An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You'd Rather Stay Home)

networking tips for introverts
Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Do you ever find yourself hiding in the bathroom at work? How often do you hear these refrains? “Network your way to the top.” “Always say yes.” “Never eat lunch alone.” “Get out there.”

If your answers were “yes” and along the lines of “too often,” you’re not alone. Self-proclaimed hermit and digital marketing entrepreneur Morra Aarons-Mele knows exactly how you feel. Her new book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), challenges us to rethink success and happiness—and to get intimate with our own anxiety. There’s an ethos out there that to be successful you need to always be on, always networking, developing passion projects, tweeting, keynoting. To this, Aarons-Mele calls bullshit.

To hear more, we sat down with the woman who helped Hillary Clinton log onto her first internet chat (true story) to dive into some of her discoveries about working, and living, well. Here are our biggest takeaways.

Embrace Your Anxiety

Instead of fighting your anxiety, embrace it as an integral part of who you are. “It’s not going to magically go away, so recognize the ways it can help you in your career,” says Arrons-Mele. For instance, if it makes you more attuned to people’s moods, you can use that to your advantage. “It gives me a drive that is an essential part of who I am,” she says.

Find a Path That Works for You

The corporate world is not for everyone. But, moving on to new jobs or new places isn’t always the quick fix we want it to be either. Aarons-Mele says, “Take the time to have an honest conversation with yourself about what you want to do, not just who you want to be.” It’s worth saying again—rather than focusing on who you want to be, focus on what you want to do.

Lean In Less

The “lean in” mantra doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. As Aarons-Mele reminds us, “Women in the workplace deal with a lot of pressures—and really high-achieving women often run up against a judgment for their career decisions. Women who decide to ‘do less’ with their careers—like leaving a high-powered job, working from home, or getting out of the rat race—often feel like they’re not only letting the people in their lives down but that they might be letting feminism down too. But not everyone can lean in all the time, and we all have different versions of success.”

Make Small Changes

Living smarter and working better don’t have to mean you uplift your entire life. For Aarons-Mele, it’s all about the attainable. "We’ve all read Eat, Pray, Love and heard the stories of people who give it all up to find their bliss, and everything magically works out,” she says. “But for most of us, that’s not realistic. There are bills to pay, student loans. So instead, focus on small changes. What’s making you unhappy? Is it your commute? Is it your horrible, toxic boss? Is it that you hate working in an open-plan office? Or maybe you feel your skills could be better used if you worked in a different field?” Whatever your answers, she says, there are so many ways to make changes that are achievable and can have a powerful impact on your wellness.

Beware of Achievement Porn

Achievement porn creates a toxic cycle of career anxiety. So, what is it, exactly? “Like with porn, you know it when you see it,” she says. “We all see the endless articles about incredible founders who never slept, never stopped, never took no for an answer, and retired at 32. Social media creates the appearance that everyone else is achieving 24 hours a day.” Step away from the screen and create your own vision of success, she says. Your vision can be small, specific. For example, it could be as seemingly simple as “I want to wake up happy Monday morning.”

30 Is Not the Enemy

Those of us approaching 30 often feel rushed to get our act together. Aarons-Mele knows what that’s like. “It can often feel as though turning 30 is this looming deadline—like if we don’t achieve something by age 30, it will never happen,” she says. Well, cool it, she advises. “It doesn’t all have to happen today. We create these artificial milestones for ourselves: Finish graduate school by 27, find a partner by 30, buy a home by 35.” These deadlines we impose on ourselves can get in the way of leading a truly authentic life. Give yourself the freedom to explore at any age.

Introverts Can Be Ambitious

Think introverts can’t be ambitious? Think again. “Introversion doesn’t mean you’re shy or quiet. It means your energy is drained in specific situations that are very common in business,” she says. “So, the key is to manage your energy. If you’re an ambitious introvert and you want to go build a billion-dollar business, go for it. Just understand how to manage your time and your energy so you don’t get too rundown. And if that’s not you, move your career on your own terms and at your own pace. We’ve told people for too long that there is one kind of success and, usually, it’s about money or visibility, and that’s not true."

Channel Your Inner Oprah

Sometimes you still just have to get out there, whether it’s to a conference or networking event. And when you do, set yourself up for success. “First of all, know why you’re there,” says Aarons-Mele. “Be strategic and take charge of when you say yes and when you say no.”

Rule number two: Plan your outfit and appearance. “You need to feel in control of how you look, and if you feel awkward, it will compound everything else,” she adds. Lastly, be the one to ask the questions. “If you ask people questions, they will think you are a fabulous conversationalist,” she says.

Eat Lunch Alone

Carving out space for alone time is crucial to our well-being and career longevity, so Aarons-Mele rejects the “never eat lunch alone” maxim. “Having alone time is one of the biggest keys to success,” she says. “We need it to be creative, to think, to recharge. It’s a gift. Some of our greatest thinkers—from artists to composers to software engineers—have done great things by themselves. So reframe your thinking from I always have to be networking to Wow, it’s wonderful to spend some time with myself.

Perfect Is the Enemy of Good

This is Aarons-Mele’s favorite mantra—and for good reason. “Ambitious, high-achieving women tend to place so much pressure on themselves to do everything perfectly, and it’s a losing battle,” she says. “Just remember: The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

If you try these networking tips for introverts, be sure to let us know if they work for you!

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