At my first review at a prestigious, big box ad agency, my boss firmly told me that while my work was excellent, if I wanted to succeed more people needed to know my name. In her words, I needed to cultivate a “more powerful presence.”
I was baffled.
Though I’d never been the loudest voice in a room, the agency was filled with my friends from past jobs and advertising programs. In fact, I often left work exhausted by the sheer social nature of my job. I presented well, thanks to my radio deejay background. Sure, I wasn’t planning on joining an improve troupe anytime soon, but what more did she want from me?
I’m in an introvert by nature. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a gal who values her alone time- taken with a side of black coffee and fantasy fiction novel, please. My closest friends even have a name for it- my pitter patter time. Before I entered my career, I actually thought that my gentler nature was an asset amongst those with fierier dispositions.
However, since becoming an advertising creative, I have received the same critiques over and over again:
“Be more pushy. But not too pushy.”
“Are you sure you have the right personality for advertising? You need to be more funny.”
“Don’t lose your nice nature. People love it. But, at the same time, be less nice.”
At the same time, my quality of work has never been questioned- making these critiques even more confusing. I don’t think I’m the only woman who battles with this vague commentary. Our abilities aren’t the problem- it’s deeper than that. It’s a vibe that introverted women give to society. Our natural mannerisms and behaviors signal to an extroverted majority that we’re not built to lead. We’re essentially set up to fail.
Womp, womp. The end. Just kidding.
So, as smart, resourceful, beta type women how do we overcome this shroud of incompetence that’s been cast upon us? I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this, and discussing it with my community. Here are three ways that have helped me find success at work, while at the same time, allowed me to still be my most authentic self.
Know Your Sh!t
I know that when I feel underprepared my anxiety kicks in. The second that cold hand of doubt grabs my heart, it’s like my brain starts working in slow-mo. I can’t answer questions quickly enough, and I certainly can’t offer a helpful creative solution on the fly. So, while I’m panicking on the inside, to people on the outside I come off as disinterested and shy. Staying organized, doing my research, and bringing extra ideas to meetings have all been tactics that help me feel sharp and confident- and it shows.
Live in the Now
My fellow introverted creatives can probably relate to this- I’m a real daydreamer. Growing up, I constantly had my head in the clouds. Great for the imagination- for the GPA, not so much. Without self-awareness and discipline, I can space out at a moment’s notice- sorry friends and family. Let’s be real, tedious meetings, late-night brainstorms- these are breeding grounds for pure, unadulterated daydreaming. Though I may be contributing good ideas, the second my mind wanders and I “leave” the room, to my team it looks like I’m unpassionate and disengaged- and frankly, I am! In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for people to forget I had even attended certain meetings. I have found that keeping tabs on my attention span, sitting up straight, not looking at my phone, and making eye contact with whomever is speaking has not only helped me stay more focused, but has also allowed me to stay a part of the conversation.
Make the System Work for YOU
This is the most important piece of advice- don’t change your nature to accommodate someone else. No raise will ever be worth losing the bits that make you, well, you. So find ways to make the system work for you. If huge brainstorms freak you out, attend, act physically present, and make sure to connect with the brainstorm leader after the meeting. Even if you didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in the moment, sending over ideas afterwards shows that you were still engaged. Make small goals that you feel passionate about and take matters into your own hands. At my agency, I really wanted to take on a mentorship role, however, I was continuously passed over. I pitied myself for so long, frustrated that I wasn’t “allowed” to reach my full potential. However, then it clicked- why do I have to wait for an official invitation to pursue my career goals? If I truly believe that I have the chops, why don’t I just skip the political song-and- dance and get down to business. I started reaching out to new creatives on my own and found a way to bring value into my community. Never forget that you, just as you are right now, deserve the opportunity to grow.
Go Forth and Prosper- Just As You Are
Being an introverted creative in an extroverted community has not been easy. I have tried to mold myself into someone else(awkward), felt depressed, and have constantly questioned my career. However, negative thoughts and behaviors will never drive change. I had to stop hurting myself and find reasons to enjoy my job again- a gig I actually really love! These tips and tricks won’t solve everything, but they will help you clear the path to your success. If you feel like you’re invisible or falling short - just know that you’re not alone. Stay true to who you are, learn your strengths and exercise them often. You bring value to your world and while the current system may not always reward it, the people around you notice and care. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.
Sami Ross is a copywriter and creative currently based out of Chicago. Though advertising is her day job, she pursues creative projects in all forms during her spare time. A lover of poetry, music, and design, Sami is always looking for new creative collaborations (hello, children’s book illustrators, she’s looking at you!) When she’s not working, Sami can be found indulging her severe case of wanderlust- even if that just means exploring the next town over. Follow her adventures, and misadventures, on Instagram @beetliever.