Being an introvert is still incredibly misunderstood. What’s more, I can’t help but feel that it’s treated all too often as a misfortune.
Sure, a lot of the world does seem set up for extroverts. But that doesn’t mean we need to fake it to thrive. I want to convince you that there’s nothing wrong with being your gloriously introverted self. And it doesn’t have to hinder your success one little bit.
1) Understand what introversion is (and isn’t!)
I am an introvert. But for years, I let other people tell me I was an extrovert. Having fallen for the myth of introversion myself, I assumed they were right. When they said I was “clearly extroverted,” what they meant was:
I talk a lot when I’m with other people and am honest about what I think. I don’t hide in a corner all night. But they didn’t know that after social interactions, I felt like moving into a cave for a month to recover. Neither did they realize large groups fill me with panic, and small talk is downright painful. Friends jokingly label me as anti-social or rude for disappearing for days.
And here’s the reason: There is still a massive misconception that introversion means being quiet and shy; it’s simply not true. While some introverts may well be, not all are; introversion and extroversion are about how you lose and gain energy. It’s not a personality difference; it’s biological. “Introverts react more strongly to stimulus and therefore need much less of it, or they rapidly become overstimulated.”
2) Learn what you need.
This article is about introverts, but let’s not forget that all introverts are different. Your triggers will be farther apart than the next person’s. What works for you might not work for someone else. My partner is also introverted but different from me. He is what people probably think an introvert “should” be. He is more reserved and quiet in new social settings. But he can do things that I find almost impossible.
Things like spending a lot of time with someone or sitting in a noisy environment and still being able to concentrate The point is, we’re all different. It is essential to identify your biggest energy zappers and find the right solutions to help you manage them. For example, maybe excessive noise is super stressful to you (I find white noise machines help me with this). Or perhaps you find groups exhausting and prefer one-on-one conversations.
Make a list of the things — activities and people —that sap your energy. Then create a list of the things that help recharge you. Cultivating greater self-awareness about how you tick will help. That way, you’ll know your kryptonite and what to avoid. And you’ll know what allows you to feel better.
3) Don’t overcommit.
Here’s something I wish I’d learned a long time ago: Be realistic in your social expectations of yourself. That might also mean you need to get better at saying no. This is when embracing my introversion helped me. Before, I’d feel selfish for saying no or turning things down.
I now know I can’t book more than two social engagements per week. Otherwise, I will end up flaking and canceling at the last minute. An expression about overeating goes, “My eyes were bigger than my belly.” The same can happen with social arrangements too.
Sure, you like the sound of drinks on Friday with your friends. But by the time it rolls around, you’re considering throwing yourself down the stairs to have a legitimate excuse to get out of it. I’ve found that saying “maybe” or “I’ll get back to you on that” is better than saying yes to something you will later regret. You’ve got to know your limits. If you still feel guilt or guiltgiggle about saying no, it’s worth checking in on boundaries.
What are your rules to protect your energy? Could you spend time thinking about them? For example, I have a “bedtime” for my phone. Remember that nobody will set boundaries for you. So if you don’t want to answer work emails at midnight, it will be up to you to enforce your own club rules.
4) Be honest and tell people how you feel.
The more we understand one another, the better. The unfortunate reality is that extroverts portray introverts as antisocial, rude, or unfriendly. Giving people a heads-up has helped manage this. For example, a friend came to stay with me for a week.
While I was happy to host, I also had to let him know I wouldn’t be around all the time. I explained that without really starting to shut down, I can’t function without time alone. While it is totally certain he understood where I was coming from, he did respect it. Explaining to him removed some awkwardness when I inevitably shut myself off in another room.
Similarly, whenever I’d start dating someone new, I’d let them know that I sucked at sending texts or generally chatting through technology. At the eXtrovertovert, we’re all different. The better we get at voicing how we feel and what we need to thrive, the easier it is for us to understand one another’s differences.
5) Know that you can’t please everyone all of the time.
This one goes for everyone, really, and not just introverts. But I think there’s a certain pressure on introverts to try to be more extroverted. I’ve seen lots of examples floating around of how introverts can fake it in an extrovert world. But isn’t that just encouraging people to be something they’re not?
I think that’s the wrong way of looking at it. Sure, there will always be times when we all have to play by specific social rules. That might mean adjusting our behavior slightly. But the bottom line is that not everyone will like you, no matter what you do. Trying to fit in is tempting, but what always matters most is that you want yourself. That’s what will boost your confidence.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Try to cultivate the conditions in your life that help you thrive. That is the best way to be successful, whether you are introverted or extroverted.
Regarding your social life, it’s better to find people who don’t judge you and who like you for who you already are. Regarding your working life, it’s better to find work that puts your attributes to good use and be in an environment that supports you.
6) Use your introvert superpowers.
I work primarily alone, and I love it. Meanwhile, an introverted friend hates having to work solo on a project. I can get lost in creative tasks for hours. Perhaps the solitary life of a writer is a bit of an introvert’s dream. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say I like sales with a passion. So it just makes good sense to mold my work life around what I can do best.
Matching your job to your personality is going to help you succeed. As Susan Cain puts it in her book ‘Quiet,” “You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your talents.”
The simple solution is to recognize that being an introvert has its rewards. As she goes on to say, “Stay true to your nature. If you like to do things slowly and steadily, don’t let others make you feel like you have to race.
If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.”
7) Be prepared to leave your comfort zone.
There’s a difference between being introverted and lacking confidence. And it’s important that we can identify the difference when it arises. It can be easy to fall back on your introversion as an excuse to say “no” to an opportunity you probably should be saying “yes” to.
I like to stop and ask myself if this “no” is coming from a lack of desire or if some fear is mixed in there too. That might be fear you’ll mess up, fear of looking foolish, fear of putting yourself out there, etc. If it’s the latter and not the former, I try to push myself to give it a go anyway.
Knowing who you are certainly doesn’t mean you can’t explore new sides of yourself. Similarly, while you don’t need to become an extrovert, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve in areas where extroverts may more naturally thrive.
For example, if you want to brush up on your conversational skills, you can. We all can learn and develop. It’s all about having a growth mindset and realizing that who you are now isn’t fixed.