Life Lessons Learned From… Introversion

In Susan Cain‘s TED Talk, she advocates for those people who are often not heard from – the introverts.

In a culture where the personality traits of being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to proudly identity oneself as an introvert. But, as Cain passionately argues in The Power of Introverts, introverts bring their own extraordinary talents and unique abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and honoured as such.

This ingrained bias towards extroversion come from our dominant culture of personality, which produces the incorrect notion that, in order to be respected and successful in your field, you need to have charisma and magnetism. This is completely unrepresentative of many of those we consider to be great people of influence. How about Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi, leaders who are always exalted for their leadership in politics and human rights? They are introverts. Or Steve Woz and Lewis Carroll, two of the most creative minds in technology and literature? They are introverts as well.

In fact, introverts make up a large chunk (as an estimate, at least one-third and at most one-half) of our population. However, despite the numbers, they are constantly undervalued, especially in western society. Why is this? It is because our society has a preference for favouring and rewarding extroverts. Just take a look at how our core institutions are designed – schools and workplaces place great emphasis on collaboration, promoting the idea of groupthink and groupwork as the best ways to accomplish productivity. While working in project teams does lead to many terrific results, for introverts, solitude and autonomy is also needed for fruitful idea generation – ideas which can then be shared with the group for further brainstorming.

Introversion is not directly associated with shyness and fear, as is commonly reinforced in our general thought. Contrary to popular belief, quietness and introversion are not traits that need to be corrected. Throughout their lives, introverts feel pressured to talk more, to initiate more, to be more active, and essentially, to be more extroverted, as these are considered the markers of the ideal student and worker in our society.

Growing up, I endured that instilled guilt and shame for my introversion, feeling like I needed to be more loud, outgoing, and bold in order to be successful in my career, in my relationships, and in my life as a whole. Instead of encouraging me to “come out of my shell”, I was left feeling isolated and insecure (which ironically is the opposite of the intended effect) for who I inherently was. But, at the same time, I always felt that, just because I tended to prefer contemplation over action, it did not mean that I was shy or scared. I could be daring enough to try new things (like singing a solo in our school’s Christmas pageant), and to speak up when I had something to say – when I wanted to. As I later realized, I just do not like having my assertiveness and right to speak forced out of me. Conviction is conviction at whatever intensity and decibel level it is expressed at.

We need to rectify what is potentially being lost by realizing that society needs introverts, who are fully capable of exhibiting creativity and leadership, to help change our world for the better, because if we don’t, we could be missing out on our next leaders, inventors, and masterminds. We need to change the attitudes towards introversion and embrace their need for quiet contemplation. We need to allow introverts to maximize their talents by giving them the freedom to respond to their low-key level of stimulation (by letting them enter their environment of solitude) so they can generate their ideas. Also, we need to encourage more balance of the two types, like yin and yang, and challenge each other to embrace both sides of our introversion and extroversion, in order to enhance our personal growth. (For introverts, open up occasionally and share your awesomeness with others. For extroverts, take a moment to pause and reflect amidst the hustle and bustle of life.) We need to remember to celebrate introverts and their gifts, extroverts and their gifts, and allow people to be who they are without fear of intimidation or judgment, because we all bring something special to the world!

Susan Cain’s Calls to (Quiet) Action

  1. Stop the Madness for Constant Group Work.
    Although Cain recognizes that teamwork is very important, there needs to be more emphasis on the importance of privacy, freedom, and autonomy in work styles too. Both working in groups AND working alone are essential to achieving our goals!
  2. Go To The Wilderness
    Cain believes that each of us needs to occasionally unplug from our overwhelming surroundings, get inside our own heads, and experience our own personal revelations and epiphanies.
  3. Take a Look at What’s Inside Your Suitcase
    Cain encourages us to consider what it is that we need for contentment, embrace it, and share it with others. If reading a good book is what makes you happy, by all means, read on (and perhaps pass on a recommendation to a friend afterwards).

2 thoughts on “Life Lessons Learned From… Introversion

  1. Some great points, E!
    I’m not a big fan of categorizing / judging people and an example:
    My OB (Organizational Behaviour) professor (SFU) said that introverts tend to force the dominance of their extravert side in certain situations but to me, it doesn’t feel forced, am I just accustomed to it? Rather, I feel more comfortable speaking up because of 1. the personalities of my peers (easy going…aggressive…etc) and 2. confident in knowing what needs to be done or how to do it because I’ve done it before.
    People / personalities are so unpredictable, fascinating subject!

    1. I do think that situational familiarity and the people around you influence what parts of your personality you choose to bring out. When I’m around friends and acquaintances who lean more towards the extrovert side, I usually default to listening mode, but I also try to push myself to speak up more. When I’m around introverts, I can revel in the silence, and occasionally, try to take on the role of instigating conversation.

      I believe that striving towards that kind of flexibility in personality is a good goal to have. Terrific points, J!

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