How does it feel? I feel frustrated for always having to apologize to people for wanting to take time to myself on occasion or feeling awkward defending my need for alone time. I’m tired of trying to convince others that I’m normal and that introversion is widely misunderstood – even among those who call themselves introverts! I’m an introvert, that how I am, and I’m fine with it. And I shouldn’t have to apologize.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, especially in the last year an a half. I’m a very strong introvert who’s attending business school, which is one of the most socially active environments I’ve ever experienced. The term “introvert” has an unnecessarily bad reputation, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, and would like to address a few misconceptions. My thoughts below are of course generalizations, and come with the same risks that any kind of generalization bears.
Let’s first ground ourselves in what it means to be an introvert. In short, we reenergize by being alone. As copied from Wikipedia: some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.
Misconception #1: “Introversion is a fancy name that we give for lacking social skills.”
This is a common misconception of introverts. We’re thought of as the social outcasts. We’re taught as kids that we’re supposed to go make friends with the other kids playing in the sandbox. And if we don’t, we’re weird and our parents have to apologize to the other parents for our behavior.
We have to relearn what introvert really means. Introverts can be perfectly social and most are. We have many friends, are quite well adjusted, and fit a broad range of societal definitions of normal. Its just that when everyone else is running out for the 5th consecutive night out at a bar, we’d prefer to take a night to ourselves on occasion.
Misconception #2: “Introverts are quiet and don’t like to talk.”
Wrong again. I like to talk. I have a lot to say! After spending an above average amount of time thinking and reading, I want to share what I’ve learned. I want to know what others think about what I’m now thinking.
But I don’t like to talk in front of a group of people I don’t know. I don’t like to talk in environments that are loud. And I don’t like to talk about silly things, or what some would call “small talk.” I’d much rather talk about the important issues in my life and hear what issues you’re working through. And if we hit upon a mutually interesting topic, I can talk with others for hours.
Misconception #3: “Given a choice, introverts would always prefer to be alone rather than in a group.”
This too is not necessarily true. There are only so many episodes of Downton Abbey I can watch in a row before I have to get out of my apartment and interact with another human being. Some of my best memories include trips with friends or projects with big groups.
As mentioned in another post, I can turn on my group socializing skills without much difficulty. But, as an introvert, I just have to balance my socializing time with my quiet time. If I know I have a number of social events coming up, I need to plan in advance to get in my alone time to recharge. I also need to make sure I don’t schedule social events after work too many days in a row. I’ll be drained by the time the end of the week comes around. But as long as I’m honest with myself on how much group time I can take and plan accordingly, I have a great time interacting with others.
Misconception #4: “Introverts are not good leaders”
We see exceptionally charismatic leaders, such as President Clinton or Jack Welch (famous long time CEO of General Electric) and begin to believe that being an extrovert is a prerequisite to inspiring others and gaining a following.
Au contraire you naysayer. Albert Einstein was an introvert, as are BIll Gates and Warren Buffett, just to name a few.
As we learn in management class, there are two types of leaders – those who inspire others through their personality (Oprah), and those who inspire others through their knowledge (Einstein). Introverts tend to do well with the latter and have made amazing contributions to the world. They’ve also built huge organizations that have lasted over time.
Misconception #5: “Introverts are only a small portion of the population”
According to the MBTI people, about half of the population identifies as introverted. Other studies suggest it’s around a third of the population. Regardless, there are a lot of introverts of varying degrees out there!
I often think that introverts suffer from some of the same misfortunes of “invisible minorities,” such as those with a religious affiliation or those who identify as LGBT. If we can’t see what someone is by looking at them, we tend to underestimate how many people identify with that subgroup. This is especially true with those who are introverted, as we recharge alone. Others won’t necessarily know we’re introverts unless we tell them. And that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do recently. Its amazing how many people respond saying that they’re an introvert as well. It’s an instant bond!
Introversion is just another aspect of the complexity that makes up the human race. It should neither be celebrated nor lamented. Rather, it should simply be understood. Those of us who are introverts need to learn how to live in a world that seems to be full of extroverts. This mainly includes striking the right balance between social time and alone time, so we can be truly “on” when we’re socializing. And those who are extroverts have an opportunity to better understand where introverts are coming from. Almost half of the population identifies as introverted to some degree, so we’re not abnormal outcasts!