Several years ago, an article from The Atlantic Monthly explored the challenges of being an introvert. Introverts often are accused of being too serious, too arrogant, or just too…well, different. Jonathan Rauch, a self-proclaimed introvert, offers tips on caring for friends and family members who happen to be introverts.
Just a few days ago, the New York Times featured an article on a similar topic: How to strike a balanced social life when you family includes introverts and extraverts.
Things haven’t changed. Introverts still need to be understood.
Introverts don’t do well with small talk. They need to be alone at the end of a busy crowded day. The defining quality of an introvert is feeling drained after even a few hours surrounded by other people.
Introverts aren’t necessarily shy. They’re not afraid of other people. Nor are they misanthropic. They don’t dislike other people. They just find other people…well, tiring.
The corporate world favors extraverts.
Let’s face it: the best jobs go to networkers. Public speaking is one of the primary skills of success. Even more important, being able to survive a whole day of meetings (perhaps followed by after-hours drinks) can be more important than anything you learn in business school.
You can do better as a solopreneur because you have a great deal of control over your interactions. You can choose a field where you don’t need to get out and network (at least not very much) to get clients.
I’m not a true introvert. I tend to enjoy initiating conversations with strangers, particularly if I meet them on the street and they have dogs. Some people have other words to describe my style of interaction. The word “introvert” is rarely used in the same sentence as my name.
However, I do feel overwhelmed in crowded malls. I enjoy solitude.
And I’ve come up with 3 recommendations for people who wonder if they’re introverts…or who are convinced that label fits their style and want to find a way to leverage their introversion for success.
(1) Don’t let the MBTI – or any other personality test – decide if you’re an introvert.
Myers-Briggs is notoriously unscientific. You may find it helpful as a conversation starter. But it’s not something you should build your life around.
Anyway, some experts think personalities are tendencies (or states), not traits. You might be introverted in some situations and extroverted in others. You may find certain people (or certain types of people) wear you out while others help you feel stimulated and energized.
(2) You can find lots of careers where solitude is not a problem – or at least you can carve out lots of “alone” time.
Just don’t be guided by stereotypes, such as, “Accountants are introverts. They sit in a corner and fill out spreadsheets all day.” These days accountants have to be rainmakers. I used to think lawyers had t be extraverts but some specialties (such as legal research and appellate law) allow many, many hours of thoughtful, solitary study.
(3) Become aware of your own personality. Everybody says “Keep a journal,” so this recommendation will seem trite.
Still, there’s value in tracking your moods and energy levels. What sucks your life? What drains your enthusiasm? What makes you feel you can leap tall buildings in a single bound?
Keep track of your feelings and don’t be surprised if the pattern changes over time.
I couldn’t agree with you more. According to Myers-Briggs and other personality tests, I’m supposedly an introvert. But that never rang true to me. I do tend to clam up in certain situations (e.g., when I’m meeting new people at a party and when I have to talk about myself) and certain people (for instance, loudmouths) do tend to get on my nerves. But I actually like being around people. I don’t crave quiet or solitude. In fact, in other situations, I’m very friendly, open and extroverted.
Interestingly, the main complaint I had about my previous corporate jobs is that they were so isolating. The only people I interacted with were my coworkers, who seemed to like being chained to their cubicles and preferred sending out CYA emails, rather than interacting one-on-one with other people in the office. It used to drive me so crazy, that I’d have to take long walks at lunchtime, no matter what the weather, just to see other people and feel like I was part of the human race!
You sum it up perfectly when you say that introverts aren’t necessarily shy, or that someone might be introverted in some situations and extraverted in others. You’ve got great insights, Cathy. Maybe I’ll take your advice and start keeping a journal to monitor my extroversion/introversion patterns.
Thanks for the comment. I agree that personality tests aren’t especially helpful. What’s important is that you seem to know what you need to be happy: interaction with others and preferably some time out of doors.