When I was in kindergarten, my mom’s friend told her that if I didn’t learn to speak up, I’d never make it in this world.
When I was seven I became a swimmer, and spent the next ten years with my head under water.
When I was in junior high, I almost passed out going on stage to receive an award.
When I was in high school, I became a bit more socially aware. I was a class officer every year. I performed in all our school dance shows. I loved being a part of all kinds of activities. But when it came time to give a speech in front of our entire graduating class at the baccalaureate ceremony, I couldn’t eat for days.
When I was in college, I attended lectures with hundreds of other aspiring communicators. I lived in a sorority house with fifty of the smartest, funniest, most inspiring women I’d ever met. But almost every day, I came straight home from class and took a nap.
When I was a few years into my professional career, I panicked. I was miserable in my job at a big ad agency in LA and thought I’d made a huge mistake becoming a copywriter. A friend encouraged me to see a career counselor. After a couple personality and interest tests, the counselor told me two things that changed the way I looked at things.
One, the agency environment (and my boss, in particular) was likely to be the problem, not the career path. In fact, “writer” came up #1 on the list of ideal careers for my mix of characteristics. Two, I’m an introvert.
Of course I am. I always knew that. But somehow the way she talked about it made it sound like a good thing.
For years I’d been referred to as shy, aloof, quiet, cold. Now I was being told this very thing that makes people think you’re kinda crazy actually means you’re likely to be creative, insightful, a good problem solver and a leader.
It’s been a
boatload of few years since then and when the subject comes up, people are surprised to hear me refer to myself as an introvert. They say I must be middle of the road—an ambivert. I’m pretty social. I’m lucky to have a lot of wonderful friends. I write a blog for the world to read (ok, “the world” may be a bit of an overstatement). I smile at strangers and say hello.
But there’s no middle of the road.
You’re far more likely to get an email from me than a phone call. I can’t count the number of times a day I say, “I’m not sure if what I’m saying is making sense.” or “Sorry if I seem distracted.” or “Let me think about it.” Sitting and eating lunch alone at my desk is my idea of heaven. I’ve already had three mini panic attacks today thinking I might be facing a moment of conflict. And while I love hearing other people’s ideas, there’s no question that I do my best work alone. There’s the fact that I write this blog, knowing full well that people are reading it, but when someone wants to talk about a post I’ve written, I clam up. And my favorite form of socializing? Social media…because I can digest information and think before I respond. The list goes on. And on.
I truly enjoy people. And being a part of things—parties, clubs, committees. But there’s no question that when I’m alone, I’m far from lonely.
What kind of -vert are you? If you’re not sure, take this quick quiz. You might be surprised.
This post was inspired by Quiet: The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. In this book she explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. If you’re interested in hearing more, join From Left to Write on January 19th as we discuss the book. (I’ve seen this article she wrote making the social media rounds—it’s a great overview of her argument.) We’ll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26th. As part of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy, but all opinions are my own.