Oct 23, 2008
Being an introvert in an extroverted world
Introverts can feel at a disadvantage when everybody else around them seems so comfortably extroverted. But Sunada feels that the world benefits from the influence of qualities that come naturally to introverts. She explores ways that quieter types can be more “out there” without having to compromise who they really are.
Are you an introvert? When you’re feeling tired or stressed out, do you prefer to be by yourself – and do things like curl up with a book, soak in a hot bath, or go for a walk alone? If you’re a meditator, chances are pretty good you’ve got introvert tendencies. I definitely do.
We pause and reflect before we speak … we’re conscientious and loyal … our friendships are strong and deep. In a world where many are feeling overwhelmed by busyness and disappointed by superficiality, how could these qualities not be valuable?
But the world out there is mostly extroverted. I’ve heard that 75% of Americans are extroverts (though it varies from culture to culture). I used to work in business, where that percentage is even higher. Our world tends to reward extrovert qualities, like the ability to chat easily with strangers, be outgoing, and constantly on the move. If you look up “introvert” in a thesaurus you get the following synonyms: brooder, egotist, loner, narcissist, and wallflower. Not very flattering, is it? But the truth is, whenever we’re at big, boisterous parties with lots of people, the whole scene can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
My meditation practice has brought me to see things in a new light. Yes, we introverts may be fewer in numbers, and certainly less visible. But I now see that we naturally possess many qualities that the world could really use more of. We know how to slow down, take a deep breath, and smell the proverbial roses. We usually pause and reflect before we speak – so when we do have something to say, it tends to be meaningful. We’re conscientious and loyal. And though we may have small circles of friends, our friendships are strong and deep. In a world where many are feeling overwhelmed by busyness and disappointed by superficiality, how could these qualities not be valuable?
I’ve learned how essential it is to take time for myself … to keep my batteries charged up – and not be ashamed of having to do it!
So if you’re a fellow introvert, let’s stop seeing ourselves as outsiders or somehow “lesser” people. Let’s stop isolating ourselves because we’re “different”. The world has much to gain from us introverts bringing ourselves and our genuine strengths out there.
And how do we do this without having to fake being something we’re not? First and foremost, I’ve learned how essential it is to take time for myself, all alone, to keep my batteries charged up – and not be ashamed of having to do it! In the Myers-Briggs system of classifying personality types, the Extrovert-Introvert dimension is defined by where you draw your energy from. Extroverts prefer the outer world of people and things. They get energized by being active and engaged with others. Introverts prefer to focus on their inner world of thoughts and images. They regain energy through solitude. So it’s not about whether you like being with people or not. It’s a matter of energy, and where you get recharged. I know several people who seem quite social and outgoing, but would be considered introverts by this definition.
So it’s no wonder that we introverts can’t keep up with an extrovert lifestyle. We would burn ourselves out. To me, solitary time is as necessary to my well-being as food and water. I make sure I get some daily. My meditation time is of course part of this picture. If I’m traveling or attending a multi-day event with other people, I make sure to schedule some solitary time afterward to recharge. I’m now aware that any skimping I do is at my own risk!
It’s also very worthwhile to examine our own attitudes about our introversion. Being introverted isn’t a good or bad thing in itself. It’s the stories we’ve built around it that make it so. Do we see ourselves as inferior? Do we go to social events with a feeling of dread? Do we walk around with a self-image as someone who has difficulty talking with others? Are we constantly judging what we say? I have to admit I used to do all those things. And still catch myself doing them from time to time. But all these thoughts only serve to sabotage us even before we get out of the gate.
If we can step out of the trap of our negative stories, we’ll find infinite ways to engage with the world without having to fake anything.
If we can step out of the trap of our negative stories, we’ll find infinite ways to engage with the world without having to fake anything. When I worked in business in the past, I learned that some of my natural but less visible inclinations were really valued by my colleagues. In addition to being an introvert, I’m also very intuitive and able to relate to people easily (I’m an INFJ, for those of you who know Myers-Briggs). Sure, I wasn’t among the socially active and “popular” ones. But I was usually the one who quietly figured out what was really going on behind the scenes. I might pick up on people’s unspoken needs, notice someone who was afraid to come forward, or play diplomat to patch up simmering disagreements among team members. No, these things weren’t part of my job description. But over time they became my signature strengths – and I came to be respected for my ability to keep a team running smoothly and congenially because of them.
In my current line of work, I need to be out networking and meeting people to promote my business. Sales and marketing are probably the things introverts hate doing the most! But this is doable in introvert-style too. I never do any “cold calling” or selling to total strangers (even extroverts have a hard time with that!). If I’m meeting somebody new, I usually establish contact first by email. The next step might be a phone call. For a face-to-face meeting, I go with an agenda in mind, with specific items I want to talk about, rather than leaving it open and freeform. I’ve also learned that if I talk from the perspective of what’s meaningful to me personally, my enthusiasm catches on – and my self-consciousness doesn’t have room to creep in. In fact, I think that it’s my low-key style that brings people to believe in me and what I have to say. I’m not pushing anything on them, so they feel free to decide for themselves.
So if you were born an introvert like me, I would urge you to make the conscious choice to live as an introvert, and be proud of it. On the one hand, it means respecting some very real limits we face. We need to preserve our energy through lots of solitude, and know how not to put ourselves into situations that make us feel tongue-tied or overwhelmed! But at the same time we can bring out our natural strengths in our own quiet way. I’ve learned that when I allow what’s authentic in me to shine through, people notice and really appreciate it.
Sunada not only teaches the online meditation courses at Wildmind, she runs her own business, Mindful Purpose Life Coaching, through which she coaches people toward embracing their authentic strengths and living with a greater sense of purpose.