Introversion is Nothing to Fear

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Okay, this is one of those posts that just popped out of a real life situation, and I feel a need to get a few things off my chest about introversion and why it’s not a bad thing. Seems to be a line of thought out there that it’s “better” to be an extrovert. As a confirmed introvert, let me set a few things straight.

First, the situation: An acquaintance is having a baby. In talking about hopes/dreams for the kid, the person said, “I hope he or she doesn’t take after [its] father and become an introvert. I’d rather have an extroverted kid.” Well color me offended! What’s wrong with introversion, exactly?

Seems as though the parent fears that the kid will have a harder time in life if it’s an introvert. Opportunities won’t present themselves, and the kid will have no friends and be lonely. Sure, that’s technically possible. It’s possible for introversion to go too far and someone ends up as a hermit. There’s a chance that an introvert won’t live much of a life if they’re afraid to reach for opportunities or pursue connections with others. But both of those don’t usually stem from introversion. They stem from fear, which is an entirely different animal and once which has difference causes (and treatments).

Introversion isn’t fear. Introverts aren’t generally afraid of people or “life.” They just have a lower threshold for what constitutes “too much.”  They enjoy being out with people and doing things, but on a limited basis. They need more quiet time to recharge before going out again. Most introverts have friends, but they may not have tons of friends. Generally, though, the friendships they do have are built on quality, not quantity. Introverts may not be hugely active on social media, either. (Although some are, as it’s easier for them to interact online than it is in real life.) This isn’t because they’re afraid of it, but because they judge it to be unnecessary, too shallow, or just too much conversation.

Many introverts have successful careers, as well. They may not be pop stars, but there are many professions that suit an introvert’s desire for quiet thought. Engineering, writing, many of the sciences, math, architecture, art/design, and computer programming are just a few things that allow introverts to think deeply, yet require only limited interaction with others. Bonus: Most of them pay well (or have that potential), and provide plenty of opportunity for advancement.

Wishing for an extroverted kid is like wishing for a right-handed, brown-eyed kid. It’s not something you get to control. Even kids raised by extroverted parents sometimes turn out to be introverts. It’s just how nature works. And if you try to push an introvert into becoming an extrovert, prepare for backlash. No one wants to be pushed into being anything they are not. If you’re an extrovert, imagine being forced to spend your nights at home reading. That’s what being forced out to parties feels like to an introvert. Don’t do that to your kid out of some misplaced fear that they aren’t “normal.”

It’s a good thing that both introverts and extroverts exist. If everyone were an extrovert, we’d lack our deep thinkers. Sure, some extroverts are deep thinkers, but more are “talkers.” They’re the salesmen, politicians, teachers, and entertainers. The world needs them, too, but it needs balance. It needs the people who can sit down and develop ideas thoroughly in a quiet environment, and it needs the people who can convey those ideas to a mass audience. Whichever way you turn out is fine. There’s a place for everyone.

Here’s my personal take, so take it for what it’s worth. I tried to be an extrovert. When I was in school and then just starting my career, I tried to be the “joiner.” I tried to go to the networking events, parties, and career-building events. While I made small talk with the best of them, I was done after about half an hour. My extroverted peers could go on all night. Good for them. I simply am not built that way. I also couldn’t do more than one event a week. My peers could go out three or four times, but I needed a week to recharge. I failed at being an extrovert.

But you know what? When I admitted defeat and returned to my introverted ways (I still went to things, but I left early and attended fewer events), nothing awful happened. My friends stayed my friends. My career didn’t implode. If anything, it improved because I had more energy to work on actual tasks and ideas. My creativity soared when I wasn’t wiped out from socializing. I learned that you can’t make a person into something she’s not. Instead, I embraced my true self and learned to work with my strengths. So I’m not a partier or a salesperson. I can’t schmooze for day. That’s fine. I bring other things to the table like creativity, ideas, and hours of focused work.

Yes, I am aware that my introversion marks me as odd in today’s society. In a world that seems to be all about self-promotion and shouting to be heard over the din, being an introvert means that I’m out of phase with much of modern life. I don’t get social media or selfies, or have an urge to go to every meet-up on the calendar.

That’s okay, and it will be okay for future introverts. While some of this public discourse is useful, too much of it is divisive, negative, hate-fueled, coarse, false, and so full of blind one-upmanship that it only serves to make me glad I’m an introvert and not part of the problem. When so much of the world goes against the quiet, thoughtful approach that I value, it’s no wonder that I embrace my introversion that much tighter. Most extroverts are lovely people, but I’m awfully glad there’s a tribe of introverts out there who understand just how uncomfortable the world feels at times.

I used to worry about the fact that I am more comfortable with myself and a select few others than I am with large numbers of people. I worried about not fitting in with the current environment. Am I in danger of becoming the odd hermit lady? Am I losing touch with reality? Will the universe punish me for not getting on the extrovert bandwagon? The answers are all no. I may not fit in with large chunks of society, but I have a niche that fits me just fine. And most introverts will tell you the same. We may be remnants of a world that no longer exists, but that’s fine. Vintage is in!

As for my acquaintance who’s having a baby, I told her not to worry. If the kid turns out to be an introvert, it will be just fine. Introversion is nothing to fear. What is fear-inducing is the idea that this person might try to force the kid to be something it’s not, just to prevent it from having a hard time in life. You know what, though? We all have hard times in life. Introverts and extroverts alike. It’s trying to deal with those hard times in uncomfortable and unnatural ways that makes us suffer. We all suffer less if we just do what we’re made to do.  Let people be who they are and embrace the differences.

(Photo by Keegan Houser)

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