For most of my life I thought being an introvert was a bad thing. Growing up in an extremely extroverted family, being the quiet one never felt right. Why didn’t I speak up as quickly as they did? Why didn’t I want to be the center of attention? They looked like they were having more fun. What was wrong with me?
Well-meaning family members urged me to “come out of my shell,” but that never felt authentic. I preferred going out for coffee with a close friend or reading a book over loud, crowded parties. At times I dreaded going to the mall, fearing I would see someone I knew and would need to make small talk. “I don’t want to talk to those people,” I would say to my sister. “Can we leave?”
Clearly, being an introvert was a hassle.
However, over the past year I’ve started to appreciate my introverted personality. Through reading Quiet by Susan Cain (and the support of my extrovert husband), I’ve learned many other people have these same experiences growing up and share my fear of small talk.
Ironically, reading a book about introversion helped me to shake off some of my fears and finally open up.
The biggest contrast can be found between my husband and me. The saying “opposites attract” is true of our personalities. Cain explains this strange attraction, as well. “One tends to listen, the other to talk; one is sensitive to beauty, … while the other barrels cheerfully through his days”
I enjoy that he makes conversation easily, and he likes that I listen to him. His appreciation of me — and my quiet personality — first showed me that I wasn’t the problem.
I have always appreciated the introvert aspects of my personality – being observant, listening well, thinking before I speak – but this is the first year I felt confident in them. I ultimately decided I don’t need to apologize for not talking.
Cain quotes Ghandi saying, “All this talking can hardly be said to be of any benefit to the world. It is so much waste of time.”
The main struggle in this area has always been my job. Corporate America consistently rewards over-communication through daily meetings and sending thousands of emails.
Success at work also requires networking and attending corporate events. While I enjoy meeting people in the fashion industry, the conversation feels artificial, and I just don’t want to complain about the cold weather one more time.
I realize I’m unable to change these social norms, so I’ve learned to fake extroversion when necessary, and usually leave these events early.
I explained this introvert tendency to a friend once. “I’m an introvert,” I said. “I usually leave early because all the talking just makes me tired. At least I can say I was here.”
“I never thought of it that way,” she responded. “That totally makes sense, but I just never thought talking could be tiring!
With this new-found truth that I need more time to myself, I can say no to unnecessary social events without feeling guilty about missing out on something. “Spend your free time the way you like,” Cain writes, “not the way you think you’re supposed to.”
Giving myself enough time to recharge quietly has provided the necessary energy to communicate well in my relationships and at work.