An interesting thing has happened over the last couple of years.
It started innocently enough with a few articles like “23 signs you’re secretly an introvert”, and a couple of “how to care for your introvert” infographics. And for the longest time I’ve been right there with the authors, alone in my office, throwing my fist into the air doing an Arsenio Hall “woo woo woo” along with all of my introverted brothers and sisters of the internet.
Then I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain, and thought, “Finally, someone is really speaking up for introverts.” And I watched her Ted Talk. And immediately rushed off to tell everyone I knew to go watch it (so I posted it on Facebook which is practically the same thing).
But in the last couple of years, “introvert” has gone from a word bandied about by personality type junkies and psychologists to a mainstream buzzword and sort-of diagnosis. Introvert has become a badge of honor for the “old souls” among us. A (not-so) secret club that only those who understand the “20 things only introverts know” can be a part of. And at the same time it feels like it’s become a thing that other people need to be aware of like ALS or autism.
And with this increased awareness of introverts and extroverts has come an increased division. Battle lines are drawn. And we’re all quick to point fingers at who needs to change and who is really the one with the problem.
Oh, you’re an extrovert, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like for me.
The world is too chaotic, I wish people would realize that I need something different. I’m just so overwhelmed.
I’m an introvert, so I’m not good at ___________. [public speaking / networking / talking to people / doing what those loud extroverts do for fun].
But introversion is not an illness, it is not a diagnosis. Being an introvert does not mean you need everyone else to take care of you and your “special needs”. Sure, I think having quiet spaces in offices for introverts to relax is a great idea. I also think you are capable of designing your life so that those spaces are a bonus and not a requirement.
Being introverted is not an excuse for avoiding contact with people or not putting yourself into the world. The world needs what introverts have to offer. But it’s not the world’s job to change first. We have to meet it halfway.
So before I upset my fellow introverts, let me say for the record that:
- Yes, in our world (Western world), extroverted is THE thing to be, which as an introvert can really suck sometimes as we’re told we should be “more outgoing” or “to speak up” or whatever.
- It would be awesome if everyone knew more about extroversion and introversion and were sensitive to the needs of both so that I wouldn’t feel the need to run away to a dark cave at the end of full day “out in the world”.
- Susan Cain’s message is needed. I fully support her and her Quiet Revolution.
- Introverts do need different stuff than extroverts. We’re just wired differently.
But it feels too much like a victim-y (or whiny teenager) thing to say, “But I can’t share my gifts because so-and-so is more outgoing than me and life is overwhelming.”
I’m just saying. Introvert to introvert… it’s time to step up and not in some fake-extrovert, machismo way.
As introverts, as people, as adults, and as human beings with big brains and crazy internet-capabilities, we are responsible for our own experiences in the world. We can’t wait to be invited into the conversation, we have to lean in and find our moments to add our voice to the mix. (Trust me on this, I’m married to an extrovert who is very aware of my introversion, and I still have to lean in and find my moments if I want to be part of the conversation).
Yes, extroverts need to understand us better. And introverts need to stop hanging out at the edges of the dance floor watching and secretly wishing someone would ask them to dance.
In order to create a world we want to live in, we must be part of this world. (click here to tweet)
We must show up to be understood.
It has to start with us.
So yes, the world needs to catch up. They don’t know how to embrace and fully understand the awesomeness of introverts… yet. We have to help them get there, and the only way to do that is by leaning in and meeting them halfway.
Be brave and ask someone to dance. Or in the very least, be ready when someone asks you to dance (instead of hanging out at the snacks table stealthily eating all of the chips while no one is looking because you’ve already decided no one wants to dance with you).
Introverts must lead the dance. Quietly, gently, powerfully. As introverts do.
Now, go change your world.