Lessons that might help you avoid pitfalls and tragedies
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.
This week's post is an update of one of my most revealing and personal posts. We all have a story to tell. My journey was filled with escape, danger, and near disaster.
And when I reached the bottom, I finally discovered the beauty and strength of my introversion.
We are not alone, we just may need a bit of a reality check and some well-placed guidance. I invite you to read my story here and consider if it's time for you to embrace your own introversion.
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 friends when I was drinking, I didn't worry about 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 and 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.
Gunpoint 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 but it was building. Next, I 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 who took all my money at gunpoint. 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 (yes, at 3 in the morning!) 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, largely so I could promote mind-numbing evenings out. Still, social coordinator! How did that happen? Well, we were all celebrating our newfound freedom from college and searching 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.
Base Bawl 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 t a pause on my 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 were 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.
My paradigm shifted from trying to "cope" with introversion as if it was some horrible disease, to proudly championing my own introversion, enabling me to be successful in meetings and social situations by doing it my way!
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. 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 toward embracing your true strengths. And there is a much healthier way to happiness.
Everyone deserves to be happy and confident in who they are. Embrace your introversion. Learn to stand tall and be proud. You, your family, and your work team deserve to have the real you!
If you'd like to learn more about my journey, my lessons, and my triumphs, check out my award-winning memoir, In Search of Courage: An Introvert's Story. “I couldn’t stop reading to find out the next roadblock he faced along his journey and how he coped with it.” -Mike Kowis, 4-time award-winning author Courage is available in eBook for $2.99 or pick up your paperback copy for only $11.99! Click on the cover to see more and order your copy today!
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The Questions Introverts Ponder and The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
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The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.
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