A friend wrote this on my Facebook wall over the weekend:
“How is shyness different than introversion, especially when you’re a solopreneur?”
When I first began my journey of serving introverts, I went into research mode. One of the first signs that I had my work cut out for me? When I typed in a search for “introvert” on the photography site iStock.com, they changed the search term to “shy.” (When I typed in “extrovert,” they switched it to “showing off” 😉 )
In most of my presentations, I start by asking the audience to share with one another what adjectives and phrases they associate with “introvert” and “extrovert.” Without fail, “shy” is linked to introversion, while “social,” “friendly” and “outgoing” are mentioned for extroversion.
The media plays into this definition by linking loners and misanthropic types with introversion. Even the respected journalist Leslie Stahl blurred the lines in a report on “Tech Titans” she did for 60 Minutes. When describing Larry Page, CEO of Google, she shared that he declined to be interviewed for the segment, and that he was known for being “shy, almost introverted.”
You’d think we introverts would all be sulking in a corner, afraid, plotting everyone’s demise and imaging what life would be like if we were all mute.
Let’s start to clear things up with a few definitions…
Shy: 1. not at ease in the company of others 2. easily frightened; timid (1)
Introvert: 1. a shy person. 2. Psychology: a person characterized by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings (2)
Huh… with these definitions being front and center, it’s no wonder there’s confusion!!
I understand the definition of shy. Being shy is more about fear or social anxiety. You’re at the party, and you want to join in the fun, but you’re afraid. Overwhelming anxiety keeps you from taking the risk to approach new people or situations. Shyness is a fear-based behavior that can be worked through, if one wants to choose to change it.
The first part of the definition of introvert, on the other hand, is more reflective of what society has imposed on it. We make an assumption that if you don’t just jump into the fray and start talking, if you hang around on the edges and look before you leap, that must mean you’re a shy introvert (with those two words being interchangeable, joined at the hip).
Can an introvert be shy? Is a shy person possibly an introvert? Yes on both counts. Can an extrovert be shy, reserved or even quiet? Yes to that, too! Shyness can show up for anyone when we’re in new situations, we’re around people who intimidate us or we don’t know what’s expected of us.
The second part of the definition above is much more accurate. To expand on it, here’s what another source had to say about “introversion”:
A term introduced by the psychologist Carl Jung to describe a person whose motives and actions are directed inward. Introverts tend to be preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings and minimize their contact with other people. ( Compare extrovert.) (3)
In short, you can “get over” or “recover” from being shy.
You don’t “get over” or “recover” from being an introvert.
Now that we’ve looked at the definitions, let’s turn to my friend’s question and the relationship between introversion, shyness and solopreneurship.
Solopreneurs often encounter the very experiences that can lead to feeling shy: new situations, being around people who intimidate us, not knowing what’s expected or what’s going to happen next. Do I feel fear around those things sometimes? Heck, yeah!
And my introversion – my ease with solitude and comfort with flying solo – can lead to me to sit alone in that fear a touch longer than the average extrovert might. The fear might show up outwardly as procrastination, perfectionism or withdrawal. It becomes important that I am aware of when I’m going into hibernation mode and letting my introversion enable my fear in an unhealthy way. Instead, I can use my healthy self-awareness to see the fear for what it is and move through it. I can choose to store up my energy through nurturing activities, which gives me the power to feel the fear and do it anyway!
The bottom line need is to recognize the difference between when you’re honoring your introversion – taking time for yourself, being an observer, enjoying quiet – and when you’re feeling shy or timid.
Dare I say that honoring your introversion can help you overcome your shyness, because you’re giving yourself the space and grace to take care of your energy and show up with confidence in those shyness-inducing situations!?!?
You don’t have to jump in head-first… you can take your time and mentally prepare. It’s all in the spirit of working with your personality, not against it!
What do you think? Will we ever get to the point when we stop collapsing and interchanging the terms “introvert” and “shy”? How does your introversion help or hinder you when it comes to shyness-inducing situations? Do you consider yourself shy, introverted, both or neither? Please share in the comments!
PS: If you’re not shy about your introvert pride, you’ll want to see my new online store! T-shirts, totes and more, all designed with you in mind!
(1) Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shy
(2) Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/introverted
(3) Dictionary.com The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/introverted