Being an introvert is still incredibly misunderstood.
Whatsmore, 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 in order 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 what it isn’t!)
I am an introvert. But for years I let other people tell me that 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 am chatty in other people’s company
- I am forthcoming in sharing my opinions
- I don’t hide in a corner all night
But what they didn’t know was 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. I’d then be jokingly labeled by friends as anti-social or rude for disappearing for days on end.
And here’s the reason:
There is still a huge misconception that introversion = quiet and shy.
It’s simply not true. Whilst 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 actually a biological one:
“In short, introverts react more strongly to stimulus and therefore need much less of it or they rapidly become overstimulated.”
I always use this analogy:
As an introvert, I feel like an iPhone. I can do lots of things at once, but my battery drains very quickly.
Meanwhile, other extroverted friends find themselves energized and lifted by spending time with others.
Maybe you too have been mislabeled as introvert or extrovert. The reality is that only you know how you feel. So only you can decide.
The first key to thriving as an introvert in an extroverted world is being able to identify your own energetic needs.
Because then you can make the necessary steps to take care of yourself.
Without sounding too melodramatic, it came as a relief when I finally understood that I was introverted.
That understanding gave me permission to feel the way I was feeling and shape my life accordingly.
2) Learn what YOU need
This article is about introverts, but let’s not forget all introverts are not the same.
Your triggers will be different from the next person. What works for you might not work for someone else.
My partner is also introverted, but in a different way 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’s important to identify what your biggest energy zappers are, and find the right solutions to help you manage that.
For example, maybe excessive noise is super stressful to you (I find white noise machines help me with this). Or maybe you find groups totally exhausting and prefer one-on-one conversations.
Make a list of the things — activities and people —that suck your energy. Then create a list of the things that help recharge you.
Cultivating greater self-awareness about how you tick will really help.
That way, you’ll know what your own personal kryptonite is and what to avoid. And you’ll know what helps you to feel better.
3) Don’t over-commit
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 really helped me.
Before I’d feel selfish for saying no or turning things down.
I now know that I can’t book more than two social engagements in a week, otherwise, I’m going to end up flaking and canceling at the last minute.
There’s an expression about overeating that 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 just 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 plagued by guilt or struggle to say no, then it’s worth checking in on your boundaries.
What are your rules to protect your energy?
Spend time considering 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’s going to 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 introverts will potentially be misread by extroverts as antisocial, rude, or unfriendly.
I find giving people a heads-up has helped manage this.
For example, a friend came to stay with me for a week.
Whilst I was happy to host, I also had to let him know that I wouldn’t be around all the time.
I explained that without time alone, I genuinely start to shut down and can’t function.
Whilst I’m not totally sure he understood where I was coming from, he did respect it.
Explaining to him removed some of the awkwardness when I inevitably did go shut myself off in another room.
Similarly, whenever I’d start dating someone new I’d let them know really early on that I suck at sending texts or generally chatting through technology.
At the end of the day, extrovert or introvert, we’re all different.
I think 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 all the people all of the time
This one goes for everyone really and not just introverts. But I think there’s certainly more social pressure on introverts to try to be more extroverted.
I’ve seen lots of “tips” floating around for 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 we all have to play by certain polite 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.
It’s tempting to try to fit in, but what always matters most is that YOU like you. That’s what will help your confidence.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses. Try to cultivate the conditions in your life that help you to thrive. That is the best way to be successful — whether you’re introverted or extroverted.
In terms of your social life, it’s better to find people who don’t judge you, and who like you for who you already are.
In terms of your working life, it’s better to find work that puts your attributes to good use and be in an environment that really supports you.
Which leads me to our next point…
6) Use your introvert superpowers
I work largely alone, and I love it. Meanwhile, an extroverted friend of mine hates having to go 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 hate sales with a passion.
So it just makes good sense to mold my work life around where I can do best.
Matching your job to your personality is clearly going to help you to 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 own talents”.
The simple solution is to recognize that being an introvert has its own rewards. As she goes on to say:
“Stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if 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 own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.”
7) Be prepared to leave your comfort zone
Obviously, there’s a difference between being introverted and lacking in confidence. And it’s important 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 there is some fear 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, whilst you don’t need to become an extrovert, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve in areas of life where extroverts may more naturally thrive.
For example, if you want to brush up on your conversational skills, you can.
We all have the capacity to learn and develop.
It’s all about having a growth mindset and realizing who you are now isn’t fixed.