Monday, February 19, 2018

Q&A with Morra Aarons-Mele

Morra Aarons-Mele is the author of the new book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You'd Rather Stay Home). She is the founder of the organization Women Online and hosts the Forbes podcast Hiding in the Bathroom. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Harvard Business Review and The Huffington Post. She lives in Boston.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Hiding in the Bathroom, and for the book's title?

A: Hiding in the Bathroom is both something I do on a regular basis, and also a way I describe an essential way we introverts take care of ourselves when our energy is getting drained!

Have you ever hidden in the bathroom at a professional event? If you’re an introvert or deal with anxiety, you probably have. 

Think of the last time you were at a professional conference. Did you walk into the huge crowd, panic at the number of strangers all around you, and go hide out in the ladies? In the middle of a demanding day or meeting, do you take five to just breathe in a quiet place? Have you ever gotten some rough news at work and had to cry it out in a toilet stall?

I think it’s also true that when you’re hiding in the bathroom you find a lot of kindred spirits.

The book offers a roadmap for people who are very ambitious but who might be introverts, have social anxiety, or simply need more control over the pace, place and space at which they work. I show readers ways to be super strategic about managing their time and energy.

Q: You write, "Most of what we think we must do to succeed is unnecessary and even counterproductive." What would you say are a few of the most common misperceptions about success?

A: The biggest misperception is that there’s only one path to success in business—be tireless, never stop. The Lean In model is prevalent right now. And the masculine perspective is “crush it,” winning all the time. In my interviews, that’s not sustainable, obviously.

Q: In the book, you discuss Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. How does her approach compare to your own?

A: I hate comparing myself to her—she’s such a massive phenomenon. I’m a huge admirer of hers.

Leaning In is about giving it all you’ve got all the time. I think of what she says to younger women: Don’t leave before you leave; if you’re thinking of changing your personal life, don’t let people at work think that’s your path. That’s great if that’s what you want. But if you want more flexibility, it’s okay to work less. Things aren’t binary.

Q: What role do you see social media playing in how people balance their lives today?

A: It’s both a blessing and a curse. If it weren’t for social media and the fact that many professional workers can get a lot done with just a laptop and a smartphone, people like me would still be stuck at a desk eight hours a day. So connectivity gives us tremendous flexibility.

Social media and the ability to create a powerful online professional brand also means that those of us who hate networking and schmoozing can do a lot less of it.

We can blog, create content and establish an online presence that attracts potential employers or clients, and this means less awkward networking in person. It allows us to use great creativity to establish what we stand for and why we are special.

Q: Do you see some social media as more helpful than others?

A: The difference I try to draw out is between personal and professional. For a lot of us, [the line is] blurry. But a lot of people who are introverts feel it’s almost an intrusion on their privacy…it’s so personal, it takes up so much time, and [you’re] looking at other feeds and thinking you’re less than that. Instagram is the worst culprit.

I love the written word. There’s something about the written form online—it’s more introvert-friendly but also professional. I tell people not to give up on social media, but to find the platform that’s right for you…

Q: What advice would you give people about overcoming their fears as an introvert, say about speaking in public?

A: A lot of introverts have no fear of public speaking. Introverts [can be] really good at getting out there, well prepared. They have a plan afterwards to take a break. You need to practice and have a strong intentionality.

If your face hurts from smiling too much or making small talk, that’s where hiding in the bathroom comes in. If you have social anxiety, it’s about practice and getting into your mission.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My business, Women Online, creates digital campaigns that mobilize women. We are proud members of the resistance and are lucky enough to work with many progressive organizations who are working to advance good change. Goodness knows there is a lot to be done!

I’m also having fun with my podcast, also called Hiding in the Bathroom. This season I’ve taken a deep dive into how patriarchy affects (infects?) every aspect of our lives. It’s been really interesting and eye opening. You can listen here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Morra Aarons-Mele will be participating in the Temple Sinai Authors' Roundtable in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Feb. 24.

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