Beyond Social Anxiety: How Social Ineptitude Plagues One’s Career

Fake it until you make it. Perhaps that is the best slogan to define my professional life. It’s pretty clear that those who matter have caught on to my game. I don’t think it’s a case of impostor syndrome as it is a sheer recognition of my intellect compared to others I work with. My processing is much slower (ADD?), and more so my perfectionism tied to my imperfection continues to plague my career attempt.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten too far too quickly, and I wasn’t ready for it. But others my age are doing just fine in their roles, and I’d feel like a complete failure no matter how junior or senior the position. I just wish that I wouldn’t spend my life knee deep in neuroses, worried what everyone thinks about me, when the reality is that my narcissistic acumen is usually spot on the money and caused by some oddity of my own behavior or verbiage.

Case in point, when I was first hired for this job, the head of my company thought I was impressive, and talked to me about everything from product plans to business strategy. As the company has grown, and as I’ve demonstrated my lack of intelligence, he doesn’t even want to have a conversation with me anymore. Some of this is part of the normal growth pains of a company, where you start out doing everything and as you grow you get pushed into a smaller and smaller box where you are the cog in a massive, hopefully highly functional machine. Still, there’s something more to it than that. I’ve certainly lost all respect from the same person who decided to hire me in the first place, and as much as I shouldn’t take it personally, it hurts.

Beyond this individual, however, there are many senior level leaders at my company who I can tell don’t know what to make of me. I occasionally do an outstanding job – I work my ass off, at least in the sense that I rarely sleep and whether I’m at the office or at home I’m typically working. But the number of hours you put into your job doesn’t matter if you’re just not good at it. While building a business was hard I was motivated because I felt like a uniquely important contributor to that growth. Now I need to align myself with process, and attempt to fit creative problem solving into a scenario that no longer requires such creativity.

Meanwhile, approaching 29, I wonder if this is the career path that is my destiny. I’ve always wanted to be directly involved in creating a product, perhaps run my own company. PR is extremely important for a company, but I can’t help but dislike the feeling of being a PR flack, even though the role is so much more than that. I want to be strategic and instead I’ve been relegated to the ditz with the megaphone. And, from a broader perspective, I can’t help but feel that my gender has something to do with it. Of the ten or so executives at my company, only one of them is a woman. My boss and his boss and his boss are all men. And my boss can easily call on my colleague – supposedly an equal – to go for drinks one-on-one, where he could never ask his female subordinate out for drinks without stopping to think about if it would be inappropriate.

Beyond my own role in the organization, I feel I have some responsibility as a woman to move up the corporate ladder in technology instead of giving up. Giving up doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll suddenly find my ideal career anyway. I’m actually pretty good at my job if you take out the jealousy and neuroticism and social anxiety that holds me back. Maybe this is what I’m meant to do with my life. And why should I let work define me anyway? Why can’t I, like millions of Americans, see work as a job. Shouldn’t I work to live instead of live to work? Why am I so obsessed with this notion of pouring my heart and soul into my work like it’s more than just some business – like it matters to a larger story and larger picture.

But if I really wanted my work to matter, I’d work for a non-profit. Sure there’s political bullshit involved in that as well, but there are plenty of organizations that would pay me half of what I’m making today that could use my skillset. And maybe I wouldn’t feel like such an imposter there because everyone would know that you chose to work for a company that will keep you in the southern-end of the middle class for your life, but you are doing it because you’re making a difference. For-profit businesses can make a difference, but in the end the corporate interests always outweigh the public’s interests.

I’m not really that much of a do-gooder, I just want to feel like I’m part of making something new. Not just telling someone else’s story. I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back and think – damn, I told everyone else’s story so brilliantly without ever writing one of my own. But I’m only 28-going-on-29, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about this so much today.

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