Why Success Has Been a Tough Road For This Introvert

woman wearing black leather shoes
Photo by Inga Seliverstova on Pexels.com

My first day in television news was like any other newcomer’s entrance into that surreal world. I met people I had previously only seen on television, and this introvert tried her best not to appear starstruck.

One of the first things I noticed was that the reporters and anchors I met that day looked different than they did on the screen. The foundation caked on their faces, which made them look good on camera, made them look ridiculously made up in person. Their suits and dresses were faded or threadbare.

Then there was the immediate assault on my senses. The noise was all around me. There was furious typing to meet deadlines. Anchors were reading scripts out loud to prepare for going on air. There was a swish of reporters coming and going, and I heard sound bites played over and over again. And the assignment desk phone (the hub of the newsroom) ringed constantly.

The general feeling in the room was one of anxiousness. I met grumpy producers fighting the ever-present exhaustion and stress that comes with the territory. I met young, hungry reporters who were hurriedly working on their stories to meet deadlines, while veteran reporters worked steadily, comfortable in the ease that comes from years of experience. And I met executive producers and newsroom managers with shrewd eyes ready to whip everyone into a frenzy on any hint of breaking news.

It was into this world that this quiet, reserved, and utterly passive introvert – who was terrified of speaking in public and paralyzed by what others thought of her – walked into that day.

I was very young and had one goal — to be a writer, any writer. So when an opportunity to intern as a broadcast news writer at a local television station presented itself, I took the meager-paying job without thinking.

I did not know I would be walking into a job where I would be surrounded by Type A personalities — a sea of high achievers with an insatiable drive to succeed. I did not realize I would have to speak to important people, some of whom would not be so nice. I did not know I would be working with an old, bad-tempered television producer who considered me a horrible writer and would often rewrite my news scripts just before air. And I did not realize that I had placed myself directly into the very type of environment that I had always said I would avoid.

Honestly, I was scared to death that first day and nervous as hell. Butterflies in the stomach? More like a handful of stainless steel forks.

My mind — my introvert mind — was on complete overload. But even though my anxiety level was at an all-time high, at the same time, I was over the top ecstatic and extremely proud that my college education and determination had led me to that place.

News Camera, Woman Being Interviewed
Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

I was an intern at that local television station for one year, and during that time, I learned how to write broadcast news scripts and online stories, answer the newsroom phone and operate the teleprompter. Of course, there were the typical intern-level tasks like opening the newsroom mail and taking water to the anchors during commercials. I remember one female anchor who was short. She never wanted to appear so on-air when standing next to another anchor or reporter and was always beckoning me to bring her a special wooden box that she could stand on. I thought it was so silly.

By the end of the year, the broadcast news scripts I wrote seemed to mostly satisfy the veteran news producer I worked with. I had studied his rewrites carefully and learned the type of writing style he preferred. I also made friends with an overworked young woman who sat in a back room all by herself, updating the television station’s website. I started writing full-length news articles to help her out and began building my professional writing portfolio. When my first article was published online, I was over the moon. It was a business story about a new service Microsoft was launching. And although it was buried on the website, I printed it out and coveted that story for a long time.

The internship was the beginning of a long career in television news. I wore many hats — intern, broadcast news writer, morning news producer, web producer, online field reporter, travel and outdoor writer/editor, executive digital producer, and interim digital director. Through it all, I wrote and wrote, accumulating hundreds of bylines along the way and becoming a veteran television news staffer who was adept at creating online news content, working breaking news stories, and overseeing big event coverage like elections.

It sounds like a success, right?

Perhaps, but being an introvert working in television news was anything but easy, and I never felt successful. What I felt was anxious all of the time, unsure of myself, and I had a sneaking feeling that I was always ten steps behind everyone else. Every day felt like a struggle as I tried desperately to overcome my solitary, lone-wolf behavior.

I had brilliant ideas that never left my mouth because I was too terrified of the possibility of rejection. There were times I knew I should be interviewing a particular person for a story but was too afraidto call them up or approach them in person. I often had to give a presentation, and despite knowing the subject inside and out, I was so completely terrifiedthat my voice broke, my face turned a bright crimson red, and I thought at any moment I might drop dead of a heart attack. And there were innumerable times when I let others have a voice instead of me.

Over the years, I became jealous of my extrovert colleagues, who, in my eyes, seemed to have it so easy.

They were outspoken, confident, and never seemed to be afraid of speaking in front of others. Nothing appeared to phase them and watching them so easily navigate their careers stirred up even more negative feelings. I began equating being an introvert with being stupid and not being ‘normal’ like everyone else. I felt as if I did not belong in a newsroom — that there was no place for me in such a busy, hectic, extrovert-rich environment, and it was a complete fluke that I had lasted as long as I had.

I let all of those insecurities grow over time and added more along the way. They filled my head, piling up until they were overflowing like a garbage can that never gets emptied. I stuffed the garbage down in the can many times to try to stem the overflow, but the pile kept growing.

Despite my own view of myself, I did advance in my television news career. Sometimes I would feel accomplished — high on the feeling of a job well done. But more often than not, I would instead feel like I was always somehow falling short and was simply getting lucky.

Some of my experiences over the years stand out quite clearly.

One year, I was chosen to travel to Ohio for a television news leadership camp. We all slept in cabins in the woods, took classes during the day, and participated in outdoor team building activities like pole climbing.

It was both exciting and one of the most uncomfortable and exhausting experiences of my life. Introverts, by nature, can only handle so much social interaction. Every minute of every day, and night, was planned for me at that camp. By that time, I had worked in television news long enough to be adept, if I chose to, at creating the illusion of being somewhat extroverted. But I could only manage to do so for short bursts. By the end of the camp experience, I was mentally exhausted by it all. And I left feeling like I had no place being a leader.

Later in my career, I attended a large conference in New Orleans, where news directors and newsroom managers from across the nation gathered to hear from speakers, participate in workshops and socialize.

If I thought leadership camp had been bad, this was even worse. For one, I was selected to give a presentation to my peers from across the nation. That, alone, gave me such extreme anxiety that by the time I boarded the plane to New Orleans, I was sick to my stomach. Once it came time to step up in front of everyone, I felt even worse. Although I was well-prepared, I failed miserably when it came to the delivery. When it was over, I sadly slunk to my chair in the back of the room, fought back the tears, and wished for a quick, painless death.

Once again, I also found myself roped into day and night activities that were already planned out for me. Workshops during the day, and special activities in the evenings for ‘socializing’ with colleagues and peers.

There was one evening during the trip where I decided not to attend that evening’s social activity — a cooking class. Instead, I decided I wanted some ‘me’ time, and it was my understanding that once the day’s workshops were over, the evening activities were optional. I had a lovely dinner by myself, visited tourist shops and bought souvenirs, saw some beautiful sights, enjoyed a nice swim at the hotel pool, and then spent a quiet night in my room.

It was my favorite evening out of the trip, but I would later learn that it had been frowned upon. I was told that even though it wasn’t explicitly stated, the evening social activities (like the cooking class) were actually required attendance. My absence had been noted.

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The corporate office extroverts didn’t understand my introverted behavior, and I guess to them, I had basically gone AWOL. It was yet another reminder, I told myself, that I was an introvert trying to build a career in an extrovert world. I didn’t really belong.

I remember feeling a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I felt utterly deflated, but on the other, I was angry at their lack of understanding.

Months later, I applied for a job at the corporate office and was rejected. They likely found a better candidate, but in my mind, I felt I had ruined my chances at advancement by not attending that cooking class. I felt I had been blacklisted. That belief reared its ugly head a year later when a position opened up that I was well suited for. At first, I was excited to apply and did. I was selected as a viable candidate and brought in to the hiring process, which was pretty intense. Midway, I dropped out when the stress of it all, plus my own nagging fears about my worthiness, became too much.

My mind’s thoughts were divided between ‘you can totally do this, Shannon,’ vs. ‘you know you are an idiot for even trying, right?’

It was that cooking class that kept rearing its ugly head in my mind.

‘Why didn’t I go to the class like everyone else? What was I thinking? How could I be so stupid?’ I did eventually come back to my senses and throw my hat back in the ring. But by then, it was too late to recover. My internal struggle had sabotaged me, and in the end, another person was hired for the position.

I never hated being an introvert so much in my life.

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I did move forward like we all must do when we fail. I tried my best to put on a positive front. I rolled out the red carpet for the new guy — who was an extrovert to the max — and helped him get up to speed. But inside, I was sinking fast into depression. I wallowed in it and convinced myself that a shy, quiet, understated person is not the type of person who succeeds. I decided that only the boisterous, noisy, confident types can ride the road all the way to the end. I decided that people like me could only go so far before someone points them back in the direction they came from.

It wasn’t long before my complete and utter depression led me to quit my job. Outwardly, I told everyone I was burnt out on television news. It wasn’t a lie — you work long hours in the industry, and the constant, fast pace can really wear you down. And I was certainly overworked by that point.

But the truth was much deeper than that.

So I left. I took a job with a company as a marketing manager. I thought my news experience qualified me for the position, but I was wrong. Rather quickly, I learned that working in a television newsroom, as glamourous as it sounds, does not prepare you for the real world. Sure, you can expertly gather news and write about it, but can you create a landing page? Can you write content with keywords that are built for SEO? Can you build an email newsletter? I didn’t know how to do any of that, and terminology like CPC and marketing funnels were completely foreign.

I also didn’t know that I would be required to participate in social functions and give presentations regularly. ‘No! I screamed in my head every time. This can’t be happening.’ I completely spun out of control once again, sinking lower than I ever had in my life. And I was more stressed than I had ever been while working in television news. I felt completely out of my element, and the social functions and presentations sent my anxiety skyrocketing. Sometimes I would sit in my car and cry — not outside the building where I worked, but across the street in another building’s parking lot so my colleagues wouldn’t see. ‘I hate myself. I can’t do this. Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why can’t I be normal?’

Hand Reaching Out of Water
Photo by Ian on Unsplash

I lasted only about a year and a half at that job. I began searching for a new job about a year in. I was desperate to get out of the uncomfortable position I had found myself in and accepted the first job offer I received — an administrative role with some marketing duties thrown in. I was suddenly doing something I hadn’t done since I was 18 years old — answering phones, inputting data, and pushing paperwork. And I was not too fond of it. What I disliked more, though, was myself for making decisions that had completely derailed my career, decisions that were based on a distorted view of myself.

I built a story in my mind that I could never be successful because I was quiet and reserved. That notion became as true in my mind as the sky is blue.

I would have kept going down that path in my mind had it not been for a book I randomly came across when I recently opened an Audible account. It was a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by author Susan Cain. I was intrigued by the title because I had never thought that introverts, like myself, had any power at all. How could introverts possibly have power in a world run by extroverts?

But introverts do have power, Susan Cain explains in her book. She says they are simply extremely undervalued in a culture where what she calls the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ has become synonymous with success.

You see, we are taught from a young age that we should be sociable, outgoing, assertive, and comfortable being front and center. Classroom lessons are based on group activities. Children who are reserved or seem removed from the class are thought to have something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. I remember being that way throughout my school years. I was an excellent student and earned excellent grades, but I always preferred working by myself and got extremely nervous whenever called upon to speak up in class.

That ‘Extrovert Ideal’ extends to the working world. For many employers, the perfect employee is a ‘people person’ who thrives in a team environment and is a highly ambitious achiever who gets things done quickly. When I interview for a job, I always take on that persona because I know that is what employers are conditioned to want. For this reason, I usually interview very well, and it has helped me land jobs.

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

In truth, though, I am a person who prefers to work alone. If the stock photo above were a picture of my co-workers and me, I would be the older woman on the left looking on from a distance. I like to take things slowly to put serious thought into what I am trying to accomplish. And I like to have my own space, away from others, that allows me to explore my creativity. I hate rushing through tasks, trying to regain my thoughts amid constant interruptions, and being pulled in so many different directions that I lose my focus. My brain doesn’t operate the same as an extrovert’s brain does. I need time to think things through and the space to be able to execute.

I have never in my life had a job that allowed me to do that, even outside of television news. And unfortunately, the traits I listed above are often mistaken for their negative counterparts: The employee is slow. They’re not a team player. They don’t come to work with enthusiasm, so they must not care. They can’t keep up with their colleagues. They can’t think quickly on their feet.

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Those are misconceptions, though. Introverts have much to offer — they are independent thinkers who have great ideas and are innovative. Cain cites Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, as an example of a famous introvert who achieved great things by spending time alone with his own ideas. And she explains that introverts, with their ability to listen to others and weigh all options quietly, can be great leaders as well. You don’t have to be loud to make a difference. For example, introvert Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

I sorely wish Cain’s book had been around when I started my career, but that was long before she would become a best-selling author. If her book had been around earlier in my life, it might have saved me a lot of heartache, misconception, and feelings of inadequacy that inevitably led me down a dark path. I don’t necessarily have a desire to shake the world, as Gandhi said, but I am beginning to have a newfound perspective. Of course, I have spent an entire lifetime beating myself up, so my new revelations aren’t exactly changing me overnight. I still have deep feelings of inadequacy that are very difficult for me to overcome.

But I am slowly learning to stop apologizing or feeling guilty for who I am. I am starting to feel proud of my introverted nature and am beginning to regain my career.

Once you stop being so down on yourself, things really can start shifting in a positive direction, I am learning.

I still have far to go, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like it is perfectly ok to be just who I am. And rather than allowing my introverted nature to hold me back, I am ready to allow it to let me grow. If you are an introvert who has struggled in your career as I have, I encourage you to read Susan Cain’s book and listen to some of her Ted Talks, like this one:

There is much more to Susan Cain’s book than what I have outlined here, like exploring the neurobiology that makes introverts and extroverts so different. I found it absolutely fascinating to learn how the brains for each type of personality are wired. She also explores many of the myths out there — like extroverts are naturally happier than extroverts, or all introverts are shy.

Finally, I would like to leave you with five quotes from Susan Cain that really struck home with me. I hope they help you too:

#1 — “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

#2 — “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured. Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to be.

#3 — “Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.”

#4 — “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

#5 — “Stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns.”

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