You’ve come a long way, baby.
When I started The Introvert Entrepreneur in May 2010, introversion was a topic that hung out at the edges of the room (like many introverts!). A March 2003 article, “Caring for Your Introvert,” was the most popular piece making the rounds (and is still popular 10 years later). Then came along “Introvert Power” (2008/2013), “Self-Promotion for Introverts” (2009), and “The Introverted Leader” (2009). “Revenge of the Introvert” was the Sept/Oct 2010 cover story in Psychology Today. The New York Times bestseller “Quiet” exploded (yes, I’m using that word intentionally) on the scene in January 2012.
It’s been a non-stop cacophony of voices, proclaiming introvert pride, ever since.
Susan Cain calls it a “Quiet Revolution.” The world “revolution” is from the Latin revolutio, meaning “a turn around.” Wikipedia defines it as “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”
There’s no doubt: introverts have been rallying for change. It’s not just the self-help junkies who are talking about introverts; it’s corporations, schools, nonprofits, chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs. It’s the focus of conversations between parents and children around the dinner table. It’s even the dreaded small talk at cocktail parties.
Naturally, in all of these situations, when we talk about introverts, we talk about extroverts. It’s to be expected. Most people see introverts and extroverts as opposites. You’re one or the other. End of story. (Even though we know that’s not true.)
And then there are those who resist labels of any kind, or who think the whole conversation is silly and pointless. They believe that by claiming or naming a particular trait like “introvert,” we’re putting people into fixed categories, limited in description to what we know about that trait.
Here’s my response to that: the statement “I’m an introvert” isn’t a label, it’s information. I agree, labels can be limiting if one chooses to buy into the fear-based definitions of those labels. But why not claim certain characteristics if they tell me something about myself? Why not choose to see them as a path to self-acceptance? I’m a wife, entrepreneur, woman, introvert, feminist, animal lover, etc… all those things could be labels, but to me they are simply words that reflect a particular aspect of my life and choices.
They inform, not define, me.
Rather than being limiting, these “labels” are liberating. They shine the light on the multitude of puzzle pieces that comprise my personality and being. They give me a framework within which to explore who I am and who I’m not. When I find a concept with which I identify, one that prompts me to think, “Hey! That’s ME!”, it opens me up and makes me more of who I am, not less.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about how introverts can be more of who they are, after countless years of being told they needed to be less.
One thing has become clear to me: introverts need to explore who we are apart from extroversion.
I’m convinced that in order to move towards a more objective, independent analysis, we must, in the words of Jungian analyst James Hillman, “learn how to evaluate each issue on its own merits without having to bring up the opposition’s point of view. In therapy, when you have a dream of your mother, for example, you don’t necessarily have to talk about your father as a supposed opposite.” *
Yes, there is value in the comparing/contrasting exercises. And it’s absolutely true that we all exist on an energetic spectrum, with both introverted and extroverted energy within us to varying degrees. We’ll never stop talking about the innie/outtie framework, because it’s informative, valuable, and most of the time, a lot of fun. This is not to imply that extroverts don’t matter. It’s saying the long-term conversation about both energetic types must transcend simplistic “either/or,” black-and-white thinking.
This is why I experience the introvert conversation as a liberation, more than a revolution.
Liberation is about freedom, emancipation, release, relief.
This is what I have heard from introverts over and over again: I’m so relieved to know that I’m not weird or broken. I can start being who I want to be, instead of who others think I should be. I don’t feel like I have to act like an extrovert anymore… I’m finally free to be myself.
A recent post on Salon.com brought forward an interesting notion: that the current introvert revolution is akin to the women’s movement. As women emerged from the shadows, the early discussion most likely centered around how women were different from men and why it mattered. As the movement has matured, it’s less about the contrast, and more about how women are powerful and worthy in their own right. Women (for the most part) have been liberated from being defined in relation to men.
That’s what I wish for introverts. That we be liberated from being defined in relation to extroverts (starting with The Big Five personality traits?). I want us to be released from the polarization that only limits our thinking and possibilities.
There has been and will continue to be value in having the compare/contrast conversation. I’m not suggesting we throw that completely out. I simply hope the revolution moves towards true liberation.
What do you think? Is the introvert conversation making a difference in your life? How? What words best describe for you what we’re experiencing as a society when it comes to understanding introversion?
* From a brilliant interview, not about personalities, but politics: http://archetypeinaction.com/index.php/tools-to-change-society/39-politics-a-rhetoric2/1830-jungian-analyst-explains-the-psychology-of-political-polarization#.UjjdCT_so-c