This is the second in a weekly series debunking myths about introverts. (See last week’s post.) The basis of the 10 week series is the article written by Carl King. I will show his thinking, add mine and then encourage all of you to contribute your thoughts on the subject.
Don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert? Take Susan Cain’s quiz.
Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
Carl: A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.
Chris: First of all, none of us are entirely introverted or extroverted. To be so would probably make you a sociopath. It’s a continuum, and we move along it, back and forth, depending on circumstances, but prefer one special spot on the pendulum arc that is our favorite place to live. I hang way over on the introvert side most of the time but can pull out my inner extrovert when necessary.
Can we do something magical and switch sides? Not really. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely. Scientists have found that the brains of introverts are wired differently from those of extroverts. People who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injuries have been able to rewire their brains. It’s just not a simple thing to do.
Marti Laney, in her excellent book The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths, explains it for the non-scientist, so I will direct you to her for the neurophysiology of it all, if you are interested. Introverts and extroverts have different lengths of processing pathways and use different neuro chemicals. But don’t think Marti’s book is just filled with science. It’s one of the best books on introverts I have in my library.
I’ve just spent three weeks training two colleagues from India. They are delightful people and I had a great time getting to know them, but it did mean being at my extrovert best to create and cement the relationships before they left Portland, Oregon.
I normally work out of my home office, which is wonderful for an introvert. I am infinitely more effective without the distractions of being in a huge space crammed full of cubicles and hundreds of people. I can think without all the noise that would otherwise go on around me. Meetings are done by conference calls. Those can be tiring as you must then listen harder to pick up on nuances that you don’t get visually, but I like it. I’m more in control of my environment and time. I can take power naps at lunch, for example. Or I can sit in a meeting with my glasses off and my eyes shut, which helps me focus on what is being said while shutting out other distractions and resting part of my brain.
One of the best things about being with people from half way around the globe is that you can do small talk effortlessly. We talked about customs, food, weather, and the differences between the US and India. We never ran out of conversation and it was fascinating.
But for all of that, for all the fun of it, it was draining. Introverts really are wired differently. I think that biggest thing about being an introvert, or at least in my introverted self, is that I come back from any new encounter with so much information to process. I always replay what happened, who said what, how they looked or sounded, what we covered. That much replay can be exhausting, but that’s me. That’s part of why I’m so successful, though, because I can respond quickly to questions. I’ve stored a lot of data away very neatly and can retrieve it.
Going into any situation, I do the same thing. I rehearse, over and over again. I think I’ve done a great job in my lifetime of figuring out how to use the talents of being an introvert.
But can I just train myself to not expend energy, or, better yet, to recharge by being with people and being on show? I haven’t been able to do it yet.
Which brings me to the most important point.. instead of trying to be like the rest of the extroverted world, why not just learn about your self, your very valuable introverted self, and find out what talents you can use in life? I guarantee it’s a lot easier than trying to become an extrovert. Be the best at being you, then take that to the world. We’ll be exploring the idea of introvert strengths and talents together, if you’ll keep coming back to visit.
And now for a little laugh at myself. Don’t you love it when you read about yourself in someone’s book or blog? I’m thoroughly enjoying Beth Buelow’s Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert. In chapter 10 she lists “7.5 Reasons I’m Grateful to be an Introvert”. Her very first reason is:
Depth of Curiosity: I have an intense need to know. This need ranges from the superficial (I had to literally sit on my hands while watching a movie last week, holding myself back from running to IMDb for info) to the profound (shadow work and leadership). Bonus: being curious makes me better at annoying small talk.
When we watch TV, I always have my iPad beside me. I like to play Suduko or do virtual jigsaw puzzles on it. I am always annoying Cee by grabbing it and looking something up on IMDb.com, the International Movie Database, or googling something that triggered a question in my head. Who else wants to admit to the same thing?
So let’s start celebrating who we are. Let’s reveal our strengths, which are many. The world needs a lot more self-assured introverts, so please chime in below.
Virtual hugs to all of you.