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The Upside To Being an Introvert

August 30, 2015 by Diane

 

Hipster girl holding a stack of books

In junior high, I had a physical education teacher who doubled as drama coach. Mrs. Wattenberger, a stout woman with calves like footballs, whose goal was to make us “sweat like pigs” (an odd and impossible feat), directed the school play. I don’t recall the name of the play; it was the sort of melodrama you’d find in a volume titled Best Plays for Junior High School Students Who Need to Sweat Like Pigs, requiring zero royalties and minimal scenery. We performed this low-budget flop in my seventh year of formal education, and I landed the choice role of “The Curtain,” along with eleven other boys and girls.

Here is the gist of our performance:

At the end of every scene, we scuttled single file onstage holding a length of fabric, faced the audience, announced “the curtain falls,” and promptly collapsed to the floor. After several excruciating seconds of silence we announced, “the curtain rises,” scrambled to our feet and scuttled off, stage left.

Mrs. Wattenberger was over the moon with my debut. “It’s so wonderful to see Diane come out of her shell,” she gushed to my parents after the matinee, as if she and her football-sized calves had booted me from a life doomed as an introvert.

I’m sure she meant well, but I cringed.

I cringed every time someone labeled me “shy” or “withdrawn” or some such demeaning adjective aimed to snap me out of my supposed state of suffering. And suffer I did.

Not because I kept to myself, preferring to read a book rather than socialize, speaking only when I had something of value to say, but because others viewed me as flawed.

From my perspective, those praised as being “extroverts” were the flawed ones, uncomfortable with their own company, attempting to flee it by surrounding themselves with others, feeding on mass energy like vampires sucking the life force from mortals for survival. I was as unfair in my assessment of them as Mrs. Wattenberger was of me.

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explodes the myth that introversion is a failing. She reveals the upside of the introverted personality—the positive traits, the contributions to society—and points out how the world benefits by valuing the quiet among us.

It would be years, cringing from such labels, before I discovered what Susan Cain had uncovered through meticulous research. If I could, I would travel back in time, shove Mrs. Wattenberger aside, look deeply into the eyes of my younger self and say, “Stand proud in who you are.”

But I can’t.

I can, however, look deeply into the eyes of my fellow introverts and say this:

Stand proud, you who keep mystery alive by wearing disguises in your profile photos, you book-lovers and creative forces who listen intently so others may be heard. Stand proud, you who converse in your heads sharing aloud only what adds value to your worlds, who make large talk, not small, thinking fully before speaking. Stand proud, you who live in awareness, form deep friendships, add calm to hectic environments and tremble when revealing yourself—because it’s a gift you give, and it doesn’t come lightly.

Stand proud in who you are.


25 Comments »

  1. Dan Alatorre says:

    Many years after high school, a friend and I reconnected on Facebook. She remembered me as “shy,in an outgoing way, if that makes sense.”

    Nailed it.

    I love my alone time but I hate being thought of as shy, so I worked hard at taking leadership positions and roles that caused/forced me to be outgoing.

    My favorite t-shirt says “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come.”

    • Diane says:

      Ha! Great t-shirt.

      It makes total sense. I was an actress for many years (thankfully, my roles grew beyond that of “The Curtain”), but it was me spouting someone else’s lines. Except when I was doing improv. Hmm. Weird. Well, it just goes to show that we can be “on” when we need to, although it’s wise to recoup the energy after.

  2. Joan says:

    Such good advice! We are who we are for a specific purpose. The world needs Us just he way we are. We just have to keep remembering that!!! We need to be the best version of ourself not try to fit into someone else’s mold!

  3. Monica Bruno says:

    I love this, Diane. I was always the extrovert. Always putting my foot in my mouth. Life’s lessons have taught me the virtue of thinking before reacting, of looking inside and of self-awareness. I’m proud of who I’ve become.

  4. Jeanie says:

    Well said, Diane. This captures exactly how I felt after reading Susan’s book – wishing I could go back in time and tell myself to not feel so fish out of water, that I was okay. Since that’s not possible, I wish all parents would read this and Susan’s book, so the quiet kids today can escape the same fate.

  5. Bun Karyudo says:

    It’s interesting. Opinions seem to vary a lot from country to country. In many countries, being quiet is seen as a legitimate personality type. In others — I’m looking at you America — it really seems to be seen as a condition to be treated, which is a bit irritating.

  6. Stacey says:

    Totally on your blog post.When I was a kid,I was very shy and quiet.I cringed as well when my teachers feedback to my parents or announced infront of the whole class that I have come out of my shell everytime I do something little.To their disappointment,I went back in my shell again and I like it there.At least I’m not disappointed in myself for staying true.

    • Diane says:

      I’m cringing just reading your experience. Yeah, not surprising that you’d want to go back into “the shell” after hearing that. And what’s up with the whole “shell” thing? Does anyone ever point out whenever talkative Johnny decides to shut up? “Get back in that shell, Johnny. You’re being disruptive.”

  7. duncanr says:

    i had many of the same comments directed at me when I was a kid – painfully shy, needs to come out of his shell, etc

    I’m still shy, but I have matured into an extroverted introvert – no good at making small talk to folk I don’t know, I am perfectly happy to retreat from the world at times, happy in the solitude of my own company (shared with my dogs) and yet, want an after-dinner speaker to stand up in front of 200-300 people and keep them entertained (and laughing) for 20 -30 minutes, then I’m your man. Uncomfortable talking to a small group of strangers, I, paradoxically, love the adrenalin rush, and the applause, that comes when addressing a large group of folk and keeping them amused and entertained by my banter

    folk are too complicated to fit into neat categories such as extrovert and introvert – there is a blurring of lines at the borders

    an introvert at work or amongst strangers can be an extrovert when amongst friends and family he or she feels comfortable and relaxed with

    how we interact with others and how we choose to present ourselves to others is not unaffected by circumstances and context !

    • Diane says:

      So true.

      I can be an extrovert on stage or when I’m in my “comedic” subpersonality, or I’m being the “entrepreneur” meeting clients. And, of course, once I get to know people well, I’m less of an introvert.

      You’re right, there is a blurring of lines; extroverts can be more introverted at times.

      Still, I seem to be “rewarded” when I’m extroverted, and scolded for being introverted.

      • duncanr says:

        you’re so right – me, too !

        a couple of months ago, I had my yearly appraisal at work – which involved a one-on-one 2 hour long ‘discussion’ with my CEO

        I felt it was going swimmingly

        it was the first time I had spent so long in his company with no other folk present, but I was relaxed and in a mellow mood – (in part because I am due to retire next year so regarded the whole appraisal process as a pointless exercise, since I couldn’t give a damn what he thought of me at this stage of my career) – so I was in ‘performance’ mode and had him chuckling many a time with my responses to his questions

        and then he said

        ‘don’t take this the wrong way. It’s not meant as criticism, just an observation – but I’ve not seen this side of you before. It’s quite a surprise. You always seem quiet and introverted – so much so, you may put off co-workers from approaching you. Again, it’s not a criticism, just an observation – perhaps something you should think about’

        ‘have you ever thought’, I replied (with a grin on my face) ‘that the reason I have not been particularly chatty or friendly towards you before now is simply because I don’t like you?’

        there was the briefest of pauses – while his brain tried to decide whether I had insulted him or was still in performance mode and saying things for comic effect – and then he began to laugh

        I actually do dislike him, but I got away with it because he thought I was just joking – his ego would not allow the possibility that someone would be so rude to him to his face – but there it was again, what every introvert comes up against – the implied charge that being an introvert makes us guilty of being anti-social !

        • Diane says:

          Telling your CEO you don’t like him, and getting away with it…wow, that sounds like sitcom material. The introvert who becomes an extrovert for a day, and tells it like it is.

  8. Karen says:

    you are so amazingly spot on! I remember my mom saying Why cant you be like the rest of us…..
    I LOVE your writing and what pondering it brings on. Standing proud xo

    • Diane says:

      Like the rest of us? Ouch. That’ll give you an inferiority complex; unless you’re wise to the game and know that the “rest of us” are just as squirrelly.

  9. Sarah says:

    I adored that book. The first day of school last year, my boss walked over and handed it to me. On the cover was a post-it note that said, “Finally! Someone wrote a book about us!” I finished it in a day. It literally changed how I feel about being an introvert. (It also explained how I can seem ‘outgoing’ in some situations, but need that recharge time straight after.) What an important read! Thanks for writing about it–and for writing about it so well! :-)

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