Thanks to my local public library, I recently had the opportunity to read Morra Aarons-Mele’s new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). As I’ve discussed on this blog previously, I’m not a fan of most popular-press career and business books, but the title of this one drew me in. It suggested vulnerability and something less than overwhelming self-confidence, and that’s far more representative of many people’s workplace reality than the single-minded and selfish “conquer the world or you’re a loser” mindset of many business books.
Hiding in the Bathroom is a very worthwhile read for anyone thinking about careers and work, or anyone interesting in looking at what shapes our expectations and stereotypes of both these things. The book discusses the meaning of “success” within the context of being an introvert in a world that values hustle and self-promotion. And through that discussion, it emphasizes the importance of understanding how you like to work, and knowing the values you want your work to reflect – not blindly buying into what others think you should be doing or feeling.
Too often, in Aarons-Mele’s view, people get caught up in the dominant narrative of “success” being measured by the magazine cover, the TED talk, the number of social media followers. Aarons-Mele talks a lot about the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and the negative impact of the feeling of inadequacy because you can’t or won’t do what other people do. In her view, and I agree wholeheartedly, it’s not a failure to be selective about what you do and how you do it – it’s sensible and mature.
(I should point out that I had to look up FOMO to see what it meant, which probably means I’m really missing out on something….but if I’ve managed to do all right so far without knowing what it meant, I think I’m okay.)
A very strong point of Hiding in the Bathroom is Aarons-Mele’s straightforward voice. She’s not afraid to call out bullshit when she sees it, and she’s honest about her own challenges in managing anxiety and depression. She discusses in detail how she structures her work to accommodate what she needs to be comfortable and functional. As she says, if you need to build “down time” into your schedule to recover from the times when you have to be active and sociable, that’s not weakness – it’s self-care, and it’s exactly what you should be doing. If you feel that you have to hide in the bathroom at an event for a few minutes to get some “alone time”, do it. That’s really good advice for anyone, not just for introverts. Figure out what works for you, and then do whatever you can to shape your work around that; don’t shape yourself around your work.
The one problem that I did have with the book is that at times it veered into being more of a manual about running your own business. Those parts of the book had some great information about practical matters such as allocating resources to projects, finding clients, and pricing your work appropriately. In fact, I felt that this information was so useful that it should have been spun out into a separate book. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to be self-employed; the book would have been even better with more discussion of issues such as how introverts can find their happy place in an organization that they don’t control, or where they’re working to someone else’s schedule.
That aside, though, Hiding in the Bathroom is well worth taking a look at. I think that every reader, even a non-introvert, will find something in it that makes them think about work in a different way.