Brace yourself because I’m about to tell you something that you won’t believe.
I’m an introvert. Yes, you read that correctly. I become easily drained from social interactions, have to give myself pep talks to attend networking events, and I thrive in isolation, often in pursuit of outputting something creative(hence while you will often see me reading or writing).
When I was young, I used to go to the bookstore, pick out something I found intriguing, go home, and read the entire book within a span of a few hours. I was free to explore an expansive world of my imagination and became lost in the characters and plot of the story. I would sit at my (then) desktop computer and type away fictional stories about female characters living and thriving in a realistic world. I used to work for hours by myself through movement in my room, crafting intricate routines to place on dancers to be presented onstage. I was free. I was free to be myself without worry or fear of being judged.
In a world that glorifies the networking powerhouse and the social butterfly, I have to give some insight on the special qualities that us quieter people possess.
When I have to gently explain to others that I have to go home after a day of events, they often look at me in a confused daze, unable to comprehend that someone like me could actually be an introvert. Introverts are often misconstrued as being shy or socially awkward(which, admittedly, sometimes I can be), and unable to socialize or hold conversation. That’s an untrue assumption. Many of my leadership positions and career pursuits involve working the crowd, attending large events where I have to present and speak publicly, and simply interacting with others on a daily basis. I didn’t even realize I was an introvert until during my year of service as Miss New Jersey, I would come home from a day of socializing and interacting with children, teachers, community members, professionals, you name it, and would swiftly make my way back, shut the door, and crawl under my covers, praying that I could retreat in peace. As long as I’ve been able to fool others, I was able to fool myself.
I now understand that as an introvert, I live for long, passionate, intimate talks where an individual’s personality comes alive. Small talk makes me cringe and look for the nearest out. Small talk creates invisible barriers between people. We politely poke and prod in hopes of finding a touchstone that will bring us together by asking questions like, “What do you do? Where do you live? Do you like your job? How’s ___ going?” followed by phrases like, “Oh, that’s cool,” “Wow,” “Nice.” We skim the surface. I want depth, meaning, and purpose. I’ve been called an ‘old soul’ since my youth because I tend to get lost in the big picture, the greater meaning of life, and overanalyze everything to the core. I’ve never been the type to ‘live in the moment,’ so no, I never ‘yolo’ed.’
As my Myers-Briggs personality categorizes me as an “INFJ,” my soft-spoken nature balances well with my strong-willed personality. Introverts can be what I like to call ‘quiet leaders.’ We lead with intention, heart, and think extensively before we speak because each word should inspire others to move and to act. We fight tirelessly for issues we believe in, even if that means we are behind the scenes. We let our employees thrive by giving them responsibility without being overbearing. People believe introverts are shy, but if you get us to start talking about something we feel deeply about, be prepared to listen in for a long time. In leadership circles, others tend to give special attention to my thoughts because I rarely speak unless I have something of value to add. I’ve found that my reserved personality causes others to gravitate to me, which is what often happens to introverts.
Feeling alone in the crowd
Too much stimulation and noise is catastrophic for me. Others are surprised that I can’t get any work done in a library or coffee shop, and that I’m extremely productive while in my bed. We can often feel alone in a crowd as others are engaging in small talk. We feel drained trying to keep up with the external energy, and retreat to our thoughts. You will often find us chatting it up with others, but also you may find us in a corner somewhere surveying the scene, recharging for our next interaction. Remember that our isolation is not personal, it’s part of who we are and how we function. Granted, there are days where we want to go everywhere and see everyone, but that has to be balanced with ample alone time. Don’t get me wrong. I love people. I love stories. I love authenticity. I love the way people’s faces glow and their voice gets a pitch higher when they talk about something they love. I love contagious passion. I just don’t like surfing waves when I can be crashing in the intensity of an ocean.
We have a few close friends. I can count my ‘best’ friends on one hand, and I’m okay with that. I have a mixture of extraverted and introverted friends, which brings harmony to my life. How? My extraverts help me to experience life and force me to move outside of my comfort zone. I go to them when I’m debating whether or not I want to go to a conference or event just for confirmation that it will be good for me. My introverts just get me. They let me curl up next to them with a glass of wine and let me read in peace. When I let you in, it’s more than just wanting to be your friend, it means being vulnerable in a way that not everyone sees.
Giving speeches is nothing, mingling one-on-one is
This mystifies people. I can stand in front of crowds of hundreds, heck, thousands, of people and deliver speeches as if it’s my second nature. This hasn‘t always been the case, as I used to shy away from any chance at being put on the spot. Now, with mental preparation and practice that consists of feeling comfortable and thinking through the impact of my words, public speaking has become second nature. Standing in front of and addressing a crowd is not the same as having one-on-one conversation. In my current job, supervision and one-on-one conversations are a large part of what I do. I grapple with this blindspot by creating a safe space to cultivate relationships, not just engage in simple conversation. I want to encourage and inspire others to think, and that’s why I’m so intentional with my words. I believe that every interaction serves a purpose.
We are preparers. Preparation allows us a sense of unwavering confidence. We like to avoid the unexpected. I’m a planner. I plan everything to make sure I’m hitting all my marks and that there’s little room for error or failure, although in the back of my mind my spiritual faith reigns strong. We don’t like surprises. We don’t like to be caught off guard. For me, this is a part of a larger fear that lies in my perfectionist tendencies.
We think a lot
We think for ourselves, always wanting to live in a way that suits us, rather than following the masses. We look internally for answers and very seldomly will ask for help. If we ask you for something, rest assured that truly means we value your presence in our lives. If you deny our request, we will take it to the core.
We’re listeners. That’s how I lead, by listening, taking in all of the information, and then making the best decision as I see fit from the information I’m presented. We’re in tune with what others are feeling and expressing because we pay close attention to detail in people. We read others carefully and find ourselves to be selectively social. We don’t want to sit and chatter and gossip, we want fruitful conversations, and will stay clear from those who bring unwanted attention and drama.
I’m usually thinking about a paper I have due three weeks from now, somewhere I have to go next week, a speech I have to make tomorrow, and of course, what my life will look like ten years from now. My mind flutters away, consumed with deep thoughts of plans, dreams, and my latest projects. I prefer writing to talking, simply because it allows me to completely process my thoughts, without fear of being interrupted in conversation. I usually role play important conversations to work out the different possibilities that may be the outcome. Like I said, us introverts come prepared. Being an introvert allows me to be in tune with myself, my wants, my needs, and my desires without background noise from anyone else.
We are not shy, depressed, or strange. We just seek depth and are not interested in entertaining or uselessly wasting energy on things that don’t have greater purpose. We love people from a listening capacity, we strive to help and offer an extra hand, but interaction has to be married with time for us to recharge and seek internal refuge. We are the creatives, the writers, the visionaries, the daydreamers, and we just want to be understood in all of our soft glory. Don’t try and change us or laugh and say we need to ‘lighten up’ or ‘stop being so antisocial.’ Let us shine. Let us grow, even if it’s in a much different way than you.
This is for all my introverts in the place with style and grace who feel misunderstood.