Updated: Jan 8
Converting this transition from 'Overwhelming' to 'Well-prepared'
It seems like a lifetime ago. And in truth, it nearly has been. Thirty-three years ago I packed my bags, said goodbye to my folks in Birmingham, Alabama, and drove away, headed for a strange place I'd only been to once for a day of interviews.
When I arrived in Houston I was excited and nervous. This was my first job after college and I really didn't know what to expect.
Time Flies - Was I Having Fun?
Today, I often reflect back on my 30-year career at Shell Oil with mixed emotions. I learned a lot, worked with some amazing people, felt like I made an impact in the world of Supply and Trading for Shell, and was fortunate enough to satisfy my natural desire for family security with a relatively stable career at one company. That path enabled me to retire in my early 50's. What more could I want?
What more could I want?
Sometimes I think the answer is "nothing." But then I recall the anxiety-riddled years as an introvert, donning my mask every day to try to blend into the corporate, extroverted culture that seemed to be a pre-requisite for the ladder-climbing I was so determined to pursue. I felt surrounded by tall, dashing, loud, and confident people who typically golfed and always had an opinion they were prepared to share as if it were the perfect answer.
But perhaps that's just a necessary aspect of work? Work is work after all. We downplay Mondays, take salvation in hump day, celebrate Fridays, and try to forget our woes on the weekend before another workweek dawns.
As with many college graduates, I got a degree (Finance) largely because my parents believed it was quite marketable. They were right. However, I had no burning desire to work in banks or investment companies. But today I believe that approach is quite flawed. If we are going to work 40-60 hours per week for the next 30-40 years, shouldn't we do something we enjoy, we look forward to, we have a passion for?
Shell hired me as a Supply Analyst (my offer came with an explanation that I would "analyze supply"). Little did I know the comforting, detail-oriented analytics of my first roles would lead me to trading and managing teams for most of my career - two roles I felt were very "extroverted." They required interaction with a wide variety of people, making lots of decisions under pressure, and convincing others of my strategies in high-octane meetings.
For an introvert, I struggled with my desire to succeed. The extroverted role models that surrounded me and the anxiety and stress which I dealt with (poorly) every day became overwhelming.
Change Myself or Change My Approach?
Only toward the end of my career did I realize the stress-induced drinking, overeating, red-faced rosacea, and crippling sciatica were not required. I faced a choice - leave my company of 20 years and the job security it generally offered, or find a way to cope better.
I chose the latter more out of necessity to provide for my family. And that is really when I started my journey of self-discovery and understanding my introversion. I enjoyed the essence of my jobs, I just needed to reduce the stress in healthier ways.
So rather than struggle to run successful meetings, network, and lead teams the way others appeared to, I needed to figure out how to do it MY WAY!
Here's what I learned:
Learn the truth about introversion: shed the stigmas of anti-social, loner, low-self-esteem. They are only as accurate as we allow and can be replaced through our own education.
Explore your own strengths and traits: turn what many believe is a curse into a blessing by discovering the talents we have and how they can make a difference. Join 1500 others who've taken our free, confidential quiz and gain new insights.
Practice your strengths in everything you do:
Energy Equation: learn what drains your energy (long engagements, pressure meetings...) and what fuels you (quiet time, preparation, meditation, reading, music, walks) and sprinkle both throughout your day to bring your best self along.
Preparation: rather than jump into meetings and socials, challenge which ones are critical to attend and then prepare by reviewing agendas and pre-read, assessing who is attending, jotting down talking points, and leaning on our strengths of listening, introspection, and focused remarks.
Network Intimacy: ours is not a game of quantity. Introverts should not expect to enjoy long cocktails with hundreds and take dozens of business cards away. Instead, focus on gatherings of 1-4 for shorter durations, in familiar places, with a specific agenda planned in your head. This will help you win the quality game.
Job searching is a 2-way street: a career in corporate America means you will likely be looking for your next assignment every 2-4 years so about a dozen times in your career. Be prepared for this cycle. Lean on your strengths above to research interesting roles across the company, employ Network Intimacy, and interview prospective managers and teams to ensure you find the right fit to help you perform and grow authentically.
Align with your manager: dedicate time early to build rapport and alignment with your manager. Start here first. Schedule regular communication, share your weekly progress and address any issues early. Build trust so you have the flexibility to work and lead your way. This relationship is critical to your success.
Share your introversion: identify the elephant in the room and share your amazing strengths and passions. We are not asking for pity or handouts, just open-mindedness to invite our strengths and perspectives in the room so we can work and lead our way. Vulnerability will catapult your relationships and self-confidence to new levels.
Take care of #1: care a lot less for cultural norms and what others think. Champion your authenticity. Yes, listen and learn from others, but filter that with your own strengths and style.
Be comfortable in your own skin: identify your comfort zone and take pride. Find opportunities to stretch with your strengths. Small extensions can build new skills and confidence but giant leaps outside your comfort zone can be fraught with setbacks. Make a plan and be patient in your own development.
Be kind to yourself: too often in our past we may have been bullied by others and most especially by our own harsh critiques. Become your best cheerleader. Support yourself with positive self-talk and self-compassion along your path. After all, the victory is in the journey, not merely the ultimate destination.
Become an introvert's advocate: share your hard-earned experience and sage advice. Have 'Get To Know You' sessions with fellow introverts. Host an Introvert Mentoring Circle to help yourself and fellow introverts navigate the tough waters and find their genuine path with confidence.
When you first arrive in the corporate world and get overwhelmed by the norms and culture, you may feel you are misplaced and your life and work dreams are now unreasonable. But if you find the initiative and courage to explore your authenticity and practice these strategies, you can have everything you desire.
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The Corporate Introvert:
How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence
I'm thrilled to announce that my new book, The Corporate Introvert, will be launching on October 6th.
Whether you are a veteran, new or aspiring leader, this book provides models, tips, and inspiring anecdotes to empower corporate introverts to explore their own strengths and overcome traditional obstacles to become confident and authentic leaders.
To celebrate the release, I'm honored to join many podcast warriors to share insights that will make a difference in your career. I hope you will join me throughout the fall Yes, You Can Podcast Tour+.
Shaking It Up
Shedding Introvert Stereotypes for the Real Truth