The Courage to Speak Softly

The month’s Field Notes contributor, Rameez Kaleem, is an HR consultant and entrepreneur. He works with organisations to help them recruit, reward and retain their employees and create an environment where they feel valued and appreciated. You can reach him at 3r-strategy.com or @RameezKaleem.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a “successful” career. I wasn’t always sure which career path I wanted to take, but I was certain of the final destination: to work in a respected role at a renowned multinational company in a metropolitan city. I knew it would require hard work, so that’s what I did.

By 2015, I had 15 years of professional experience in employee compensation and reward. I was working for an FTSE 100 company, which was listed in the Sunday Times Top 25 Best Companies to Work For. I had great colleagues. My office was in a high-rise building overlooking the city of London. Over the course of my career, I had regularly dealt with stakeholders at all levels, from training graduates to presenting reports to the CEO and his board. I had reached my “success.”

And yet, for some reason, my heart wasn’t really in it.

Then a couple of years ago, while browsing through a bookshop, I stumbled upon Quiet by Susan Cain, and I began to see many things in my workplace, including myself, in a whole new light. I have always identified as an introvert; it was only upon reading the book that I started to realize why I hadn’t felt at ease in the corporate world that’s tailored toward extroverts and that increasingly places emphasis on collaboration, “working neighborhoods,” and breakout areas. I would often find myself needing to get away for a while during the day to recharge my batteries.

My role as a reward professional requires me to have an in-depth understanding and awareness of pay, benefits, and non-financial rewards. I have to advise my clients on the best approach to reward and retain their staff, and at times, this means challenging pay increases that seem excessive or unfair. After learning to recognize introverts and extroverts, I realized that over the course of my career, it was usually the pay increases of extroverted employees that my team was challenging because the requests were often excessive or unfair. Ironically, in my 15 years I had never once asked for a pay increase myself; these pay trends and other extrovert-bias trends started to make more sense to me.

In 2015, I decided to redefine what a successful career meant to me and left the corporate life to establish 3R Strategy, an independent reward management consultancy based in London. Although the decision seemed like a huge leap, it was in hindsight a relatively easy one to make. I set up my own company to create a lifestyle where I had a better balance between my work, temperament, and interests. I also wanted to develop my newfound advocacy for introverted skills; I wanted to remind those in charge that when they are thinking about recruiting, rewarding, or retaining their people, they should not forget about and lose the talents of the curious, self-directed, quiet, and independent thinkers that can often go unnoticed in large organizations.

It’s been an exciting and eventful 12 months, but I can really understand now why many people find venturing out on their own daunting. Being an entrepreneur means making sacrifices, taking risks, driving myself with no external support or motivation and working almost entirely on my own, at least for now! But perhaps for this reason entrepreneurship is more suited to introverts. We feel energized and switched-on in quieter, low-key environments. Admittedly, I do occasionally work from cafés, where I can feel the presence of people around me but still be in my own space—and I love that this is my choice now.

It has been a year since I founded my company. I’m not sure where I’ll be in five years, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I am no longer thinking about my destination. Without the pressure to work in an extrovert ideal environment, I’m now just enjoying the journey. 

Field Notes brings you first-hand workplace experiences written by contributors who share their own stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and the unique benefits of a quiet approach to life in the office. Whether you’re an introvert looking to make the most of your strengths or an extrovert/ambivert who wants to learn how your quiet colleagues tick, Field Notes offers real-world insights about taking a walk on the quiet side. Submit your own story and watch this space for more perspectives from your colleagues.