Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Lessons that might help you embrace your own introversion
Most every introvert can attest that growing up in an extroverted society is difficult. Sometimes coping with that stress can become dangerous. Such was the case with me for much of my teenage and adult life.
I always felt out of place as a kid. Not because I liked to read and had lots of solo hobbies, but because I was reminded how different that truly was by my classmates and at times by my mom. I coped by just huddling closer to home and my own bedroom in particular where I climbed into my closet and closed the door behind me.
Take Your Medicine
As a teen, I discovered the elixir. If I drank enough beer, my troubles seemed to roll away. I became more comfortable around people, I didn't worry what others might have thought. I could relax and somehow be more of myself. That strategy worked well until I got arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) at 18. Yet I couldn't stop my drinking for fear of having to face my anxieties alone.
At college, the pressure to perform in class groups, university socials, not to mention dating attempts drove my conversion from beer to mixed drinks and stronger. My trashcan Pure Grain Alcohol punch made me the most popular Resident Advisor (RA) in the dorm. Yes, there's a lot wrong with that statement.
I've always been a "fun drunk." Happy to joke and play and drink to unconsciousness, never violent or too adventurous. So I never really felt like there was anything wrong with my binge drinking. I felt relaxed, everyone had fun, and no one got hurt.
However, late in my college career that started to change. I think I figured as the stress to perform and compete in the classroom and the job searching process mounted, I had to drink more to cope. Before long, a friend and I stole a lantern off the University's President's Mansion. Weeks later I hosted a dozen delegates of a regional Honor Society convention I organized at a Saturday night house raid of my parent's bar when they were out of town. It still seemed like small stuff at the time.
I also schemed a weekend getaway during New Orleans' Jazz Fest that tested my invincibility. Late in the evening, I made a pitstop in a Bourbon Street bar which required I purchase a drink to use the restroom. My friends headed back to the hotel and I was to follow. However, when I left the bar, I turned the wrong way. A 30-minute drunken stumble later I was accosted by a local at gunpoint who took all my money. I was lucky I wasn't killed at 3am on that dark corner but I was too drunk to even be scared. I looked up once the assailant ran off to see an old lady in a rocking chair simply motioning me to turn around and keep walking. An hour later I arrived at the hotel room penniless but with a great story to share. I was the star of the group. I kept tallying these stories as funny experiences, but they were driven by a need to cool my anxieties and to belong. They kept growing in number and severity.
Once I graduated and entered the corporate world, the pressure skyrocketed. Social expectations, brainstorming sessions, presentations, chitchat! It was really too much. I became the social coordinator amongst my small group of friends. Social coordinator! How did that happen? Well, we were all celebrating our newfound freedom from college and searched for cheap happy hours and free bar food. It was fun, but I actually needed the escape to keep me grounded. Not surprisingly, this translated into my second DUI as I chauffeured the group home late on a Saturday night. I was so lucky no one got hurt that night.
Fast forward to the middle of my career and I faced intense pressure to develop rapport with my teams, schmooze outside customers, debate resources, and strategize with my manager and his leadership team. The stress was unbearable. I couldn't drink enough to distract myself from the pain. This escalated further during a 3-year assignment in London. My job leading a global virtual team, navigating many cultural nuances, and drowning in senior-level politics contributed to a tremendous amount of weight gain. I developed rashes, sciatica, and shingles. And I drank to the point of unconsciousness in foreign lands like London, Singapore, and Taiwan. I got lost on the East End of London at 2am unable to find my way to the train. I passed out in a taxi in Singapore and had no idea how I woke face down on my hotel room floor the next morning with a faint memory of a police station emblazoned in my mind. My work world was shaken and my family life was crumbling.
On my next work trip to Japan, after experiencing a local baseball game that day, I found myself on the bank's edge in Hiroshima. Perhaps triggered by the historical profundity of the location and certainly overwhelmed by the worsening downward spiral of my decades of horrible coping, I began to bawl. Something had to change or I was likely to wind up alone, in prison, or dead.
Not long after that, we transferred back to the States and I posted into a more palatable job and swore off drinking. But that didn't remove the stress of my own introversion. It took me many more years to fix myself.
Opening my Gift
My path back was both simple and the hardest thing I'd ever done. I accepted myself as an introvert and I began to discover what that meant. I began to realize that being an introvert was not a sentencing but a gift. I had innate talents that I'd been hiding because they were different. I learned to develop rapport with others through smaller, one-on-one meetings. I began to prepare for team meetings and customer engagements through a detailed planning process. I coveted my observation and listening skills as a strength. I realized my disdain for advocating positions was actually because I considered all angles and needed time to develop my stance. I found that my perspective on topics, my creative problem solving, and my knack for developing strong teams was unique, successful, and respected. Doing tasks my way finally gave me comfort. I didn't need to hide behind the drinks to be myself or to garner some recognition.
I spent most of my adult life hiding the shame of who I was while struggling to be someone I was not. When I finally embraced my true self, I became a healthier, more confident husband, father, and team member.
Start Your Journey Today!
Everyone has their own story. Some may write-off mine as drunken revelry. But I suspect many people may have similar struggles as mine. I thought I was having fun as a drunk, but I was only covering up my pain and destroying my life. I want you to know you are not alone and that there is a much better way to cope with your introversion. There is a quicker path to embrace your true strengths. And there is a much healthier way to happiness.