Journaling is not just for introverts, but it has indeed played such a prominent role in my life…helping me work through issues, providing a vehicle for celebrating magic moments, and sparking my own creativity.
For much of my 30 years in corporate America, I struggled to recognize and ultimately embrace my own introversion. Given the increasingly social and pressure-packed aspects of my leadership roles, I often went home at night exhausted.
I crashed on the couch, barely able to communicate with my family. As part of my job description, I enlisted in industry conventions and cocktails around the world, so far removed from my comfort zone that even alcoholic rampages to the point of blackouts and binge-eating could not help me escape my torment.
The following is an excerpt from my book, In Search of Courage, including a letter I first journaled immediately after a most stressful evening:
After an amazing weekend in the countryside of Peru, Oliver and I arrived in Lima for an industry conference. I was thrust into the heart of my kryptonite: cocktail socials with people I hardly knew, amidst a sea of seasoned veterans. Furthermore, I was also tasked with introducing Oliver to key counterparts. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility and fearful failure would expose my weakness as his team leader.
“Hello,” I interjected as I nudged us into a small group conversation. We often received no more than stares, as they appeared offended at our intrusion into their friendships.
Feeling any confidence slipping, I took advantage of a brief moment of silence. “Hello, this is Oliver and I’m Steve,” I blurted. “We’re with Shell’s LPG team.” A bit awkward, but perhaps we were now part of the conversation? However, often they would just nod and continue within their own group.
Other times they might lob a question our way: “How do you see natural gas production impacting LPG supply in Latin America?”
Oh, boy. I was never one to shy away from a direct question. It felt like an opportunity to earn our way into the group and seemed better than idle chitchat. However, as a newcomer to the market, my rambling response made it clear I had failed their test. Perhaps I was just paranoid, but I sensed others picked up on this and returned to their discussion of old times together and their plans for dinner or drinks later that evening. Clearly, I had not earned an invitation to either.
Oliver seemed to sympathize with my struggles as I abruptly backed out of the group, only to have to walk the floor in search of a welcoming face to approach next, which rarely presented itself.
I grabbed another drink to try to relieve the tension, but I could not drink enough that night to soften my approach. I continued to torment myself for hours that seemed like days of pain.
I wrote an email to Jennifer after that evening: “It zapped my energy just trying to maintain such a façade. Jennifer, I describe myself lately as puny, timid, socially regressive, lazy, stressed, and basically fragile. I’ve never prided myself as a social butterfly, nor do I care to. But lately I feel like more of a social wallflower. Unable to hold even the basic social conversation let alone to strike up a discussion of any depth.”
Realizing the depressed tone of my letter and not wanting to scare Jennifer from halfway around the world, I tried to reassure her: “However, I must emphasize, I’m okay. I’m not going off the deep end.” But in reality I felt like I was. In the pit of my stomach, I was scared. I felt like I was losing my use of basic logic and communication skills. I was overcome by fear every day: of people, of losing, of speaking, of being quiet, of not providing, of not being enough, of not being courageous.
Throughout my global travels, my journals continued to provide the one constant that enabled me to purge my mind of my worries, fears, guilt, and shame. It was like a pressure relief valve that helped me reset.
However, it didn’t take long for the pressure to rebuild and occasionally it felt like I was crumbling under my own unattainable expectations, but journaling was such a critical escape. It was on paper that I finally realized the pain I was inflicting upon myself and my family, as I wrote next to the Motoyasu River on the edge of Hiroshima:
Upon arriving from Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train, I spent a couple of hours touring the Hiroshima Peace Park Museum. To see the horrible death, disfigurement, and utter annihilation of an entire city and its people was chilling. After walking around the city, I sat by the calm banks of the Motoyasu River next to the Hiroshima Peace Park to journal on the horrific scenes captured in the museum and the perspective it brought to my personal struggles:
I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I think I either have to overcome my fears and beat this social anxiety or prepare myself to move on to a job more suitable for my style and talents. After all these years, I don’t think I will change who I am. But how can I walk away from this senior job, from the security it provides me? A change might be the right thing to do, but it’s so much to consider. I feel like I’m at a crossroad, just standing here, unable to move.
I parked my sadness and joined a packed house to watch the Hiroshima Carp professional baseball team beat the Yakult Swallows 5-2, to the delight of excited fans waving their streamers and pompoms, all with the pain of World War II providing the backdrop just over the left field fences.
I also lean on journaling to celebrate magic moments and capture excitement and success. I journaled after a two-day 170-mile charity bicycle ride to capture my progress and bask in the glory of one of my greatest personal accomplishments:
I’ve literally been daydreaming about the final stretch to the Capitol for months. Finally, it was here! I took the rolling hills into Austin with vigor. As we crossed under I-35, the final few blocks lay ahead. Next thing I knew, I turned the corner and there it was: the finish line two blocks down, cheering crowds everywhere. I was beaming with excitement and pride. The guy next to me shrieked with joy and that popped the cork on my inhibitions. I screamed and threw my arms up in excitement for the moment and everything it stood for. I high-fived a few onlookers in the crowd as I passed the finish and then, suddenly, it was over. But the fulfillment is still with me. I rode safe, smart, and hard. I held nothing back. I didn’t back down from any challenge. I would have done nothing differently. I rode the ride my way, on my “Steel Horse,” pumping hard and standing tall, managing my time to my plan, and relishing in the final stretch I had dreamed about for months. What a rush!
When I retired in 2018, determined to dedicate myself to my passions of family and writing, I finally realized the true depth of my futility through three decades in corporate America.
Immediately, I reclaimed my years of journaling to help me reflect and explore my lifelong affliction with introversion. As I shared my initial writing project, every one of my friends and former co-workers provided a similar response. They were shocked! “You aren’t an introvert! We’ve had dinners together. We’ve gone to parties together. You were always a supportive team leader. You are definitely an extrovert.”
These responses only underscored the torment I had endured and my own struggles to meet societal norms and my own pressure to provide. I had put on such a façade at work that others were convinced I was an extrovert. But every time I suffered through a cocktail hour or endured an unwanted party, or was forced to contribute to impromptu debate, my battery drained empty. While I tried to meet each challenge, my self-control was lost. I ate and drank to try to quell the fear. And when that didn’t work, my body responded with sciatica, shingles, rashes, and rapid weight gain.
Two constants helped me find the courage to overcome: the love and support of my wife and kids, and journaling.
I fell in love with writing at an early age. At eleven my friend and I cobbled together a semblance of a neighborhood newsletter. At sixteen I blossomed on the high school newspaper staff. These nurtured my writing passion which I called upon throughout my professional business career, journaling during long train commutes and even longer global work travels.
Some people freely open up to a bevy of friends and easily share their most hidden fears and desires. As an introvert who often struggles with such sharing, journaling has been my trusted confidante.
I still journal today. Sometimes daily, other times weekly. Sometimes a few lines, other times several pages. And each time I finish, I feel a sense of relief and warmth. I guess you could say my memoir, In Search of Courage, is a compilation of revealing truths through journaling. I encourage everyone to journal to help relieve stress, to dream, to collect thoughts into coherent actions, and to celebrate daily successes. Journaling doesn’t have to replace communication with loved ones. I’m striving to share more every day. But it is that first safe place we can always go to, to give ourselves a hug, flush out our emotions, and rationalize life’s next challenges.
Author bio: Steve Friedman grew up in a loving yet turbulent household in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from The University of Alabama with a major in Finance, Friedman worked 30 years in various logistics and trading leadership roles with Shell Oil. Besides living in Houston, Detroit, and London, Friedman has traveled worldwide through business trips and family vacations.
In 2018, Friedman retired, ready to relax and focus on personal health and family connections. He has also rejuvenated his passion for introspective writing which has spawned In Search of Courage and other nonfiction projects.
Besides nonfiction writing and blogging, Friedman enjoys running, reading, and family time. Friedman met his love, Jennifer, in Houston. Together, they have raised three amazing children, Gwendolyn, Madolyn, and Noah. They delight in cruising and hanging around the house together.
Email me at BeyondIntroversion@gmail.com
Weekly Blog at www.BeyondIntroversion.com