The Secret Life of Introverts

Posted by on May 11, 2010 | 6 comments

Painfully shy.

Low self-esteem.

No self-confidence.

No social skills.

Afraid of people.

And yes, a loser.

How do I even survive in the world, if this is what people think of introverts!?!

These were just a few of the words a good friend used to describe an “introvert” when I asked him to define one. He even referred to it as something that may need to be “fixed.”

Now, I love my friend dearly. He is incredibly smart, aware and mature. However, on this point, he’s completely 110% wrong!

Once I set him straight (and as nice as I can be, I can definitely set someone straight!), I recognized that a large part of the reason I feel called to specialize in coaching introverts is because we are a misunderstood, stereotyped bunch. There are stories about introverts – ones made up by others, ones we make up about ourselves  – that can hold us back in a predominantly extroverted world. I wish to empower every introvert I know to understand, own and leverage the gifts and strengths that come with being inwardly focused.

What is an introvert? According to the Jung Lexicon, introversion is “a mode of psychological orientation where the movement of energy is toward the inner world.”

So, what does that mean? In simple terms, it means that an introvert is someone who gains energy when alone and drains energy when around too many people.

An introvert can be, as one of my friends puts it, “happy as pie” spending time alone. An extrovert is likely to become bored or lonely after 15 minutes of solitude.

Other introvert traits and preferences include (this is a generalized list; there as many different variations and levels of introversion as there are introverts!):

  • Think carefully before speaking or acting
  • Prefer to express feelings in writing rather than talking
  • Excellent listeners
  • Have a selected few deep, close friendships
  • Dislike small talk
  • Enjoy self-reflection and introspection
  • Can have different public and private personas

It’s that last one that trips people up the most. Anytime I’ve mentioned I’m an introvert, I almost always hear “No way! I never would have guessed!” It’s not that I’m a split personality or that what you see in public is not the “real” me. It’s simply that over time, I’ve learned to manage my energy to match the situation. I know how to be super social or spontaneous and still take care of myself and my needs.

All of us, no matter what our orientation, have elements of introversion and extroversion. In my case, it’s a dial by which I can turn the volume up or down as I wish, and my dial default is several notches towards introversion.

One point I want to be crystal clear about: claiming the word “introvert” is not about slapping a label on you, or putting you into this little box. It’s about having another piece of information that can help you understand yourself better, to help you be true to yourself.

If you’re an extrovert, you may be asking, “Hey, what about me? Where’s the love?!?” Rest assured, I love you, too. ;-) My mission as a coach, writer, teacher and personal development fanatic is to facilitate self-understanding and empower people to trust their truth. While I may use the word “introvert” a lot, that doesn’t mean that extroverts won’t find value, meaning and insight in my message.

Think of this as the place for introverts and the people who love them.

I invite your comments! Are you an introvert? If so, what’s been most helpful about understanding your personality? What do you find is the biggest challenge about being an introvert? What’s the biggest opportunity or benefit?

12 comments
Tara Schmakel
Tara Schmakel

I love this article Beth.  I am on a similar mission as "The Once Timid Networker".  Extroverts may have a hard time realizing that someone who is an introvert (and at times painfully shy) can also be a very driven, goal oriented person who has huge visions!  I love your writings and have just ordered your book.  Thank you for speaking for us as introverts and those of us who took a little longer to find our voices! :-)

Tara Schmakel
Tara Schmakel

I love this article Beth.  I am on a similar mission as "The Once Timid Networker".  Extroverts may have a hard time realizing that someone who is an introvert (and at times painfully shy) can also be a very driven, goal oriented person who has huge visions!  I love your writings and have just ordered your book.  Thank you for speaking for us as introverts and those of us who took a little longer to find our voices! :-)

Julie Watts
Julie Watts

I too am so comforted to find your website! I am a founder of an apparel company.  I've had a hard-time reconciling the fact that to colleagues and customers, I appear as the consummate extrovert. But 90% of the time, I prefer being alone, or having deep philosophical conversations. And truthfully, parties make me nervous. I felt that somehow my natural introverted tendencies meant I had a major strike against me. That no matter how determined I've been, thoughtful I've been....it won't be quite enough. I didn't understand that I can TOTALLY be how I am AND the world will be cool with that if I AM. 

 

I mean, I enjoy public speaking too! I have been so conflicted about my public and private personalities. It feels so good to know there is such a thing as an Introverted Entrepreneur! Thank you so much for your website and what you're doing!

Julie Watts
Julie Watts

I too am so comforted to find your website! I am a founder of an apparel company.  I've had a hard-time reconciling the fact that to colleagues and customers, I appear as the consummate extrovert. But 90% of the time, I prefer being alone, or having deep philosophical conversations. And truthfully, parties make me nervous. I felt that somehow my natural introverted tendencies meant I had a major strike against me. That no matter how determined I've been, thoughtful I've been....it won't be quite enough. I didn't understand that I can TOTALLY be how I am AND the world will be cool with that if I AM.    I mean, I enjoy public speaking too! I have been so conflicted about my public and private personalities. It feels so good to know there is such a thing as an Introverted Entrepreneur! Thank you so much for your website and what you're doing!

KristinRaySprenger
KristinRaySprenger like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm so happy I found this blog I could cry! Despite being a very quiet and reserved introvert I have always desperately wanted to own and operate my own business. I always thought I couldn't do it since I don't have a "salesy" personality. I can't wait to delve more deeply into what you have written here and see how I can apply it!!!

I've been struggling with a job full of extroverts for over a year - I work in retail ecommerce and all of my coworkers are very driven and outgoing. The hardest part for me is feeling like I don't communicate effectively. Especially when I will say something that goes unnoticed (in what I think is a loud voice) and seconds later another coworker will repeat what I said and get praise!

BethBuelow
BethBuelow moderator

@KristinRaySprenger, so glad you commented here! Being a quiet, reserved introvert is something that can be translated into a powerful asset as an entrepreneur, esp. since you don't have to (and probably don't want to) come on as a salesy person to be successful. Most people don't like to be sold to, but they like to be listened to, heard and responded to. So the key is forming relationships with those people so that conversation naturally leads to conversion and commitment. You can do it!!!

It sounds like there are some things in your current work situation that might be useful to you in the future. While we don't share the extrovert's communication style, we can learn a few things to adapt, such as being willing to interrupt (which is a challenge, at least for me!). You might enjoy Nancy Ancowitz's "Self-Promotion for Introverts," which has tips for speaking up and being noticed. We did a podcast interview a year or so ago: http://bethbuelow.com/2010/08/18/self-promotion-for-introverts%C2%AE-with-nancy-ancowitz/

Thanks for being here, and I hope to hear from you again :-)

KristinRaySprenger
KristinRaySprenger

I'm so happy I found this blog I could cry! Despite being a very quiet and reserved introvert I have always desperately wanted to own and operate my own business. I always thought I couldn't do it since I don't have a "salesy" personality. I can't wait to delve more deeply into what you have written here and see how I can apply it!!! I've been struggling with a job full of extroverts for over a year - I work in retail ecommerce and all of my coworkers are very driven and outgoing. The hardest part for me is feeling like I don't communicate effectively. Especially when I will say something that goes unnoticed (in what I think is a loud voice) and seconds later another coworker will repeat what I said and get praise!

BethBuelow
BethBuelow

@KristinRaySprenger, so glad you commented here! Being a quiet, reserved introvert is something that can be translated into a powerful asset as an entrepreneur, esp. since you don't have to (and probably don't want to) come on as a salesy person to be successful. Most people don't like to be sold to, but they like to be listened to, heard and responded to. So the key is forming relationships with those people so that conversation naturally leads to conversion and commitment. You can do it!!! It sounds like there are some things in your current work situation that might be useful to you in the future. While we don't share the extrovert's communication style, we can learn a few things to adapt, such as being willing to interrupt (which is a challenge, at least for me!). You might enjoy Nancy Ancowitz's "Self-Promotion for Introverts," which has tips for speaking up and being noticed. We did a podcast interview a year or so ago: http://bethbuelow.com/2010/08/18/self-promotion-for-introverts%C2%AE-with-nancy-ancowitz/ Thanks for being here, and I hope to hear from you again :-)

ByronBurke
ByronBurke like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hi Beth:

I've found speaking with total strangers to be a challenge. It's strange to many people that I know since I've had a very successful career in the music industry.

Another thing that I've found very interesting is that Introverts can change career paths and become leaders within their chosen field very fast since we pay close attention to details and focus on the task at hand.

In any case, I look forward to having the opportunity to one day speak with you and possibly exchange interviews for our business ventures.

Happy Holidays!

Byron Burke, CEO

BB Media Global Group

bbmediaglobal.com

BethBuelow
BethBuelow moderator

@ByronBurke, thanks for commenting! It's funny, we can feel challenged by something we have to do everyday, but because we love our work, we move through that challenge and people have no idea how hard it is for us. My approach with strangers is to remember that they're people with the same fears and insecurities as me (even if they would never, ever let that show), and that if I show up with curiosity and openness, then things flow from there. Your observation about introverts emerging as leaders is astute - I think because we're generally curious and want to know as much as we can about our surroundings/situation, we gather tons of information quickly and get absorbed in our work. In a healthy environment (not one driven by a cult of personality, prizing outward charisma over competence), that's rewarded with more responsibility and leadership.

It'd be lovely to connect with you in the near future, Byron - Thanks for suggesting it. Let's make that happen!

ByronBurke
ByronBurke

Hi Beth: I've found speaking with total strangers to be a challenge. It's strange to many people that I know since I've had a very successful career in the music industry. Another thing that I've found very interesting is that Introverts can change career paths and become leaders within their chosen field very fast since we pay close attention to details and focus on the task at hand. In any case, I look forward to having the opportunity to one day speak with you and possibly exchange interviews for our business ventures. Happy Holidays! Byron Burke, CEO BB Media Global Group bbmediaglobal.com

BethBuelow
BethBuelow

@ByronBurke, thanks for commenting! It's funny, we can feel challenged by something we have to do everyday, but because we love our work, we move through that challenge and people have no idea how hard it is for us. My approach with strangers is to remember that they're people with the same fears and insecurities as me (even if they would never, ever let that show), and that if I show up with curiosity and openness, then things flow from there. Your observation about introverts emerging as leaders is astute - I think because we're generally curious and want to know as much as we can about our surroundings/situation, we gather tons of information quickly and get absorbed in our work. In a healthy environment (not one driven by a cult of personality, prizing outward charisma over competence), that's rewarded with more responsibility and leadership. It'd be lovely to connect with you in the near future, Byron - Thanks for suggesting it. Let's make that happen!