“I’m sorry I’m late… I didn’t want to come.”

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I sometimes wish that I could say this out loud. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of group meetings at work, family get togethers to meet the new baby, training courses that require participation, going away and retirement parties, and the list goes on and on. I don’t like networking, small talk or talking about the weather….

Sigh.

Honestly, after work or weekends, I would rather go home, read a good book, go for a run alone, contemplate whether my next painting should be mainly red hues or blue, or just stare at grass growing in my garden.

I do not think I am shy or anti-social. I am not shy as I do not have a fear of negative social judgement.   On the contrary.  Since I started my mindfulness journey, I have learned social judgement does not carry as much weight as it used to. Neither am I anti-social.  I do go out (albeit rarely) for after-work drinks and when I do, I prefer to go with one or two colleagues instead of a large group of people.

I actually did not know exactly how to describe this feeling of “withdrawing” until recently when I saw a passionate discussion by Susan Cain on TED Talks about introversion.  Susan Cain, a self proclaimed introvert, argues that modern Westernized culture sometimes misunderstands and undervalues the power of introverts.  Based on research  and interviews, she argues that our schools and workplaces are designed with extroverts in mind.  In fact, to some extent, we have always extolled the extrovert ideal in the workplace and in the process, does a grave disservice to introverts.  Check out her excellent TED Talks on the power of introverts.  It’s actually quite compelling.

As an introvert, I prefer lower stimulation environments and so prefer quiet, less noise, less action. Extroverts, on the other hand, need more stimulation to feel at their best.  Don’t misunderstand. Some of my best friends are extroverts.  I used to think they have superpowers of unlimited energy. They always seem to be in the middle of the discussion, have the most charisma and people immediately gravitate to them.   Sometimes I jokingly call them my  “DIVA” or “High Maintenance” friends….and we share a good chuckle.

As I was reading more and more about being an introvert, I was transported to a memory of attending a party that my brother and his partner were hosting at their new condo.  The party was in full swing when my husband and I arrived and there were a lot of new people to meet, hands to shake, hors d’oeuvres to enjoy.  After a few minutes of networking, I searched for my brother and found him in his study, going through some digital pictures he had just taken with his new SLR.  To this day, I remember spending more time in his study than out where the laughter and loud lively conversations continued until the wee hours of the morning.

Large family get togethers are particularly exhausting, I find.  Funny how I don’t find get togethers with my side of the family as trying.  It’s likely because my side of the family is made up of introverts….my mother once yelled out jokingly “Anyone here?” as she found the house way too quiet (my father, brother and I generally spent numerous lazy afternoons reading…!).

My husband’s side of the family is a different story.  I do believe they are the exact opposite. Family gatherings are loud, lively and almost always revolving around critiquing the food (their family owned a restaurant once and so they know good food!).  I love these gatherings…but only in small doses.

I realize now that being an introvert IS actually OK.  Of course, I can honestly say that I could NOT have said that in the beginning of my accounting career–I had to impress, had to have super human stamina during audits, be the super social, networking freak. Sure, it was exhausting but had to be done, a rite of passage. The person I am today is older AND hopefully a little wiser, more mindful, more comfortable in my own skin. I paid my dues and have really nothing to prove.  Introvert or not, I like who I am today.

So, I do think the next time I get an invitation and I’m wishy-washy about attending but eventually succumbs… I will be be honest…

“I’m sorry I’m late…I did not want to come.”

Debbie

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Leaving early….

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My best friend at work resigned today. After months and months of “should I or shouldn’t I?”, she finally said “I’m done here.”  She has lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. While she has not had a flare-up in months, she realized that her health was more important and that she would rather focus on her art full time.   So, good-bye stress and office politics!

I have known her for almost 15 years and I knew that this decision to leave did not come easy.  Lots of sleepless nights and doubts about whether she can finally make the leap to the art world full time.  There were good days and not-so-good days but lately, it may have been more of the not-so-good days.

When I did ask her what finally pushed her to make the decision, it was not that she had shrewdly played the stock market and she was financially secure in her decision to quit, but more of avoiding the stress of quarter-ends (which always made her lupus flare up) and that she was at her happiest when she was making art (encaustic paintings). “Life is too short.  Do something that makes you happy”, she said.

Retire at 45, what a grand concept!

Like a good accountant, she had crunched the numbers and did her risk analysis, quantitatively and qualitatively, leaving no thought unturned between her left brain and right brain.

If I were in her brain, I think this conversation would have happened:

Left brain:   “Am I nuts?  No steady flow of income? What if I live to be a hundred–am I going to have enough money? What about the social interaction–won’t I  be missing that?  I will miss the office and friends–networking will be more difficult”.

Right brain:  “Right on!  Now I can be the best that I can be! If necessary, I can just live off dreams of apple blossoms and rays of sunshine…that would look pretty, yes?”

Left Brain:  “Apple blossoms and daydreams? If it has a dollar sign in front of it, sure!”

Right Brain:  “Art makes me happy….now I can do more…and sell more.”

Left Brain:  “How about day to day expenses?  Medical insurance? Dental care? Trust fund for Sunny?  He is only 11 years old but he may want to go to university? It will be expensive.”

Right brain:   “That is taken care of–took that into consideration when you crunched the numbers, remember?”

Left Brain: “What if….?”

Right brain:  “So ‘what if’…?”

Left Brain:  “I’M SCARED.”

Right brain:   “It will be alright.  If we don’t do this now, we will regret it forever…”

At some point, the left and right would have finally agreed and taken the right course of action:  to be happy.

I must admit, I am a little envious of my best friend having the courage to walk away from a well-paying job and step into a world of uncertainty.  I wish her all the best and knowing her, I am absolutely sure she will do well in her new adventure.

As for those of us left behind, the ripple of her leaving is already being felt in all parts of the team.  She will be sorely missed.  However, most of the topics of conversations around the water cooler were ” Retirement at 45 is possible?! Really?” and  “What makes me happy?  I should really plan for it..and plan well.”

So, the question that you should ask yourself “If I were on my death bed, would I wish that I had spent more time in the office….or more time dreaming about apple blossoms and rays of sunshine?”

Hmmmm….No regrets.

Debbie.

“Patience, Grasshopper…”

I think if I were a mindfulness teacher, that is the first thing I would teach.

Patience.

This was my homework for the year (aka my New Year’s resolution, you could say). Cultivate patience. I realized from the get go though that I am definitely not a patient  person.  Some memorable instances I noticed these past months:

  • Pressing the elevator buttons more than once, as if it will make the elevator come any faster
  • Getting antsy when my computer doesn’t boot up fast enough in the morning
  • I interrupt people mid-sentence. Ugh. I hate this particular one. So very rude of me.

These little tidbits made me realize that I definitely need to work on this virtue.

I honed on to the act of impatience that really resonated with me–interrupting people.  Makes me cringe just thinking about it.

So these past months, I resolved to not interrupt anyone. Let them finish their thought and respond at the right moment.

As part of this journey, I eventually noticed that my bad habit of interrupting generally revolved with either of these two thoughts:

  • “Why are you talking so slow?! Can you hurry it up?  Talk faster?  I’m so busy! I don’t have all day, you know.  Gosh.”  This is generally accompanied by creasing of my brows and my shoulders tensing up.

Or

  • I already have a preconceived idea and cannot wait to tell the person. It’s like “I HAVE TO TELL YOU NOW!  NOW!  NOW!!”

So, like a little grasshopper, I can’t seem to stand still. I’m jumping all around…jump, jump, jump!

I tried different ways of ceasing my fidgeting.  Taking deeper breaths (this didn’t work out well since it seemed to always come out as sighs), blinking a few times (this usually made the other person uncomfortable), or doing little unnoticeable movements (moving my toes, crossing, uncrossing my legs).  Then one day, I actually thought, ” What is your hurry, Debbie?  YOU are always in a hurry!”.

This made me pause.  “Yeah, WHY do I always feel so rushed, so much in a hurry?”  Hmmm, interesting.  I am not sure–definitely something to think about.

Anyway, after this eureka moment, I don’t interrupt anymore. Oh, ok. I may slip once or twice but recently, I have been a very patient person.  I realize too that it makes me feel better since the other person actually feels that I am listening….and I am.

So, patience little grasshopper…there is really no reason to hurry, is there?

Debbie.