At WDS this past July, a talk called “The Power of Introverts” was given by Susan Cain and Jonathan Fields.
Now, to tell you the truth, I was a big fan of Jonathan Fields, but had no idea who Susan Cain was. Turns out, she’s kinda a big deal.
Susan Cain wrote a whole book about the subject at hand entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I sat down in my red velvet seat and settled in for some learnin’…
What happened over the next hour surprised me.
I started feeling very uncomfortable. There were a lot of mixed feelings coming up in me as the speakers talked over what introversion was and how introverted people’s creativity was being squashed by being forced into group environments. I thought I was just bored.
I was fidgeting in my seat, refusing to take notes, and doing all I could to not pay attention.
Though confused by my reaction, I left and voiced what I thought was happening to me over the last hour to a friend:
“I just didn’t want to sit in there anymore because I couldn’t relate. I’m just such an extrovert!”
As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I was lying.
I was experiencing exactly what the speakers were talking about:
Because our society praises the man of action over the man of contemplation (ie the extrovert over the introvert), many introverts internalize their feelings that they aren’t outgoing enough, and try to fit in their whole lives.
Having grown up a shy kid, I started feeling like an outcast or a nerd when I became aware that society didn’t want me to be that way; I was supposed to run around with the other kids and be outgoing! I’ve learned since how to become more confident and outgoing, but I still do my best work when I’m alone and silent.
I have been making myself an extrovert while trying to hide my introvert tendencies:
- I hate going out to clubs or anything late at night
- I don’t do well in malls, crowded events, or packed rooms; I start feeling overstimulated and panicky, or I just shut down and start feeling exhausted
- I love music, but I don’t thrive in loud environments so I usually skip concerts nowadays
- I only write in coffee shops when I have no other choice; I do my best work when I’m at home alone
- Although I love yoga classes and teaching bootcamps, I prefer to work out by myself
In my career as a fitness trainer, introversion won’t make you the big bucks. Over the last few years, I’ve come a long way. I’m more confident, I’m happier, and I enjoy being around people in the gym a lot more. Writing, however, is a different story: I’ve rediscovered the j0y in creating while alone and silent.
I think a lot of you can relate who have jobs that require you to work in groups, speak louder than the guy next to you, and go to functions that require you to mingle. If these don’t sound like a blast to you, you may lean toward introversion as well.
Learning how to go against your introverted tendencies and “do as the Romans do,” was probably your only way to move up in your career.
What I’m going to suggest to you is this:
Stop hiding your introversion for fear of coming across meek or unconfident, and instead recognize where your tendencies lie so that you can harness both your extroverted and introverted qualities to create success without feeling forced into something unnatural.
Admittedly, I am not a full-blown introvert. My mind shuts down if I’m around too many people for too long, sure, but I have no problem talking to people I don’t know and doing work in groups when I need to.
No one is all extrovert or all introvert. As Susan Cain says, that person would be in the looney bin.
Recognizing the parts of my life that require solitude, and those in which I need to be social is the key to scheduling out my life for success.
Here are a few examples from my life:
- I do my best work when I’m at home alone. I schedule blocks of time to do my writing for when I’m in that environment. When I can’t finagle that, I’ll pop in my ear buds to tune out the world around me, which enhances my focus.
- For conferences or meetups, I’ve learned that I need to take more breaks while I’m there in order to absorb it without going into mental shut down. At WDS this year, I got there a couple days early to settle in, but next year I’ll definitely be taking more time outs throughout. :)
- Because I work out best on my own, but there are benefits to be gained in my profession from going to classes and working out with others, I balance group days with days on my own.
I can’t believe it took me so long to accept that this is the way I am. I think I’d been resisting it for quite a while, but given the numbers, I shouldn’t feel ashamed at all.
Introverts are a third to a half of the world’s population. That’s a lot of us!
If you get frustrated with yourself for not being able to push through social situations without feeling uncomfortable, you may be part of the club.
Here is Susan Cain’s definition of what an introvert is:
“Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t thrive in other environments! It just means you prefer to be alone to do your best work. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Knowing in which situations you thrive is what will make you either a genius, or a frustrated, stressed-out nutcase. Let’s avoid that, shall we?
Here are some steps to take to schedule out the most productive regimen for YOU…
Step 1: What are you?
Find out whether you’re an introvert, ambivert or extrovert by taking the Quiet Quiz on Susan Cain’s website. Click here to take it and come right back!
Step 2: Prioritize
Here’s where we take our results and start making priorities to keep ourselves in that energetic, creative space we all know and love. Remember that you won’t be all one category. Delegate your priorities as you see fit…
If you’re an introvert…
Make time to do things on your own. You likely take more time to decompress and don’t feel all that comfortable in social situations. Despite what you may have learned over the years, that’s not a bad thing. You just do things differently than the social norm. I think that makes us interesting. :) Don’t compromise your needs; you’ll thrive better in those times of solitude and silence than if you force yourself to push through in a loud or group setting.
If you’re an extrovert…
Awesome! Keep up your group outings, masterminds and team meetings. You work best when you can collaborate with other creative individuals and feed off their energy, fueling them with your own as well. Sign up for those bootcamps or get an exercise partner to team up with to get yourself motivated. Meeting people comes naturally to you, so go out and shed your light on others while in turn gaining some momentum for yourself!
If you’re an ambivert…
Pick and choose from the 2 categories above. You luck out: you get the best of both worlds!
Step 3: Gut the Guilt
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, there’s a lot of guilt associated with personality types.
If you’re primarily an introvert, you likely feel like you’re abnormal or somewhat of a hermit for not wanting to go out or feeling uncomfortable when you do. You might feel like you’re not a “team player,” because you’d rather do it on your own and you’re more efficient that way. You might have even been made fun of growing up because you were the kid who preferred to be in the library at lunch (or at anime club… ahem… I was president) instead of out playing with the other kids.
If you’re primarily an extrovert, you may have felt uncomfortable being alone not doing anything. You’re a get up and go type person, and sitting still just doesn’t sound like fun to you. You may have been accused of being a trouble child, show off or class clown in school. You may have even been accused of not being able to be on your own. Shame words you may have heard growing up could include: obnoxious, loud, rowdy, scatter-brained, unfocused, or needy.
Maybe you’ve been accused of both sides.
The thing is, there is no right or wrong way to be. You just have to be whatever you are, fully and without apology.
Knowing which environments are the most comfortable and conducive to your creative process is super helpful when it comes to looking for jobs or doing side projects on your own, making new friends or hanging out with the ones you have, or even being in intimate relationships.
The guilt society instills in us is the most useless, unnecessary burden we take on as human beings.
NO ONE fits into the “social norm,” because everyone is their own unique blend of crazy. And that’s effing beautiful.
It’s a good thing you’re not like “everyone else.” You stand out. You are someone’s perfect match. Your crazy is something no one else has.
Run with it. Share it with the world!
In fact, I’m going to give you an opportunity to do that right now. Here’s a sharable tweet (just click the image below to tweet it yourself!):
So that’s it, kids. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, embrace the environments in which you work best, and fight to make the time in your schedule to create in that space. Forget about what you’re “supposed to do,” and do what makes you feel the most alive.
On a side note, how’s The Humanity Challenge going for those of you who are taking it?