I’m an introvert. This comes as a surprise to people who know me well and see me as confident and sociable. However, invite me to a networking workshop or a party and you’ll glimpse the classic tell tale flash of horror that introverts experience at the prospect of attending big events.
Now here’s the thing. Contrary to popular mythology, being an introvert doesn’t automatically make you shy or scared or aloof.
The defining difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how we get our energy and inspiration. Extroverts draw energy from interacting with ‘the group’ and from ‘talking their thinking’. Introverts need quiet reflective space and time to generate and review ideas and recharge after a busy day. Once we feel comfortable and connected to others we’re great one to one or one to three style socializers.
Recently I’ve become more aware of being an introvert. I’ve decided to explore and note how introversion shapes my experiences whilst taking part in a 7 month course at The Centre For Sustainability Leadership.
The course involves weekly workshops and three long weekends away with my fellow course mates. Group weekends away are a daunting prospect and an intrepid journey destined to take me well outside my comfort zone. Before and during each trip my private, tranquility craving self has been asking a lot of quite unnerving questions.
I’m sharing a room – how will I get any personal space? Will I get any time to myself? Who are all these talkative, interesting people who want to get to know me? Why do I just want to go for a quiet walk instead of getting to know them?
Four months into my course, here’s what I’ve learned about thriving as an introvert in a large and lovely, but predominantly extroverted, group.
1. It’s fine to take time out
Any time spent with a lot of other humans – friends, strangers or colleagues can be exhausting. As an introvert I need solitary recharging time, which can be tough to find at organized events.
Deprived of down time I soon feel like an alien who’d been parachuted onto a planet inhabited by high-energy humans with so much to say they barely pause for breath.
Knowing I needed to carve out some quiet space in a crowded schedule with a good dollop of pressure to socialize, I’ve learnt to plan ahead.
During a recent weeklong trip with the course I made sure I went to bed early with a book. When my mind called ‘time out’ during the day I listened and walked away. I snatched a few quiet daytime moments by returning to my room to ‘collect’ something or by taking a walk around the outside of the building.
2. Find your tribe
Humans have an uncanny knack for detecting like-minded souls. As a group facilitator I love to watch this in action. In a room of complete strangers I’ve observed introverts, extroverts, dog lovers, Melbournians and chocoholics gravitate towards each other! Somehow we just ‘know’.
The recent trip meant meeting 26 additional new faces from the Melbourne group of the course. At the first workshop I sat down next to a group of introverts. Subconsciously I must have sensed they were the calmer, quieter and least intimidating people in the room.
Phew! I’d found my (relative) comfort zone.
I realized that at dinner I was sticking with an introvert group, as mustering the energy to chat to new faces was just a step to far after a full on day of workshop interactions.
3. Trust your insights and follow through
During a workshop where I had to comment on other people’s five minute speeches I really wanted time to give reflective, private feedback to the speaker. This was especially true where a speech particularly touched me.
As an introvert it’s challenging for me to provide this sort of meaningful, supportive comment on the spot. It’s not that I don’t have useful insightful things to say, although these often come to me after ‘the moment’ has passed.
Sometimes I just want a bit longer to align my thoughts before I speak. However, the main reason I can be hesitant is that I prefer to connect and converse one on one. This is why I made a point of finding the speakers whose presentations had moved me to share my comments and insights with them individually.
For the record, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t more or less nervous about speechmaking than any one else. There doesn’t appear to be a correlation between introversion and fear of public speaking. Apparently public speaking ranks third after fear of death and spiders as a global source of anxiety and discomfort.
4. Join the quiet revolution
There is a significant cultural shift towards valuing introversion as an attribute in leadership and teamwork.
Author and advocate Susan Cain’s TED talk takes a funny, insightful look at how historically undervalued ‘shy’ and ‘aloof’ introverts are stepping quietly out of the shadows in turbulent times.
Having observed my introverted self in action in this lively, thoughtful group I’m ready to join the quiet revolution. Like my VIA strengths– humility, leadership, fairness, kindness and judgment, introversion is at the heart of who I am. Developing my introvert’s capacity for intuition and reflection is starting to feel like finding my superpower.