Shyness is Vulgar

I’m a big fan of Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog because it’s an interesting and brutally honest mix of career, love and life advice.

Trunk is a newspaper columnist who gives weekly career advice and also the founder of three start-up companies including Brazen Careerist, a social networking-styled “career management tool for next-generation professionals.”

She also has Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome, if you’re not familiar with it, is  an autism spectrum disorder. People diagnosed with Asperger’s typically exhibit difficulties with social interaction. These difficulties usually manifest in behaviors that cause the person to appear at best, aloof, disinterested or merely awkward and, more commonly, inappropriate and rude.

Trunk, who frequently writes about her autism,  is aware of how others often view her but that doesn’t mean she can easily change her behaviors. After all this is the woman who set off an Internet firestorm after she infamously tweeted her miscarriage

The tweet in question: “”I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.”

Reaction, not surprisingly, was intense.

Here’s just a snippet of Trunk’s response to the vitriol.

To all of you who said I should not be happy about having a miscarriage: You are the ones short on empathy. Any woman who is pregnant but wishes she weren’t would of course be grateful when she has a miscarriage. Yes, there are many women who want the baby and have a miscarriage. I was one of them. I cried for days. I get it.

But if you have ever had an abortion, which I have, you would know that a miscarriage is preferable to an abortion. Even the Pope would agree with that.

And what is up with the fact that just one, single person commented about how Wisconsin has a three-week waiting period for abortions? It is absolutely outrageous how difficult it was going to be for me to get an abortion, and it’s outrageous that no one is outraged.

Go read the rest of that post, please.  It’s honest in a way that’s both cringe-inducing and admirable. I only wish I had the guts to be so forthright.

In November, she wrote a post about how to “leverage the advantages to being an introvert at work.”

As someone with Asperger’s, Trunk wrote, it’s often difficult to have “normal” workplace relationships–she has to try much harder than most to fit in – even at the company she founded:

The workplace is set up to reward extroverts. The bias against introverts in American society is well documented, including research that shows that a spot on the cheerleading team foreshadows career success much more reliably than a spot on the honor roll. Also, workplace catch phrases that annoy everyone are especially annoying if you’re not an extrovert: Toot your own horn! Your career is only as strong as your network! Let’s do lunch!

I’m not autistic but I am extremely introverted and I know this has, at times, affected everything from the kind of projects I work on and what kind of support I seek to my overall job satisfaction.

The first time I worked at the News & Review I had the luck to fall in with two smart, extremely talented women – one is something of an extrovert, the other more reserved, like me. We formed a tight-knit group within which I felt confident and happy. I believe this affected how I related to others and, as a result, I was a little more extroverted.

My next job was at an online music magazine in New York. The building was in a Wall Street high-rise, everyone wore designer clothes (seriously), partied late into the night and hobnobbed with famous people. They were nice to me and polite but I had trouble connecting with even one person on anything but the most superficial of levels. This came as a blow to me after the SNR and I know it affected not just my happiness but the job itself.

Subsequently, I’ve learned that one of my challenges is to push at my own social boundaries, to reach out to others, to initiate conversations. Of course, that’s easier said than done. And it’s even more difficult these days because I work two part-time jobs. I’m an adjunct professor — which means I’m part-time, have no office and am only on campus for a few hours each week. I also work part-time at the SNR and I’m typically in the office for about 10-15 hours a week; the rest of my work happens at home or in the field. Sometimes if I’m working on a cover story I’m there even less which means I have to try that much harder to build and maintain those relationships.

Trunk’s advice, however, is  to try — but not by completely negating what makes you you.

“Introversion is an important thing to have in a workplace – the trick is having introverts that understand why they’re so valuable,” she writes.

Among the advice she gives introverts is to “take control of your work” and “have confidence in your knowledge” and, perhaps, just as important, “give 10 minutes than go”

“Make a  connection, really contribute to the conversation, and then ten minutes is enough. …. (E)xtroverts often have anxiety that they cannot get access to the introverts in their life – because they are always leaving to be alone. Introverts can alleviate this problem by being fully attentive for a short time and then leaving.”

With that in mind, sometimes I think I got lucky with my choice of profession. Being a journalist and now a teacher forces me to regularly interact with people. It’s nearly beside the point that I dread the seconds before an interview or the moments before I step into a classroom. Once I’m there, especially if I feel confident with what I know, what I want to ask, what I want to say, then I find it easier to talk and forget why I was so anxious to begin with. Journalism in particular has been such an asset to my life in this way – I say, only half-joking, that I wouldn’t have any friends were it not for my job. It forces me out of my shell, it gives me the confidence to talk to others, hell, it’s how I met my best friend and my husband.

Which isn’t to say that my shyness still doesn’t present a struggle but the advantage of growing older, I guess, is that I recognize this and can at least endeavor to make small changes or,  better yet, sometimes give myself the freedom to just not give a shit if someone thinks I’m weird for sitting at my desk with headphones on, working in my own little world.


6 thoughts on “Shyness is Vulgar

  1. Wow, Rachel. Thanks! That was quite insightful. And as a frequently misunderstood Asperger’s geek with a history of extreme shyness, I was touched and also got a lot out of what you wrote. Cheers! -Jackson

  2. Wow. I am feeling the introversion and the shyness hits me harder as I age — and I can see myself turning into my Dad — my mother calls herself a married single. The man will NOT go out. I. Do. Not. Want. That. I have to keep trying to break out of my mold — but P. Trunk is right — it is really so hard to change behaviors, even ones you know are completely antisocial and shooting you in the foot. In the writing life, there’s a certain amount of getting out there that you HAVE to do — but I didn’t realize that going in. It was tough to have to realize that I would have to sell myself in this biz, just like in every other profession.


  3. Thanks for some interesting reading, Rachel. I’m always interested in the experiences of other natural introverts. I don’t consider it all I am, for sure, but it’s definitely something I have to deal with. I’m always looking for the commonalities amongst us. Us introverts have to exert more effort there, but it’s there if we do. ~allyson

  4. I feel like I’m someone who can sometimes ride the line between being an introvert and being an extrovert – my job forces me to be extroverted and I’m glad for that. Sometimes / often I can carry that over into regular social situations…I guess part of it’s that building habits/behaviors thing…and Tanita, I know exactly what you mean…it’s like, wait…I’m a writer! I’m supposed to be allowed to just hide away….

  5. Funny, that people can have such deep opinions about another person’s personal life. Even if she made it public by tweeting it, that doesn’t mean it’s a matter for comment, or should be subject to criticism.

    Then again, perhaps I just live in a world where people ought to be polite, i.e., not the world of twitter.

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