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How people get introverts all wrong

Man alone near water

Life isn't easy. And if you're an introvert, it can feel especially daunting in a world that seems tailor-made for gregarious, attention-seeking individuals. 

Aside from competing personal and professional demands, introverts have to contend with: 

  • Energy levels being depleted by difficult people and situations 
  • Constantly being questioned on our quiet, unassuming demeanor
  • Having to be quick and on our feet when our natural dependency is to go at a slower, more measured pace 
  • Being passed over for promotions and other opportunities because of our reluctance to promote our accomplishments 
And yet, for all these challenges, being an introvert brings an array of gifts and opportunities:
  • The capacity to listen to and understand people on a deeper level than most others 
  • The ability to delve deeply into subjects and interests about which we're passionate 
  • The ability to focus intently on something for long stretches of time without getting distracted 
  • The inclination to work independently, which can result in creative ideas
  • The capacity to keep ourselves occupied without ever getting bored 
In other words, introversion lends itself to a rich, fulfilling inner life. But because other people can't read our thoughts, all they see is a generally quiet person who they misconstrue as:
  • Self-absorbed
  • Boring 
  • Having no interests 
  • Misanthropic 
  • Spineless 
It's a classic case of judging a book by its cover.

Yet, no introverts (at least not any I know) go around telling extroverts to quiet down, to be less convivial. 

It isn't until they (hopefully) get to know us well that they discover introverts are fountains of knowledge and wonderful people to be around.

So what can introverts do to break this pattern?

I encourage introverts to be their most authentic selves. Don't hold back in telling people what your passions are, whether it's history or gardening. 

In the past, I often felt embarrassed to admit I am an introvert because of the negative stigma around the term. 

But now, I just educate people on what introversion really means. It has nothing to do with being shy or hating people, I tell them. Rather, when you're an introvert, you draw energy from yourself rather than from other people. 

If you ask most introverts whether they like to socialize, most will answer in the affirmative. (Introverts can be quite extroverted around people they trust.)

But, if they're being totally candid with you, they will throw in that they:
  • Prefer small groups to large ones, let alone big crowds
  • Need time to recharge afterwards 
  • Enjoy deep, stimulating conversations 
  • Do not like drawing attention to themselves
  • Have no qualms about staying in with a good movie or book as opposed to hitting the town 
Shallow talk about hair clips, traffic, and other trivial matters will bore us to sleep. On the other hand, if the conversation turns to economics, history, psychology, or philosophy, we're rapt. 

That isn't to say that we can't talk about, say, sports or cooking, but if no topic is broached that invites thinking on a more profound level, you're bound to lose our attention. 

If you find yourself taking heat for just being yourself, remember these nuggets of information:
  • Don't take it personally. Chances are they don't know you well, let alone what introversion entails, so they're trying to fill in the gaps. You can try giving them a crash course in introversion, but you're under no obligation to do so. 
  • Don't feel compelled to change. If you feel like being more open and talkative will help you in your personal or professional life, there's nothing wrong with trying to make a few tweaks here and there. But if you're feeling pressure to become a full-blown extrovert -- to fundamentally change who you are -- then it's time to reassess the job or relationship. You should never be put in that position. 
  • Focus on the perks of being an introvert. When given their space, introverts can cook up amazingly creative ideas, proposals, and even inventions. Rather than harping on what others say or think about you, leverage your gifts to great effect. 
Even after you illuminate for others all the qualities that make you unique, they might still seem confused at best and turned off at worst. 

If it's the latter, that really isn't your problem. They have no obligation to associate with you any longer, and it's probably for the best. 

I've heard people call introverts "weird" for their introspective nature and bookworm tendencies.

But, really...who's to say what constitutes something or someone weird? Maybe I find someone who runs their mouth all day weird, but it isn't as though I have to voice that opinion to anyone. 

We're all entitled to our own opinions, but just because we perceive someone to be a certain way doesn't mean they're like that in actuality. 

For example, many introverts have become adept at morphing into extroverts out of sheer necessity. They work in customer-facing roles (e.g., sales) that call for rubbing lots of elbows, so there's no way around it. But if you ask them, they're the farthest thing from true extroverts.

I always suggest that introverts try to go for jobs that suit their personality. If they're straining themselves to be someone they're not and find it detrimental to their physical or mental health, it's time to look for something else. 

I happen to find deep-thinking, intellectually curious people to be very compelling. Whether they're quiet or talkative, bold or meek, it really matters little. 

We should all -- introverts and extroverts alike -- learn to accept and embrace other's differences. We all have something special to contribute to the world. 

It is my sincere hope that the pandemic has cast introverts in a more favorable light now that everyone has had to adjust to keeping a certain distance from others and spending ample time at home (both of which introverts are more apt to do anyway). 

I don't expect introverts to rule the world anytime soon. But perhaps in the future -- when the pandemic is well behind us -- introverts will no longer get disapproving looks when we express a need for solitude or appear introspective at a social function.


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