The life of an introvert is a strange one. He lives in his own world and people often have no idea who he really is. You only see the tip of the iceberg. What he allows himself other people to see. I’ve decided to expose my private life a little more than usual. Maybe also because people tend to assume if they don’t know anything about the other person.
The perception of a person by others may be different from reality
The last time I was employed at GlobalLogic, I spent almost three years of my life there. And it took almost another two years to learn from various sources how people there perceived me at the time. To most, I was a quiet introvert, doing my job, and to be counted on. I think I was also sort of the backbone of the team. My colleagues would ask me for advice not only on Android, but also on many other technical issues. Even now, some of them still occasionally get in touch asking for advice, even though I don’t work there anymore.
Once we were at a company party. It was sometime in the summer in the early evening. Usual stuff… goulash, tables under a tent, cake, DJ. And since there were also representatives from a certain bike shop, we were able to rent electric bikes and make the most of them.
There was a very steep zig-zag biking trail. It was a precipitous slope, but with the help from the electric battery from my bike I was pedalling with the ease of a feather. But down… that was a completely different story. This was the first time I was sitting on a bike after about ten years and it felt like I was just going to kill myself. The hill was that sharp. I was slamming on the brakes almost the entire time on my way downwards and not enjoying the ride at all. However, I do like to get physical and so, after some casual conversation with others, I did something that may still be the stuff of legends today. I started running up and down the bike trail just for kicks. I knew I had my legs much more under control than the bike, and it was fun. I did a few laps this way.
My colleagues, even the managers and company bosses, started looking at me in both amusement and disbelief from their tables. “What in the living hell is Vlad doing there? Is he sober?” When I finished my laps and rejoined my co-workers, they started teasing me. And they probably did it even while I was enjoying the runs on the slope. But for me this day is unforgettable exactly because of my laps. And the others? Many didn’t even try out those electric bikes as they just sat around with beers and debated. Maybe they have long forgotten that day because it was nothing special to them. I stood out from the crowd that day, as I have many times since then.
Once we had a foreign visitor to our company and we went to a mandatory lecture by a high-ranking GlobalLogic boss from the US headquarters. When we got to the lecture hall, most of my colleagues sat all the way in the back. The HR ladies had to beg them to come at least a little closer. Even our managers sat in the second row. No one wanted to be completely in the front frow. And then there was me. I got there, went all the way down and sat in front of all those managers. I was in the front row all by myself. Later, when we saw the company photos from that event, there were jokes going around, “Who’s the gentleman next to Vlad?” This was another moment when the bland Vlad made himself visible.
Yes, I make no secret of the fact that I’m an introvert. But at the same time, I should add that if I want to, I can switch into such an extrovert mode that almost none of you can tell. However, I treated working at GlobalLogic as just a job. I was being paid to develop Android apps. And that’s what I was doing. I tried to get my work done as soon as possible, and when I had some spare time, I would work on my projects or study something again. Sitting around having coffee with my colleagues seemed like a waste of time. I felt at times that my colleagues were having more coffee than they were working, but I was the last one to be concerned with how others were spending their time. In retrospect, I realize that this attitude of mine probably contributed to the fact that I didn’t get promoted at this company, nor did my salary go up. In today’s extroverted world, in short, those who are seen go up. And people like me, who quietly go about their work like a well-oiled machine, don’t get noticed until they announce that they are quitting.
By the way, when my notice was running out, I remember my manager talking about me to my team lead one day. “Everybody wants that Vlad guy on the team,” they were saying to each other. But until I announced my departure, they were almost uninterested in me. One day, my manager started teasing me across the office. “Vlad, won’t you change your mind? After all, this place is great. You’re here in a friendly atmosphere. Are you seriously not changing your mind? Really? You’re not thinking about it? We can still revoke the notice…” And I remember the way I snapped at him at that moment: “You know what? Let me work.” At that moment, several colleagues were taken aback because Vlad spoke up and said what none of them expected. Today I remember this incident with a smile, it is living proof of my assertiveness.
Even though I was the quiet and reticent one at work, it cannot be said that I isolated myself completely. And I didn’t seek superficial friendships or pretend that work was anything more than work. I mean, a place where “friends” get together every day and casually work. I don’t think that’s the case. Honestly, how many colleagues are you still in contact with even a year after you left your job?
At GlobalLogic, I made two friends who are in my closest circle of friends — Erik, who I go hiking with, and Jan. They are not superficial and we always go deep in our discussions. They are exactly the kind of people I like.
By quietly doing my job and not caring about others, gossip started to spread about me. You wouldn’t believe it, but men are gossipees too, and to what extent! At first, I didn’t go out to lunch with my colleagues, so they started wondering what, and if anything, I was eating, and they discussed it. I learned about it casually from a friend who was occasionally in such groups.
Another time they dealt with the fact that I went swimming instead of eating lunch during my lunch break. And sometimes Erik joined in. Rumours started to spread that we might be gay. We’re both single and we go to the swimming pool together. Yeah, that’s all it takes for people to gossip.
As I was leaving work, it was time to write a goodbye letter to my colleagues. I didn’t want to do it like everyone else and send a letter to the whole company, including people I barely knew. I wanted it to be personal and to contain allusions that only people on my team would get. I already had a blog at the time, but it was only after reading the letter that my colleagues realized that this Vlad guy could write. The letter positively surprised everyone, it was talked about for days. And since I was leaving at the end of the calendar year, in December 2018, we also discussed it over Christmas punch in the city centre.
After about two years, a former colleague contacted me, needing advice. He had a bit of wine in him at the time and we got chatting. Only then did it slip out of him how he perceived me and he also told me how some other colleagues perceived me. It bothered him that I walked around in those old, stretched out, unfashionable sweaters and he criticized my wardrobe in general. And a few other things. Yes, I accept I need to work on my wardrobe (and it’s already happening), but I don’t understand the attitude of people who think something and keep quiet about it. I speak up when something bothers me. I don’t need to drink to talk. He and others have been next to me day after day and instead of saying something to me, they kept their own thoughts about me to themselves. And yet they could already know that I could take the harsh criticism. All they had to do was speak up and at least I would know where I stood. That colleague thought my wardrobe was also the main reason I didn’t have a girlfriend. I don’t think so. I mean, a girlfriend who is impressed with my personality won’t be bothered with these things. I’m convinced of that. She’ll be attracted to who I am first and foremost. And I don’t care about the kind of girl who’s primarily concerned with looks and clothes.
Opening up my privacy
The unveiling of my privacy was gradual. It certainly wasn’t that one day I told myself that I was going to share private things about myself with people. My blog probably contributed a lot to that. In short, I got used to expressing my views publicly. I started commenting on posts, and my readers started to sense how I was thinking. I think the fact that I have my self-censorship set very low plays a big part in this. I say what I think. So once I got used to speaking my mind publicly, I had no problem writing things that were controversial as well. But take it from me that my goal was to have a debate, not to polarize society. But that’s another topic.
In parallel, as I blogged, my interaction with people changed. For almost three years I’ve been on the board of Toastmasters Košice and, willy-nilly, I’ve had to interact with people and solve problems. I have also matured through entrepreneurship. I can say that I have eliminated probably my biggest weakness and I am still progressing. If my former colleagues met me today, they would be very surprised at what I have turned out to be. Inside, however, I am still myself, I just communicate more openly.
We change over time. Even with myself, I observe how my contributions change year after year. Lately, I almost don’t comment on politics anymore because I think Facebook is not the appropriate platform for such discussion and the world is changing out there, not behind the screens of cell phones and computers. I see how much garbage people share on Facebook and I told myself that I didn’t want to participate in that. I’ve made my wall into a bit of an safe haven. I post things on there that I like and I do so mostly for myself. I also occasionally scroll back through the posts and smile when I see them. It’s kind of a public personal journal of mine.
I am aware that others out these see this journal of mine. But I don’t mind. On the contrary, I haven’t seen most of you in person in years, some of you at all. It’s hard to keep in touch with people at a distance, it doesn’t work well. But by writing, commenting, making videos, I’m able to get closer to that. On the one hand, by telling you private things, I make myself vulnerable and someone can take advantage of me. Still, I can see you communicate with me differently when we meet occasionally. You don’t regard me as a stranger because you, thanks to my blog, already kind of know me. I feel that my openness has made it easier for me to make friends or maintain working contacts. This has been confirmed to me more than once. I have assessed that the advantages of being open with you far outweigh the disadvantages.
About six months ago, I was approached by a college classmate, Martin. He wrote to me: “Vlado, it’s funny, you have such an open life. I know about your relationship…” Martin needed some advice on a password management tool and thought of me. I gave him a link to my article, where I elaborated on the topic, and then we had a casual conversation.
Recently, I went to see two former colleagues from GlobalLogic. They already have their own business and are doing quite well. We’ve only met in person once and otherwise only kept in touch via social media. When I arrived to our meeting, it was very relaxed and friendly. Again, partly because they already somewhat knew me. They knew what I was doing, what I was going through, and I was able to make personal contact with them and ask them questions more openly.
And I’ll give you one more example. There was a guy named Slavo who worked at GlobalLogic. There were jokes going around the company that Slavo was in fact a permanent resident in the company. When he left, he almost had to call the moving van. That’s how much of his stuff he had in the company back then. Even though everybody knew Slavo there, I don’t know if the two of us personally exchanged a single word. But by some coincidence, we became friends on Facebook. He got to know me and I got to know him as well. Just by seeing his posts, his style of humor, and he seeing mine. So, for example, I know he likes, as much as I do, the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. We’ve even occasionally discussed a post together, and it’s become a nice long-distance friendship. And if I need any advice on how to take photographs more professionally, I know who to turn to.
Another thing I have come to understand as a blogger was that I can communicate my views to the world and I don’t have to repeat myself over and over again. Are we having a debate about the school system? I have a three-part article about it. How about a four-day work week? I’ve written about that, too… And last but not least, I’ve occasionally written about my thoughts on relationships. After all, we interact with people all around us, there’s no avoiding it, so I’ll at least pass on what I’ve learned myself. It’s weird but it’s my articles on relationships that have probably intrigued you the most. The first one was called Come Closer. It was about how I went through my first break-up and also about the long road I’ve come from being a boy who was afraid to come out of his shell to this day. The second one was called Come Together and was about how I met the love of my life. At least that’s how I perceived it at the time. It’s strange that while many of you have read Come Together, almost no one has read my other blogs. In one of them, I wrote that we had broken up. And even today, some still think I’m in a relationship. This was also a lesson for me in how people process things and that they don’t read everything I publish.
You were also interested in my video about the strange world of singles. Even though I don’t yet act with complete confidence in front of the camera there, the topic resonated with you. So much so that one viewer reached out to me, confided in me what he once went through in his relationship and told me how much he identified with the video. It is also people like him that make me willing to divulge my life lessons to the outside world.
Consideration for others
My level of self-censorship is low, but that doesn’t mean I have none. I’m very aware of what I share, what I write about, and it never happens that I put something out there that I later regret. I’ve gotten into the habit of baring my soul to the outside audience. I’m prepared to defend every opinion of mine and to stand by it. However, when I write a blog in which I mention someone else too, that’s different.
I’m aware that not everyone is comfortable with their personal issues being aired publicly. That’s why whenever I write about someone else, I either change the name or address the person directly, give them a preview of the upcoming article, and ask for their permission to publish any particular details that concern them. It’s also the only time I allow for radical edits in an article. After all, I’m writing about someone else and I don’t want to put something out there that will hurt them. The article Come Closer was about me, so I’ve gone off the deep end there. But in Come Together, we have probably removed a third of the original draft. And I still think it’s a successful article, and I like that I was able to convince Nely to reveal what’s in the article about herself.
The flip side
I’ve already hinted at this a bit. The flip side is vulnerability. You never know who is reading your output. A friend of mine once told me that he would never disclose such private things about himself. It’s probably because his feelings got hurt in the past. But I want to trust people, and perhaps a little naively hope that most of them are good on the inside. It’s the same as when I was in a relationship. I went into with all my conviction. If I want to spend my whole life with someone, I don’t want to hide secrets from them. I’d rather not be in a relationship than live in a web of lies. Yes, that attitude can backfire, but I want to truly live, not just survive. If my openness backfires on me, I’m ready for it. That’s what personal growth is all about, too. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
We live in times when people are labelled for their opinions. I recently shared a video from one “conspirator.” I disagree with that word. But the bottom line is, I would like people to focus on the content. What the person has to say. Not how he is perceived by others. Every video I share, I watch. Every article I share, I read myself. By condemning the person I share, people are condemning me. And in doing so, they often don’t even listen to what he has to say.
I also realize that what I post will be forever linked to my person. I would like to change the world. And I know how easy it is to lose your reputation forever and have the door closed. I know that I will be more useful to the world than the one who creates. Not the one who comments on the happenings around me. As Paul Graham writes in one of his essays, you have to be able to pick your battles and know when it’s not worth it.
It is also thanks to essays like this that I am gradually changing my views. As I mentioned before, the world will not change over social media. Nor is it, in my opinion, an appropriate platform for deep debates. I still have my opinions, and I still question and change them, but I keep them now to my small circle of friends. I guess that’s the gradual evolution I’m going through.
Where is the boundary?
I sometimes jokingly remark that I have no problem answering any personal question you ask me. Except maybe for bank account details. To some extent this is true, I share quite a bit of personal stuff. But notice what I share — my opinions, attitudes, occasionally where I’ve been hiking. Sporadically I’ll mention a project I’m working on. But you won’t know who I was on that hike with, who I did that project for, and so on.
Mostly I put out pictures of the woods, without people. And sometimes I try to take a selfie just out of fun. But I don’t put out pictures of me with friends anymore, because I know they’re protecting their privacy and I respect that.
I once helped a company in the Czech Republic build an automatic production line. I felt like I was in another world, so many insights and take-aways… I enjoyed the first days immensely. And you know next to nothing about it because I was asked to keep the information to myself. I didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement. But that’s what it’s all about, knowing the boundaries of what I can share and what’s off limits. Be aware that even though almost no one knows me now, that may change in a few years. I imagine that thousands of people will watch my videos. And I certainly don’t want them to know about everything I do and where I am right now. Still, I want them to get to know me. That’s what it’s all about too, finding that fine line of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
What about the others?
I asked one friend if he felt I was sharing too much. He confirmed what I was thinking. It’s quite common abroad for people to be much more open. Go on Twitter occasionally. We Slovaks, however, are closed. We go on Facebook, but we don’t comment, we just read and like. We are hesitant to reveal anything about ourselves. So in such a contrast, my activity can really seem like something from another world. But if you look at the activity of, for example, Linus Sebastian, a famous YouTuber, you suddenly realise that there are many like me. Linus once even uploaded a video in which he reminisced about his beginnings for about half an hour and cried while doing it. You’d think he’d lost all masculinity. But people appreciated his authenticity. So did I. I don’t cry in my videos, though.
I recently took a course on how to forge new romantic relationships. It was free, so why not? I saw young women posting messages that they wanted to get to know someone. But at the same time, I saw how they wouldn’t post anything about themselves on their Facebook page. Then they melancholically contemplate the fact that no one is interested in them. I realize that Facebook is not a dating site, but when we are all locked in our homes, it is mostly in the online space that we interact with people. And what does a profile where all the information is hidden tell you? Nothing at all. Next please!
And do you think it’s different in the real world? I feel that people have become very alienated. They live in their own parallel worlds on their mobiles. When I walk by, I see people, but they don’t see me. In doing so, maybe it only takes so little. Just take off the headphones, put the phone down, look around and start talking. And at least open up a little to those around you.
I don’t expect all of you, after reading this article, to choose my path and open up to the world as dramatically as I did. But I think that even such a partial opening up can have a very positive impact for you. I would love to learn something new about you, I would love to get to know you. And remember, if you decide to make something public about yourself, you are the boss. If you don’t disclose anything, people may start making assumptions about you. Trust me, I’ve been there…