Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Why Introverts Progress at Different Paces and What to do Now
After presenting the 5 Phases of Introversion last year, I've received a lot of feedback from young and old alike. I've surmised that these phases don't occur in the same time span for everyone. Some remain Unaware well past their 40's and others glide into Contentment before they are in their 20's.
First, let's recap the 5 Phases of Introversion
Introversion is not a state of being. It is an evolving journey that we all began long ago. The important point is that we have the capability to learn, grow, and thrive with our introversion. Which phase are you in?
Unaware- Many of us know we are different from others from our earliest childhood memories. My mother nudged outside to play with the neighbors when all I really wanted to do was be by myself with my own hobbies. I always had a small group of 2-3 friends but wondered why I was tongue-tied in crowds and was never confident as a kid. I didn't even hear the term 'introversion' until my late teens and didn't connect with it until my early 20s. This phase is often the longest. However, others may have received open support and information from friends and family to accelerate through this stage. The longer we stay in this phase, the more damage we may suffer to our self-confidence and the harder it can be to move on.
Uninformed- As adults, most introverts eventually connect with their introspective label, typically through a personality test in school or work like Myers-Briggs (MBTI). Yet we are often left to interpret the results ourselves. We may fall victim to common myths like anti-social, loner, hermit, or wallflower in our own minds, let alone from the mistaken assumptions of others. I wandered in this phase from my early 20s until my mid-40s. In our informal Facebook poll, most respondents didn't move out of this phase until their 40s or 50s. No one mandates a long stay in this stage. We need to take the lead on our own peace and tranquility to move on.
Enlightenment- Most adults eventually do move into this phase prompted perhaps by a book (Susan Cain's Quiet or others), a caring friend, or a mentor. Others are spurred on by their own sense of curiosity, sometimes prompted by a mid-life crisis or other life-changing events. During this stage introverts finally recognize there is nothing 'wrong' with them. Everyone in the world is different. We have plenty of strengths that are just different from our extroverted friends. Take a quick, free quiz here to discover your own strengths. Rather than thriving in social gatherings, debates, or brainstorming sessions, introverts often excel with listening, planning, curiosity, creativity, measured consideration, and thoughtfulness. Once we realize the importance of these traits, it's often as if a veil is lifted and we can see the opportunities that lie ahead. This phase is frequently the shortest as we are fueled by optimism, excitement, and determination.
Contentment- Though our learning and growth in the enlightenment phase should never end, we will reach a point of contentment. We may finally embrace our introversion, indeed our true self, for the first time. We are at peace alone. We understand how to manage our energy levels to continue to perform during long days. We are confident in who we are and understand that others will benefit from hearing our perspective and feeling our warmth, both at work and at home. This is a good place to be, a tranquil and satisfying spot.
Flourishing- Many introverts, fueled by the power of their own strengths and often pent up ambitions and dreams, seek to put their personality to work for them. They not only champion their own introversion, but they also share in the hope of short-circuiting this long journey for their kids and others. They may apply their bolstered confidence and style to lead at work, create independently, or change professions altogether. Not everyone seeks to enter this phase. For those introverts that do, a dose of patience and self-compassion goes a long way as you stretch your comfort zone.
Two Important Conclusions
Based on the feedback and engagement since proposing the 5 Phases, I've drawn two important conclusions:
1. Environment Impacts Pace
While we are all introverts by nature, our environment has a tremendous impact on our pace. It is true that our brain chemicals are distinctly different from extroverts, leading us to enjoy solitude, introspection, and creativity, while extroverts crave social contact, adventure, and validation. Yet we are all impacted by the environment around us as well. Some are literally shamed as introverts, encouraged or forced to conform to the dominant extroverted culture in homes, schools, and workplaces. Some kids are just labeled shy, loners, or anti-social, hence their social skills are underestimated and their valuable traits are ignored or never discovered by others who buy into the antiquated definitions of introversion.
Alternatively, some introverts grow up in a supportive home where solo time is encouraged and modeled by parents that ask about kids' hobbies and don't force constant play dates and summer camps. Teachers who provide the time and space for students to ponder and prepare help support young introverts. The difference leads to a great disparity in self-confidence and the energy to discover, learn, and embrace our introversion. These are important steps to enable introverts to participate and lead at school, home and work. Those with such a supportive environment are often on an accelerated path through the 5 Phases of Introversion, in part because they began moving to the second and third phase in their teens instead of getting buried in phase one until such time when their independence, curiosity, or depression might prompt the journey out of personal survival.
2. It's Never Too Late!
I also learned that regardless of even the harshest of childhoods, people can have a resurgence of their journey. As described within the 5 Phases, once you move out of the first two phases, the process can accelerate quickly when introverts realize much of the negativity is just myth and stereotypes and that all our ambitions and dreams can come true. Once we shed our masks during Enlightenment and utilize our innate talents we begin to excel at previous obstacles like meetings, socials, networking, and leadership.
Two final points to leave you with:
Keep learning. Shed the stereotypes and know that you have magnificent talents that your family, friends, and workplaces need in order to be more productive. Know you are not alone. Celebrate your differences and travel your own journey.
Introversion is a journey. Regardless of where you are now, it's not too late to accelerate your journey.
Three great resources to accelerate your journey:
Esp for Unaware & Esp for Uninformed & Esp for Contentment &
Uninformed Enlightment Flourishing
In recognition of World Introvert Day, all books are on sale this week!