An Introvert on the Career Schmooze

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Long ago, a mentor said to me, “Deborah, to gain the career you want, you must schmooze.”  I interpreted schmoozing as going to functions that you do not like, where there are powerful, or potentially powerful, people in your industry and ingratiate yourself to this group.

As an introvert, highly-sensitive person, and chitchat avoid-er, I was never really comfortable with schmoozing.

A local leader in my industry invited a select few university students to his house for dinner. Guess it’s time to schmooze; I accept.

Turns out I misheard. The dinner party is actually cocktails by the pool -one of those gatherings where you stand around and pontificate over a glass of Merlot.  I did not anticipate this scene. (1)Chitchat is always awkward and (2) dinner would have given me something to do.  Now, my teetotaling self must stand there with a glass of water trying to be interesting. Already I’m uncomfortable and want to go home.

However, I recall my mentor’s words – Schmooze, Deborah. Schmooze!

I remain at the party,  but I stand next to the Gouda tray, hoping to blend in to the nearby ferns, I guess. One of my classmates sidles up to me -a classmate who is clearly on his second glass and who has never said more to me then, “What’s the homework?”    Holding forth about his career, he says, “Yep! I do not like [our industry] – it’s boring, it’s tedious, I can’t stand it.” ” But this,” he says, sweeping his glass in an arch towards the house, the pool, and the cheese,” is why I’m doing it.”

Sip.

At that moment, I stopped feeling awkward and contemplated what I had just heard. This young man was going into a career that he already knows he does not like, just to have a pool that he will not have time to use. The industry that we were headed into works you with long hours; he would only have to time to brag about the pool at work, not actually use it. Not only that, once he earns the physical object he wants,  he is still left with the career that he hates.

Maybe that’s why he felt the need to imbibe, to get away. I felt an enormous wave of pity towards him. “Isn’t there any other way to buy your pool,” I thought, “than putting yourself through a career that is clearly torture for you?”

Hours later at home, as I contemplated the scene again, I realized I had also tortured myself by staying longer than I should have.  Years later I realized that I had done a disservice to  myself  by  being in denial and remaining in an industry and a culture that I did not like.

I say this, fellow introvert, not to discourage you from accepting invitations, but to learn from my mismanagement of self.

Sure, we all do uncomfortable things, that’s a part of life. However, many introverts still complain about networking. I posit that schmoozing might not always be the problem for introverts on the career hunt; sometimes the issue is in not knowing what is important enough to us to be worth the discomfort.

Going to that party was an attempt to boost a career that I did not want. (But I had not yet admitted that to myself.). Therefore, staying at the party past my comfort was not worth the time.  I could have used the time to build a different career in another, more organic way.

We’ve talked about dirt sandwiches before on this website. Every lifestyle -whether introverted or not- has something unpleasant about it, what I call a “dirt sandwich.”

For an introvert, that might mean the unpleasantness of networking to find a job, or suffering through initial chitchat to find compatible friends. Whatever your dirt sandwich may be, you must decide this: For what are you so hungry that you do not mind grit in your teeth to gain or maintain that life?

Everybody must decide this, not only introverts. It’s just that the dirt sandwiches differ with each person.

For introverts, maybe the job which requires so much networking isn’t for you, even if you are good at the job. Perhaps the psychological and emotional cost of entry for that career is not within your emotional budget right now. Perhaps your mind is trying to tell you to go in another direction and you are not listening.

Perhaps more introverts should ask, “What would I like my life to look like?” Answer that, and networking  becomes just another dirt sandwich – nothing pleasant, but nothing quite so major as it was for me at that party.

Since that party, I have reinterpreted schmoozing as being around like-minded people. It has been my experience that when you become excited about a job or career -one that you really want-  you might be nervous at first, but you plow right through, even if it comes at the high cost of social interaction. And sometimes it’s actually fun -Imagine that!- because you are discussing topics that are interesting to you with people who share that interest.

You learn to create a budget for networking, psychologically. That might mean that after networking, or interviewing, or whatever-ing, you decide to journal about your progress (or however you decompress). Before a meeting, you might have butterflies in your stomach, a frog in your throat – basically, the whole animal kingdom in your gut- but you push through it, because it gets you closer to that life you want so much.

Let me sum it up. To introverts on the career/job hunt:

  1. What would you like your life to look like?
  2. Does that job/career get you closer to that life in a meaningful way?
  3. Make sure to budget -psychologically- if that career you want comes with the high cost of schmoozing.
  4. Schmoozing is a little less aggravating when you’re working towards something meaningful to you.
  5. (Oh yes, and don’t try to do this alone, if possible. Have someone who can commiserate with you -whether that’s a career coach, friends/ family, or the nice people on your Facebook group.)

Peace be with you,

Deborah

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