Updated: Dec 1, 2020
It's Time to Stop the Ignorance
Many of us have heard co-workers, friends, even family exclaim, "Oh, you can't be an introvert!"
Some of today's most famous introverts undoubtely have heard the same exclamation - Lady Gaga, Al Pacino, Emma Watson, Michael Jordan, Kelly Ripa, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, President Obama, and more.
A wide variety of emotions can pass through our minds:
Exhilaration...yes, I've fooled them. They think I'm an extrovert! In some ways, it's easier to don a mask and pretend to be an extrovert. I felt like I'd worn that mask for 30 years in order to fit the stereotypical personality common in the corporate world - talkative, social, a quick decision-maker. At my retirement party, dozens of my long-time co-workers were shocked when I shared my strongest, steadfast personality trait - introversion. But then, our emotions tend to shift...
Disappointment...primarily in ourselves. Many of us struggle to maintain this charade at the cost of our own health and mental well-being because we think we have to. I did just that, relieving my stress with overeating, excessive drinking, and over-work. What a horrible situation that we feel we must hide our true selves at our own detriment. Not only does that take a toll on ourselves, but we are missing the opportunity to be a courageous role model for the many hidden introverts around us. But we are not solely responsible. Frankly, given societal stereotypes, who can blame us for our own deception? Suddenly, our thoughts focus on...
Frustration...at the ignorance of many others. They think they know what introversion is. They think introverts are quiet, anti-social, loners. They don't seem to believe we can be interesting, charming, and conversant. And when we are, they assume we are extroverts like everyone else appears to be! They may mean well, but this is plain ignorance. As we know full well by now, introverts can be quite sociable. Most of us just prefer to do so in smaller groups, with friends or familiar faces, and for a limited amount of time. Once our energy is drained, we may casually and inconspicuously retreat to reenergize. Finally, our focus turns to...
Bewilderment...that so many others have a very shallow view of introversion. They judge people on their apparent social capabilities, not appreciating that introverts are so much more. Extroverts would never want to be considered one-dimensional. Neither do we! While no two people, or introverts, are alike, many introverts are very caring, empathetic people. We may have a small group of friends, but we develop deep and supporting relationships. Others may see us as quiet in the meeting room at work, as teachers in the classroom, or parents at the PTO gathering, but they don't realize or appreciate we are observing, listening, collecting insights that later can become strong recommendations and innovative solutions.
Much of the disconnect springs from misinformation or a lack of understanding of introversion. Honestly, these stereotypes are held by many extroverts, but also by introverts themselves who are overwhelmed by the stereotypes society fosters. It is hard for many introverts to develop the understanding of our own many strengths and confidence in order to throw off the mask, proudly proclaim our introversion, and share our strengths with the world.
So what can we introverts do to break this stereotype?
Learn: Be informed, learn about introversion. Start with Susan'Cain's hallmark guide, Quiet (see other great resources here) and check out a wide variety of posts on our blog including The Demystification of Introversion, OK, I'm an Introvert, Now What?, and Struggling to Cope in an Extrovert's World.
Prepare: Discover your strengths and practice them. These will help you cope with stressful meetings or huge cocktail hours in a healthy, controlled way. With these tools, the meetings, presentations, and socials don't seem as scary. Best of all, you will gain confidence in yourself. This will enables you to make your own decisions rather than follow the crowd or conform to the stereotypes that surround us.
Be Courageous: Proclaim your introversion. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Shame is a horrible, misplaced self-inflicted wound. Extroverts are proud of their people skills, debate techniques, and quick wit. You should be equally proud of your empathy, reflective skills, balanced analytics, creativity, propensity for planning, and appetite for learning. But that is not the norm, so you must be courageous. You don't have to take out the local interstate billboard but think of the power of sharing your introversion with your manager and team. Such vulnerability and authenticity will remove obstacles for all sorts of sharing and support. You will become a role model for the many other introverts (50% in the workforce) and help get your voice into the meeting room and the board room.
Stretch Kindly: Grow yourself with self-compassion. Stretch and be courageous with your introversion. Test your boundaries through your Growth Rings. But also be proud and comfortable with who you are. You should not aspire to be an extrovert, but aim to be the best person you can be!
Did you know, each of these steps is also often noted as introvert strengths (take our personalized assessment)! So you can do it. You can stand tall and make a dent in the world!
"Oh, you can't be an introvert!"
Oh yes, I can, and I am! Let me tell you what introversion is really all about!
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In Search of Courage: An Introvert's Story is my award-winning memoir filled with the pain of growing up different, the agony of working