Tuesday, November 01, 2005

So am I an Introvert?

*** The following is a revised excerpt from the book Confessions of an Introvert, by Meghan Wier*** For ordering information, go to www.meghanwier.com/order.asp


So am I an Introvert? (Or Just Kind of Shy?)

“They remember me as this shy girl sitting under the table. But they obviously didn’t know what was going on in my head.” – Izabella Scorupco

“Mommy, she’s embarrassing me! Make her stop, Plleeeze!” I sobbed. My mother, who was crammed awkwardly with two little girls in a tiny public bathroom, looked at me unsympathetically. “Meghan, she’s two, she isn’t going to stop.” My little sister, crouched down at the floor, head popped into the next stall was pleasantly chatting with the nice lady with the misfortune of being trapped next to us. I wanted to disappear. My sister had no problem making new friends and talking to strangers. But to me, having someone’s attention, especially unwanted and unsolicited attention was beyond mortifying.

That bathroom incident was the first time I can remember being aware of my own self-consciousness. My sister’s casual approach to making new friends was so foreign to me that even being in her presence while she gleefully introduced herself to anyone who would listen was difficult to take. This awareness of self, and desire to focus inward, is what characterizes me as an introvert, and this self-awareness is one of the things that gives me the strength to succeed today.

Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary (© 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.) defines introvert as a transitive verb as:

“To turn inward or in upon itself as to concentrate or direct upon oneself.”

So many times in my life I wanted to disappear, to become invisible. Social events, family gatherings and even the average school day was uncomfortable for me, and over time I developed a habit in these situations of sneaking off to a quiet place to regroup. I grew up with people excusing my antisocial behavior with comments such as, “oh, she’s just shy.” But being shy is more about being timid, easily frightened, and tentative in committing oneself. Shyness and introversion will often go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing. I can be shy on occasion, but that wasn’t always why I preferred sitting alone, reading a book, or curled up on the couch watching TV on a Friday night instead of out at the clubs with my friends in college. I like to have time and space to think, and be alone. And I have never liked crowds of strangers (or making friends in public bathrooms), and that is what makes me an introvert.

WordNet ® 2.0 (2003 Princeton University) defines an introvert as a noun:

“A person who tends to shrink from social contacts and become preoccupied with their own thoughts.”

Self-consciousness and self-awareness are the gifts of introverts. They are the differentiators that allow the introvert to excel in situations where thought and processing information on a deeper level is tantamount. Introverts can be found in every profession, but you would be hard-pressed not to find them in research labs, or in the dark cubicles programming away at software companies. Introverts are generally drawn to professions that allow them to be comfortable, and good at what they do, alone.

As much as I like being alone, I can be a pretty friendly person on occasion. I always thought it was strange that in some circumstances I can be pretty social, but in others I was very antisocial. I was confusing shyness with being an introvert. As I got older, I became less shy. Sometimes I do like to be the center of attention, but at other times I would rather not be noticed at all. I have learned that is common for many introverts to have a social side and a non-social side. In the book The Introvert Advantage, Dr. Marti Laney says that public figure introverts are driven onto center stage for different reasons than extroverts. “Introverts come into the limelight because of their quest for work that has meaning for them, an unusual talent, or extraordinary circumstances.” Dr. Laney confirmed that my exhaustion after giving a speech or going to a party was very common for introverts; even the ones who feel more natural and comfortable in social situations.

One of the things about being an introvert that is most significant to me is that meeting new people is exhausting. I can be social, especially with a group of friends, but afterwards, I need some solitude to feel like myself again. While my extrovert-friends are able to gain energy from all of the new people they meet, I find it draining. I generally avoid unfamiliar social gatherings except under very specific conditions. This combined with a reluctance to speak-up had been a professional disadvantage. However, I have worked hard to become the kind of person that stands up, and is heard. I have learned not to be shy. While I will always be an introvert, there is nothing wrong with that, and I can manage my personality, my environment, and be most effective by knowing who I am and what I need.

There are obviously varying degrees of introverts, and we each react more or less introverted in different situations. However, there are several personality traits that tend to be most associated with introverts, such as the need to be alone sometimes, and a more quiet thoughtful approach to difficult situations. There is also a brief breakdown of some introvert vs. extrovert qualities at the end of this section, and this book will assist you in determining your style, acknowledging your strength and building your future through networking, business sense, and community involvement.

Shyness can be overcome, and grown out of. Introversion is something that is always a part of someone’s personality. However, being an introvert can be managed by the same thoughtfulness and self-awareness that makes someone an introvert in the first place. With careful self-examination, introversion can be managed and leveraged for significant personal and professional gains. I have found that being an introvert (even a shy introvert with stage fright and a bit of social anxiety) is truly a gift. While I may know many people in my community and beyond, I still shy away from group situations when given the opportunity…which is okay. True liberation came for me when I realized that there isn’t anything wrong with this behavior, or with me. What this means is that the people that I do bring into my life are VERY special, thoughtful, friendly, interesting, giving, intelligent, patient and profoundly wonderful. I bring them into my inner circle because they are good people who support my business and support me. They will be honest with me, and they wish to see me succeed. They each bring me something unique, and I am able to give them something unique in return.
Introverts vs. Extroverts

Review the list below to learn about some of the different qualities of introverts and extroverts. Are you more introverted, or extroverted?

Introverts Extroverts
- seek occasional solitude - seek out social situations
- avoid interaction with new people - enjoy interaction with new people
- are excellent listeners - are excellent talkers
- have a small, close circle of friends - have many friends they may not be close with
- keep thoughts to themselves - speak their minds
- conserve personal energy - expend personal energy


At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am definitely an introvert, and unfortunately a shy one, though I have become less shy over time. Because I am shy as well as introverted, this has caused difficulty in my personal relationships. My current SO, who is an uberextrovert says I'm not very social even with people that are "easy to know" and he claimed this not to be a criticism of me. However, that's just what it sounds like. No matter how much I have progressed, it seems that it's just never enough and I feel frustrated and exhausted trying to cope in a society that says something is fundamentally the matter with me. To help overcome a lot of my shyness I learned to "fake it 'til you make it", and now I can go to parties and hold conversations with people without the physical symptoms of anxiety I once experienced. Nevertheless there comes a point where I become bored and restless and simply want to retreat into myself. This is unacceptable and I find I am persistently peppered with questions about why I'm so quiet and / or if I'm having a good time. I've decided the only thing I can do is to become an extrovert in public. Talk several decibles louder than I'm used to, smiling all the while (I've noticed that extroverts manage to smile while talking, weird), and learn how to ask interminal open ended questions. When I go home alone I can be me again.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Meghan Wier said...

Thank you so much for commenting - I wanted to let you know that it is perfectly ok to retreat. If others don't understand, fine. You need to be able to take a walk and step away once in a while. It is not your responsibility to explain to an extrovert why you are an introvert, or how it affects you. Just take a walk - come back, and smile when they ask why and say that you just needed air.

Your SO may not ever understand why interacting with people exhausts you while it invigorates him, but he will learn that that is just who you are.

I can appreciate "putting on the face" and playing extrovert in public - I do the same ever day. I will say a glass of wine helps! Do what you need to do, get out there, relax when possible, and take a long nap afterwards. Best of luck - and let me know how it goes! - meg


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