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Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Guide To Overcoming Social Anxiety

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Morra Aarons Mele, Introvert, Overcoming Social Anxiety

With Morra Aarons-Mele, Founder of digital marketing firm, Women Online, and author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home)

Hiding In The Bathroom

Steve speaks with Morra Aarons-Mele about her book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), that addresses social anxieties faced by introverts and offers solutions on how to overcome them.

Are You An Introvert?

Steve starts by asking, “How do I know if I’m an introvert?”  Morra jokes that there is no blood test to find out and refers listeners to a quiz in the front of her book, Hiding in the Bathroom.  She also notes that not all introverts are quiet or shy and you can’t always pick out the introverts in a room at a cocktail party.  It’s quite possible that the biggest introvert might just be the person who’s enthralling everyone with a story or up on stage giving an amazing sales pitch.  So, there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts.

Identifying an Introvert

Introverts do share some traits though, says Morra Aarons-Mele.  For instance, they do their best work in a quiet environment and feel really centered and focused when they are alone. When introverts are at public events, they often feel their energy being drained by all the chatter and like to step out and recharge themselves, perhaps with a visit to the restroom… and that’s where Morra got her book’s title, Hiding in the Bathroom.

She believes one very common trait among introverts—one of their secret superpowers—is to have active internal monologues with themselves for creative thought and to recharge themselves.  But this is often mistaken for not being “present” in the room, not being ambitious, or not caring about the conversation.  Introverts are often also mistaken for not being as smart as, say, another person in a meeting who’s talking a lot, and Morra believes that’s simply not the case.

The Overwhelming Impact Of Social Media And FOMO

Next, Steve asks Morra to expand on how social media has worsened the fear of missing out (FOMO).

Morra notes that FOMO is very prevalent in every aspect of our lives today.  For example, a teenager may feel horrible seeing pictures on social media of a party he or she wasn’t invited to.

After having spoken with some of the most successful people in the world as research for Hiding in the Bathroom, Morra believes almost everyone feels some form of FOMO because there’s always someone else who is richer, smarter, thinner, or has some other enviable quality.  We feel it even more today because of social media, which has crossed virtually all boundaries that were earlier considered too private to be shared.  This social media excess worsens the degree of anxiety people feel in our world of instant communications.

The Cure—JOMO

Her recommended cure for all the anxiety caused by FOMO is… JOMO, short for the joy of missing out.  JOMO is really about looking at everything your friends or colleagues say they’re doing and realizing that because you’re not there with them, you’re actually saving time, more focused on doing something that has more meaning to you, and happier.

Anxiety Can Be A Positive Driving Force

That said, anxiety can be a gift that forces you to learn how to take care of yourself by saying no, by discovering JOMO—and that can be incredibly freeing.

She also recommends sharing your anxiety with teammates, in life or at work, so they don’t mistake your introversion for something else and give you space to be yourself, making you a more efficient member of that team.

Set Boundaries

In closing, Morra Aarons-Mele’s book, Hiding in the Bathroom, urges you to set boundaries and enforce them to regain your space, lessen your anxieties, and bring more joy into your life.


Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

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Steve Pomeranz: I know that there are millions out there that are advancing in life and career and doing their best to fit into the messages from our culture. These messages urge us to work ever harder and to always say yes to opportunity. I also know that a large proportion of these individuals suffer great anxiety and fears because, innately, they’re really introverts struggling to be someone they’re not.

So, I found this book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introverts Road Map to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). The author is Morra Aarons-Mele and she joins me today. Hey, Morra, welcome to the show.

Morra Aarons-Mele: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Pomeranz: So, first how do I know if I’m an introvert?

Morra Aarons-Mele: Well, so there’s no blood test right. [LAUGH] Actually I have a clue in the front of my book.

Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.

Morra Aarons-Mele: First of all, I want to say though that not all introverts are quiet, not all introverts are shy. You can’t pick an introvert out of a room at a cocktail party. In fact, one of the biggest introverts you know might be that person who’s enthralling everyone with a story, or up on stage giving an amazing sales pitch. So, I think that there’s a lot of misconceptions about what introverts are and that’s confusing for many of us. If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work in a quiet environment. You like to be alone, and you feel really sort of centered and focused. You might also—if you’re sort of out and about, whether it’s being in a loud or bright open plan office all day or at some sort of cocktail party or professional networking event or whatever, school, your kid’s school function—you feel like Superman and kryptonite is sort of draining the energy out of you, right?

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.

Morra Aarons-Mele: You need breaks. That’s where hiding in the bathroom comes from.

Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH] How many people really are in the bathroom for other reasons? That’s the question of the evening.

Morra Aarons-Mele: Many trust me, but really extra people and large crowds drain you and you recharge and draw energy through alone time. You also…one of the things that I think is very common among introverts which I think is one of our secret superpowers…is we have active internal monologues. We think and recharge and have creative thoughts with ourselves. Which can be hard because, sometimes, people think we’re not present, we’re not ambitious, we don’t care. We’re not even as smart as the other person, say in the meeting, who’s talking a lot and that’s not just true.

Steve Pomeranz: Wow, that’s a lot of great information. You describe in the book the way social media has changed the way people present themselves to the world, and you use this term FOMO, the fear of missing out. Describe the situation we find ourselves in social media these days.

Morra Aarons-Mele: FOMO is so prevalent in every aspect of your life, right? So, if you’re dating, if you’re a teenager—I hear this all the time from young kids—if they’re not invited to a party and you see everyone they know on Instagram looking like they’re having the time of their life. They feel horrible about themselves, right?

Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.

Morra Aarons-Mele: But if you’re like me and you’re a grown up and you’re over 40, you also might see friends having a great time without you, or you might see someone you went to college with, right, who just got an award or who wrote an article. Or, wow!—you can’t even get your kids fed Cheerios for dinner and your good friend is making them perfect bento box lunches are my personal bugaboo. It’s a big thing right now. What did you feed your kid for lunch? How much did you run? So, the thing to remember is we all feel it.

I have talked to some of the most successful people in the world. The kind of people who engender this FOMO and they feel FOMO, right? Because there’s always someone richer, smarter, thinner, whatever. So, A, it’s human, we all feel it. And B, it’s what social media was designed for.

That’s how they keep us addicted, right?

Steve Pomeranz: I want to give in to that aspect of it because, on social media and I think specifically on Facebook, you are kind of putting your shining and shiny self forward all the time. You talk about a disagreement you had with your husband. You called him a Facebook dad. What is a Facebook dad to you?

Steve Pomeranz: What does that mean?

Morra Aarons-Mele: My poor husband. In full disclosure, I adore him. We were going through a rough patch. He actually had a book and he wasn’t home very much. And yet he has this gift for taking uncannily cute photos of our children and finding perfect sort of cute odd shot anecdotes.

He’d put them on Facebook and every everyone we know would say to me, even offline, “man, you’re so lucky. Your husband is the best dad. He’s always with your kids.” I want to be like that is “you know what.” He’s just taking these moments and sharing them and creating the illusion.

It’s so easy. And look, I get it. I’m trying to sell a book right now. So, what am I doing? I’m curating those moments of fabulosity so that people think that I’m worth paying attention to. It’s actually a fantastic business skill, and for introverts, especially, or people like me who are hermits, who like to work at home, Internet curated fabulousness actually can be a strategic tool, but it can also make us feel really bad.

Steve Pomeranz: The book is Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introverts Road Map to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home. So, we want to kind of help you with your goal here of selling more books. The author is Morra Aarons-Mele and we’re talking about kind of existing in a world where you really many times just don’t want to do stuff.
I want to continue with this social media idea because you talked about, even pregnancy is becoming a performance. I mean so and so has a baby bump and we see that picture. And you have a quote. I just feel like— someone said to you—I just feel like we’re living in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy. I mean what is this coming down to?

Morra Aarons-Mele: Yes, and that’s the amazing author Chimamanda Adichie who is a very famous person. Beyonce quoted her in a song and she had a baby and no one knew. And people were kind of pissed at her. Like how dare you not show us your baby bump? And I think that that is really kind of incredible. We fetishize certain life moments. There’s also these new things prom-posals right? Where young people now record a “will you go to prom with me?” on social media and broadcast it for everyone to see. I do think that there’s something performative to these life milestones now, that actually, and if you look at the data it really supports it, it makes us anxious. The baby bump thing is wonderful, but if you’re a person who struggled with infertility and you’re watching your friend’s bump reveal party on Facebook—this is also a new thing or gender reveal—God, it can make you feel bad. So again, I think it’s about having a level of consciousness about all this.

Steve Pomeranz: All right, well, let’s talk about the cure for this, not that there is a pill you can take. But you call it leaning out. Instead of leaning in, leaning out or JOMO, the joy of missing out. What is that?

Morra Aarons-Mele: Yeah, JOMO is a term coined by Anil Dash, who is a fantastic entrepreneur, and he discovered JOMO. When he had his first kid and he stayed home a lot right?—because you’re not going out partying if you have a newborn at home, at least, I hope you’re not. And he would sort of look at all of his wonderful friends doing wonderful things and think,

“Gosh, I’m glad I’m not there. It’s more important what I’m doing here.” And one of the things that I really wanted to get across with my book is I tried to be someone mega, I wanted to be a movie mogul or a media executive. I quit nine jobs before I was 30 because I kept trying for those big jobs. And it wasn’t who I am. I’m introverted. I’m anxious. I’m a hermit. I do my best work at home in my yoga pants. [LAUGH] But I never got those messages, right, how could I be successful if I wasn’t that person?

Steve Pomeranz: I mean, Richard Branson on LinkedIn and all of the little ads or clips that he has on Facebook, I mean it’s never really about anything like that.

Morra Aarons-Mele: It’s never about saying no.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, every day is a tug of war, you write, between your ambition and your anxiety. But you’re saying anxiety is really not a bad thing because it drives you to do more; it can actually be a gift. How can anxiety be a gift?

Morra Aarons-Mele: If you’re the kind of person—and there are many of us, estimates would say a quarter to a third of people at any time are feeling some sort of generalized anxiety. Social anxiety’s actually the third most diagnosed mental illness, and that is that feeling. It’s different from introversion where you might walk into the room and think I’m not worth it, everyone hates me, I’ve nothing good to say. I get it; I struggled with it. It’s tough and you have to take care of it, but it also forces you to create a life that you need to take care of yourself. You build scaffolding; you build infrastructure; you might have to say no. You might have to discover the joy of missing out and actually, that can be incredibly freeing.

The other thing is that anxiety makes you in touch at work if you’re in touch with your anxiety. I have interviewed many people in my book and elsewhere who are so in touch with their anxiety, they talk about it with their teams and it makes them fantastic managers and teammates. Because instead of being the person—and this is true for introverts, as well, I think, who’s always showing off, who has to be the smartest person in the room, who’s taking up air—you can be the person who’s tuning in, who’s reading the room, talking when necessary, and really solving problems, and that is what good work is all about.

Steve Pomeranz: You write about setting boundaries and setting limits or implementing limits. But first of all, we really don’t have that much time left, but I would think setting boundaries is the most important thing you can do to start the process. Take us through that a little.

Morra Aarons-Mele: Setting boundaries is the work of a lifetime, right?
And what I learned, what I didn’t know, is that the limit is the physical implementation of a boundary. So, many people have boundaries around social media usage or, say, their boss emailing them out of hours. They feel violated when their boss or colleague is constantly trying to reach them for not urgent reasons, say, on weekends. They feel like that’s a violation of their personal time and space. So, a limit could be, you know what?

Could you not do that? [LAUGH] I know, that that’s really, really hard, but smart teams are learning how to enforce limits and understand people’s different work styles. Other people, for me, a boundary is I hate being expected to show up at an office all day when I don’t have to be there. So, I actually don’t mind if my boss emails me, as long as I don’t have to sit at a desk.

Steve Pomeranz: Right.

Morra Aarons-Mele: So my limit would be you know what? Let me work from home on Fridays. I promise I’ll be contactable. Everyone’s are different, but I think the key—and I have great exercises in the book—is to tune in to your boundaries at work and know when they’re being crossed.

A lot of introverts have boundaries of space, too much hugging, too much hovering, too much open play in office. My gosh, how do I set the limits that are going to actually help me get through the workday and do my best work?

Steve Pomeranz: That’s a great book; that’s a great concept. Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introverts Road Map to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). My guest and author, Morra Aarons-Mele. Morra, thank you so much for joining us.

Morra Aarons-Mele: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Pomeranz: If you want to hear this interview again and you want to get these and many more informative interviews straight to your inbox, subscribe to our weekly update at Stevepomeranz.com.