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Let’s face it: it’s not easy to be an introvert in a world that cherishes the extrovert ideal.
A third to a half of all people in the world* are introverts, and we have plenty of great qualities. But instead of encouraging them, we still get told way to often that there is something wrong with us.
We’re too quiet in social settings. We don’t speak enough in class or at work. We won’t succeed if we don’t learn to speak up more.
Really, we’ve probably heard it all so many times that we started believing it. I know I did.
Yet in reality, introverts can be just as happy as extroverts! We just need to find a way to navigate a predominantly extroverted society.
I’ve shared my story about accepting introversion when I first started this blog. Since then, I have been doing a lot of research on introversion to understand how we can adapt to the world we live in without changing our personality.
If you’re interested, you can read my posts about small talk tips for introverts, negotiation for introverts, how to deal with extroverted friends, how to make new friends as an introverted adult, and how to stop living inside your head.
And then recently, I finally got my hands on Susan Cain’s book « Quiet ». I knew about it for a long time, I’d watched her TED talks and interviews about the book – but I hadn’t actually read it. And when I did, I suddenly realised that so many things she talks about could have been taken straight out of my head.
As it turns out, introverts have even more in common than I originally thought! And there I was, thinking that some of my struggles just came from me being weird.
Taking the inspiration of « Quiet », I want to explore 3 struggles that I (and maybe you, too?) encounter as an introvert and that
1. You don’t make connections as easily as other people
Have you ever noticed that extroverted people can go to the same event or party as you, but know ten times as many people by the time they leave? And that, even though you spent the whole time following them around?
This happens to me all the time, and not only at events. My extroverted friends and co-workers always have more connections than I do, no matter the setting. And it’s true for the opposite side, too: people always remember them, but don’t seem to recall me quite as easily.
Oh, but when they do remember me, they never forget to ask why I’m so quiet! Even when I feel like I’ve been talking for hours on end. So reassuring.
Well, I know now why I’m not that good at making connections.
First of all, I’m not interested in small talk. I have learnt a couple of tricks to get through it, but I don’t enjoy it. And thus, I don’t particularly look for opportunities to make it.
Second, my voice isn’t as loud as that of my extroverted friends. No matter how much I feel like I’m screaming: I’m really not. At least not in social settings. I always thought that this was just me, but as it turns out, introverts generally speak more softly according to Susan Cain.
And lastly, I get tired really quickly when I’m around large groups of people. And when I get tired, I stop talking to them. No wonder they don’t remember me afterwards!
The solution for introverts
Were you ever in the following situation? You’re at an event and found one person you can talk to really easily. Yet while you’re enjoying a conversation with that person, you keep feeling guilty because you’re both hiding out in a corner instead of participating.
You constantly look over to groups of people engaged in socialising and feel like this is what you should be doing. And so at one point, you decide that you need to get over there. Then, after that and for the rest of the event, you feel awkward and struggle to take part in the conversations.
This used to happen to me all the time! And it took me years to understand that I was actually sabotaging my own socialising experience by trying to do what I thought was right.
Introverts just don’t do as well as extroverts in large groups of people. At least introverts like me who can’t act like extroverts, even when they try.
So, instead of trying to join a large group, we should focus on what we do best: one-on-one conversations. The thing that came so naturally to me ever since I was younger. But instead of feeling guilty about it, I should have embraced the chance to make a new friend. Or at least have a nice time at the event.
Whenever we’re participating in a social setting that we can’t thrive in, we should focus on making it work for us. Look around the room for other introverts who might be feeling exactly the same. Don’t run away from effortless conversations if they happen. Look for one person to network with, instead of collecting names of people who might not be impressed by your small talk skills.
And if you happen to find an extroverted person (or even group) that’s a great fit for you? Go for it! But don’t try to force it by all means.
2. You think too much before saying something
When I was little, teachers would always tell me that I didn’t participate enough in class. And even though I really tried, I just didn’t have enough to say.
After all, I can’t just give an answer that’s plainly written in the textbook, right? And I can’t just ask a question that might sound stupid!
The only time when I did participate was when I had a real contribution to make. I just couldn’t say something purely for the sake of speaking more.
This mindset has followed me throughout my life. It got me plenty of comments about being too quiet. But it also saved me from hurting people by saying something inconsiderate.
I hated this personality trait when I was little, but I’ve come to like it over the years. In the end, there’s a silver lining to everything.
Now I know that introverts aren’t born with the best self-presentation skills
Some learn them later in life. Others, like me, get better, but never perfect.
I’ve never figured out how to say something trivial while making it sound smart. I don’t even always sound smart when I actually do say something smart.
No matter how hard I try, I’m not good at speaking just for the sake of participation. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t paint the best picture of me, either.
Instead, I’ve learnt that introverts are often better served when they focus on quality over quantity.
Don’t worry about how often you say something, but rather about what you say. Your goal is to provide valuable information, and that’s all you need to think about.
People will come to value and respect someone if they add value to discussions, even if they don’t talk as much.
But how do you achieve that?
The solution for introverts
One thing that’s probably true for most introverts is that we’re not as spontaneous as we’d like to be. But that’s okay!
Instead of desperately trying to come up with something great to say on the spot, focus on being prepared. Go over the topics of meetings in advance. Make sure that you know the topic very well. And even better: write down what you would like to talk about.
I’ve found that preparing for meetings in this manner not only helps me participate more but it sometimes even leads to me leading the meeting. Especially when no one else took the time to do any research.
The same goes for classes. Do the readings (maybe even more than required), and write down your thoughts and potential questions.
There is no guarantee that things will go exactly as planned. But more often than not, you’ll find it much easier to participate in discussions if you have had the chance to gather information and form your opinion in advance.
3. You love spending time in your head, but also feel guilty about it
I honestly always thought that no one else spent as much time in their head as me. And yet, my post « How to stop living in your head » is the most visited one on my blog. This still seems strange to me!
Even as a kid, I would constantly imagine stories. I wrote three « books » before the age of 13 – all equally cringe-y, but I did enjoy the process!
My mind seemed like the most interesting space to me. I could be anything, not just the awkward kid that I was in real life. And even though I always had friends, my mom would often have to force me to see them after school.
As an adult, I still enjoy stories. I love reading, or good movies or TV shows. And I much prefer spending my afternoon learning about psychology instead of going to some social gathering where I don’t know anyone.
However, spending time in your head doesn’t align with our society’s ideal.
While I’m writing these things down, they seem so positive. Isn’t it great that I love learning and books? Shouldn’t I be proud that I’m disciplined enough to stick to « productive » activities like that instead of going out all the time?
Yet in reality, I don’t really feel that way. When someone asks me how I cope with working from home, I tell them that I have tons of activities at night. I prefer not to specify that these activities include photography and language classes and going out with one or two people once a week.
I’m not going to share my reality because I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want people to think that I’m anti-social. Which I’m not, I promise! I love going out and seeing friends, and I would do it more if I had more friends where I live now.
But isn’t it strange how we feel like we have to conform to these social norms, even if we crave a lifestyle that we know works well for us?
The solution for introverts
Just like with everything in life, it’s all about the balance.
It’s okay to stay home and do what you love. It’s actually more than okay: you need to do what you love in order to be happy.
And we definitely should work on accepting ourselves for being introverts. Instead of apologising or exaggerating our social activity when we talk to other people, we could simply share our passions. Who knows – maybe the person you’re talking to is an introvert , too, and will open up to you as well!
Being open and vulnerable is the best way to create bonds and friendships with the right people. And the others might still judge, but that’s okay, too.
However, we also need to remember that socialising is important. No introvert is self-sufficient!
So even if you’re like me last year and moved to a new town recently, find ways to meet new people. Join clubs for an activity you love, or groups of like-minded people that you’re most likely to get along with.
Find the right balance for you, and don’t apologise for it!
If you read up to here, this means that you just finished the probably longest post I’ve ever written. Thank you so much! I really hope that you found it helpful, interesting, or at least entertaining. Please let me know what you thought in the comments!
And if you like, you can share it with your friends or other introverts. 🙂
*Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Penguin Books, 2013.