The Lies Introverts Are Tired Of Hearing
The Debrief: Who says extroverts are the most fun?
You’re sat in a semi-circle surrounded by 20 of your colleagues, ready for a weekly brainstorming session – the currency is ideas and if don’t put yours across you’re going to look incompetent. Your turn draws closer and any moment you’re going to have to speak. Your pulse rockets, your thoughts blur and your mouth dries up. Now all eyes flick to you.
I’m a shy introvert, and talking in front of a big group makes me feel shaky, brain dead and exhausted. It’s taken me a long time to get around it, but ever since reading Susan Cain’s 2012 book, Quiet, where she explains that in the US – a stereotypically extroverted nation - one third to one half of the population are introverts. And I’ve realised being an introvert is actually really common, and – ironically – not something to stay quiet about.
Especially considering us wallflowers are constantly sold lies about ourselves. Lies which, you’ll see, are ridiculous:
1. You’ll never survive at work
Most introverts are used to hearing that they must get over their reservations for a real chance of success. Sure, as an introvert, you might struggle at a job in sales when self-promotion leaves you feeling like a fraud. And the thought of presenting a radio show – having to fill in hours of inane chat – is the stuff of your nightmares. But really, what’s the alternative? Aside from hiring out a woodland cabin and becoming a reclusive author, there aren’t many careers where you don’t have to face the limelight occasionally.
I'd say what introverts lack in gregariousness, we can make up for with perseverance, practice, and listening skills. Famous, well-acclaimed introverts include Courteney Cox, JK Rowling, and Rosa Parks. They’re hardly unimportant.
2. Your quiet nature is holding you back
You just have to look a handful of 20-something women to disprove extroverts’ superiority. Take Emma, 27, an actor whose recent credits include Luther and Holby City. Emma describes herself as an introvert. She admits her temperament isn’t obviously matched to all parts of the profession. ‘There’s this weird discrepancy [in the business] between being with your thoughts and emotions, but needing to be “on” and ready to network,’ she explains.
She says she has an advantage, though. ‘I think focus comes with being an introvert, because you’re not constantly thinking about everyone else. If you’re having a really emotional scene, being able to completely shut out what everyone else is doing is really helpful.’
When it comes to the building connections, for Emma, preparation is key. Before an audition, she swots up on the casting director, so conversation doesn’t dry up. ‘Oh, and I ask lots of questions!’
3. You’d rather stay in than socialise
Networking is seen to be unattractive to introverts. Sophie Seex, an occupational behavioural psychologist, says it relates to how much social stimulation you need. 'If you’re an introvert, you’re more likely to be energised from taking time to reflect.' In contrast, the typical extrovert is energised by others’ company. But even if you crave alone time, you can learn to be more adept in big groups.
Adrian Furnham, a professor of psychology at UCL, calls the people who master this ‘socialised introverts’. It’s possible, but it’s not the easiest thing 'It’s like speaking another language,' he says.
But that doesn't mean pretending to be something you’re not. Sallie, 26, an introvert who runs a PR company, says it’s about managing your needs. ‘I can go out and be sociable and bubbly if I think: “Ok, after this I can go home and sit and read a book”.’
Sallie faced criticism as a junior PR; she was told by her boss she didn’t share her ideas enough. But she’s discovered upsides to her quieter traits, such as helping to bring introverted colleagues out of their shell.
4. You should ‘get over’ your shyness
I’ve been told this a few times, by my parents, teachers and friends. But the thing is, you can’t and shouldn’t want to be louder or pushier, if that’s not you. While you can act like an extrovert in short bursts – being bashful isn’t much use when interviewing for your dream job – you can’t change who you are.
Cynthia Traeger, 26, a web content editor, has felt the brunt of this myth: ‘I’ve had people express something akin to concern or pity’. She says the idea of extroversion as the ideal is peddled far too much. “People will tell you they want partners or employees or colleagues who are exciting, outgoing, peppy”.
But isn’t ‘hard-working’ more vital for job candidates than ‘enthusiastic’. And really, if you make out that you’re endlessly sunny to get a date when you’re sarcastic by nature, it’s just false advertising.
5. Gregarious people are the most fun
Of course introverts still want people to like them. But we’re more interested in a smaller group of trusted friends than flimsy, fling BBFs. In Quiet, Cain describes introversion has having a rich inner world – great for playfulness, a quirky sense of humour or just being plain (but pleasingly) weird.
Sallie agrees: ‘I don’t think more gregarious people are more fun to be around, it’s just different types of fun,’ she says. ‘When I go out with my more extroverted friends we both have quite fun nights because we end up doing things we wouldn’t usually do.’ For example, Sallie’s happy to humour her outgoing mate who chats to everyone on the night bus and, when she has, she’s come away with great stories. Meanwhile, her friend doesn’t have to fulfil her party persona every minute.
I’d admit making friends with a shy introvert is a slow burn. We don’t share our deepest insecurities two weeks after being introduced to someone new. But when we do get to know someone, we’re in it for the long term. An introvert won’t drop you for the new girl who showers her with compliments or can get her into the best parties. While we’ll never be the life of the party, plenty of introverts crave a spontaneous night out now and then.
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Picture: Maggy Van Ejik
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