Updated: Jul 11, 2020
How Hiroshima Became My Personal Turning Point
In 2006, I was in the middle of a three year ex-pat assignment in London. The daily grind of stakeholder engagement, with staff scattered around the world, with peers and managers in London, and with customers far and wide was creating too much pressure for my introverted personality to manage. I'd resorted to very unhealthy coping mechanisms. I ate my way around the world and I drank to excess often to dull the anxiety.
In my memoir, In Search of Courage, I captured my feelings...
Every week seemed to be filled with conflict…with my manager, my peers, some of my staff, and an occasional competitor concerned about Shell flexing its muscles in their market. Over the years I developed a strong aversion to conflict, largely from the years of observing constant bickering between my mom and my headstrong sisters growing up at the Crestbrook house, but also supported by my own faint-hearted nature. But the tension at work was becoming unbearable.
My retreat became my long transcontinental travels. Every couple of weeks I found myself on flights lasting 6 to 20 hours. Comforted in first class with a good meal, free flowing wine, plentiful chocolate, no blinking Blackberry, and no badgering stakeholders, I took refuge. I rarely slept on flights, desperately wanted to take full advantage of such an escape.
Occasionally I had the opportunity to stay in amazing spots during the weekend in the middle of my two-week business trips out east. These were always solo weekends which satisfied my venturesome curiosity, but more importantly, fulfilled my need for solitude to balance the work week strain.
In the September of 2006, I had such a chance to see the overwhelming history and emotions of Hiroshima in between a visit to Tokyo and a week in Singapore. Upon arriving from Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train, I spent a couple of hours touring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. To see the horrible death, disfigurement, and utter annihilation of an entire city and its people was chilling. Now, they've dedicated their city and story to advocating for non-proliferation and peace around the world.
After walking around the city, I sat by the calm banks of the Motoyasu River next to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to journal about the horrific scenes captured in the museum and the perspective it brought to my personal struggles.
Given how my condition was spiraling out of control at this point, I especially needed this trip. I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I think I either have to overcome my fears and beat this social anxiety or prepare myself to move on to a job more suitable for my style and talents. But after all these years, I don’t think I will change who I am. But how can I walk away from this senior job, from the security it provides me? A change might be the right thing to do, but it’s so much to consider. I feel like I’m at a crossroad, just standing here, unable to move.
I barely understood my introversion and it would be over a decade before I truly embraced my personality to find happiness.
I parked my sadness and joined a packed house to watch the Hiroshima Carp professional baseball team beat the Yakult Swallows 5-2 to the delight of excited fans waving their streamers and pom poms, all with the pain of World War II providing the backdrop just over the left field fences.
Unfortunately, I struggled for more than a year after Hiroshima, trying to find the courage to make the decision I knew was best for me and my family. Yet I was overwhelmed by the concern of providing for my family and living up to the expectations of others.
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