is exciting and yet scary. Will I take the easy way out or will I overcommit? How can I find that sweet spot in the middle?
I've decided to seek some input, from my family, some coaches, from you my readers, and through plenty of introspection as well, so that I can find clarity and confidence in whatever the outcome.
Once a clear objective is set, it acts as a litmus test in considering the imminent barrage of ideas and opportunities that come from others and most especially from my 24/7 mind. It will help me to decline activities that don't help me fill the proportions of my pie and to shift time to as necessary to maintain those proportions.
I'm sure this will not be the last time I feel out of balance. I hope I continue to develop my skills to evaluate my happiness and my exhaustion in order to make changes along my own journey.
I'll be sharing my results early in the new year.
Call to Action
If you have been feeling exhausted or that perhaps you are out of balance, carve out some time during the holidays and ask yourself what you want your pie to look like and how you can get there. I wish you luck on your own journey.
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