Nobody likes to receive an email entitled "A Fond Farewell".
I did, but it wasn't from a friend or romantic partner. It was from a temporary work colleague who found a new job.
Our team had returned from Michael's farewell lunch after wishing him well on his new adventure. He still found a little time to send us all a word of thanks, saying in one last email "As I depart...I'd like to say thanks so much for having me over the last six months, I've enjoyed my time here and made some great friends".
That message hit home.
I missed out on getting to know a fascinating guy. I had been lazy, blaming my introverted nature and preference for being quiet.
The Price You Pay
I mistakenly saw Michael as a quiet and unassuming guy who ate boiled eggs at the office desk. He was an introvert too, and eggs are healthy for you by the way, so I shouldn't have judged him.
Erroneously, in my mind, daily pleasantries were sufficient.
I was late to discover the real person my more outgoing colleagues already knew.
Of all the office escape plans, Michael's was the best. A role in a musical in the West End. He could dance, sing and had a plan to escape office life.
This glimpse into someone's life emphasised how I allowed my introverted nature to blind me from someone's personality.
Open Your Eyes to Art
You would never enter an art gallery blindfolded. You'd miss the colourful paintings and sculptures around you.
People are like works of art. There's beauty, complexity, kindness and ugliness.
You can look at a picture from afar and think you know it, but take a step closer, and you start to appreciate the detail. The brush strokes and use of light and dark that transform what you thought you knew into something completely different.
Like art, you can look at people from afar and think you know them, but come closer, engage with them, and you soon appreciate their personality, beliefs, ambitions, hopes and dreams.
The Pitfall of Judging
As introverts, we can miss out on knowing some beautiful people because we impose a distance between ourselves and others. Sometimes you need the confidence to start a conversation, but all too often, you allow appearance or body language to prevent a discussion.
For example, I used to feel a little uncomfortable when encountering someone with tattoos because many years ago as a child, people with tattoos were more likely to place their boot in your face.
Since then, celebrities like David Beckham made tattoos popular. It's important not to judge people today by out of date preconceptions, and that means closing down that distance and engaging with people.
Introverts have a different set of strengths compared to their outgoing extrovert friends. So never stop being yourself. Instead, you need to realise that people need friends like you.
Love Being an Introvert
You have no reason not to love being an introvert or getting to know people.
Introverts are thoughtful, self-reliant and dependable.
These are strengths that make loyal friends. The world needs people like you.
Be mindful of the mixed signals you transmit. As introverts, people can misinterpret us, and this is our greatest weakness.
Others can see us as stand-offish, diffident or lacking ambition.
I know I am difficult to get to know, but I will eventually dismantle my outer defensive shell.
With careful communication and being a little bit more sensitive to others' inhibitions, you can easily break the mould.
Successful teams, happy families and friends all need introverts.
How to Avoid the Hidden Cost
We don't need to change introverts into extroverts. Nor do we need to embrace everyone we meet.
But don't miss out on getting to know, even briefly, exciting people. You'll learn more about life, find it easier to be tolerant of differences and see opportunities you hadn't before.
People are complicated, vibrant and exciting.
There's no guarantee you'll like what you find, but at least you won't miss the chance of meeting a truly extraordinary person.
I will never get to know Michael. Not long after he returned from London, he went missing. A suspected suicide, his body was found by police soon afterwards.
Next time you meet someone new, show an interest in their life, ask a question, listen and enjoy the work of art before you.