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A Tribute to a Badass Introvert Boss Turned Friend

Personal Perspective: Reflecting on what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Source: Jens Johnsson/Pexels
Source: Jens Johnsson/Pexels

On a recent Friday afternoon, I accidentally answered my phone. It was David from the New York medical examiner’s office. My friend Nancy was found dead in her apartment, with the handwritten names and numbers of four contacts, including me.

“How did she die?” I asked.

“Suspected suicide.”

“Did she leave a note?”


Nancy had become a shut-in. She was my boss briefly in the 1990s amid a slew of reorgs during the start of my Wall Street days. Two alpha personalities, we butted heads, yet ultimately found common ground—and I warmed up to this F-bombing, whiskey-guzzling badass who was constantly ducking out for cigarette breaks.

A self-fashioned corporate caped crusader, Nancy was proud that she often spoke her mind. Secretly, I never got what she did. Years later, we’d chuckle about the “gladhanders”—the high-priced consultants with gleaming smiles who were always reengineering processes I never quite comprehended either.

Nancy’s and my lives weaved together lazily over the years. We bonded as introverts who needed time to gather our best thoughts. Our whole department took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment to learn more about our and our colleagues’ personalities. That opened our eyes to our preference for focused one-on-one discussions versus chitchat at schmoozy-boozy gatherings. We also liked deep dives to research, analyze, and solve problems, instead of a brainstorming moshpit.

Despite Nancy’s bombast at meetings, I got to know another side of her. We shared that interacting with too many people too much of the time zapped us. At some point, I recommended a class in improvisation, which I had discovered was a highly effective skill for introverts. So, I introduced Nancy to Carl Kissin, a masterful improv performer who taught classes where I had once studied; that opened a vibrant new playground for her. She learned about deep listening and bouncing off the words, nonverbal communication, and energy of others.

Some years later, I helped Nancy land a teaching gig she adored at NYU, one of my post-Wall Street stomping grounds. After the one business communication course she taught, though, she didn’t get a return offer. In 2001, after a succession of IT and audit jobs at other financial and consulting firms, Nancy got downsized. She couldn’t pull herself together, and her decline lasted two decades before she pulled the trigger—into her mouth. Still, if she were here right now, her raspy voice might say, with a dark chuckle, that she actually bit the dust.

What does Nancy’s career downslide have to do with her suicide? Maybe nothing. However, she pushed people away. The other three handwritten names were an estranged friend, Elaine, who was my first Wall Street boss and remains close to me, as well as a lawyer Nancy had fired and the funeral home.

I could have tried harder, but Nancy often didn’t respond to my reachouts. The arguments and rebuttals in my head have cascaded in a hall of mirrors over the past few weeks.

Over the years, Nancy had discussed death with Elaine and me. Elaine didn’t like the brusque, officious Nancy at first either. Yet, that shifted, too, and we’d all meet at a Park Avenue hotel lounge every December to cheer in the holidays. Nancy had said that if she ever got seriously ill, she wanted it all to end immediately. No hospitals, tubes, or suffering. Elaine remained Nancy’s health-care proxy long after their friendship ended. Why? Elaine couldn’t bear the idea of anyone suffering.

Nancy’s suicide reminds me that we all have stuff. No matter how polished we appear, just scratch beneath the surface. Bully bosses. Aggressive partners. Chronic illnesses. Nancy was a lone wolf howling in the darkness—with a voice that no one appeared to care to hear.

Like many other mid-career professionals the world discarded, Nancy tried to sound gainfully employed—in her case, as a strategic planning and business problem-solving consultant. I helped her with her resume. Even though she called me a pioneer for writing my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts, Nancy’s pride and disposition would have nailed her door shut before allowing her to promote herself. “My work should speak for itself,” I can almost still hear her say.

David Alberto Carmona Coto 1151418/Pexels
Source: David Alberto Carmona Coto 1151418/Pexels

The last time I had spoken to my self-described supersleuth friend was two Thanksgivings ago. We had a yearly tradition: She’d wave down from her Gramercy Park window at me and family members who strolled by after our meal. Nancy bawled in a wall of words for hours over the phone about multiple ways that everyone from tech support people to the cable guy had wronged her. An old-fashioned gal—she favored words like that—she yearned for the America she grew up in, even if it only existed between her ears.

Nancy asked me to recommend doctors and lawyers to help her. She was finished with shrinks, as she called them. Liquor was quicker. She’d fire people faster than I could keep up. A few days before the call from David, I reflected on how we missed our wave this past Thanksgiving. I hadn’t received a call back from Nancy the last time I left her a message.

What do I take away from this? Numbness? A wake-up call to live a life of meaning? Meaning what? To get the support we need? Get right back on track after losing a job before spiraling down a rabbit hole? But what if we’re too wiped to say another word?

Introvert, extrovert, or just plain human, we all need a sense of purpose and belonging in our lives. We need others—even if us introverts do so less than extroverts. As I process my guilt for not having been a better friend, I wonder what kind of help I could have gotten Nancy that she would have accepted. Or maybe this was actually the endpoint she wanted. It was her life, and she might have said, echoing Frank Sinatra, who was probably her speed: “I did it my way.”

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Copyright © 2023 Nancy Ancowitz.

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