It’s ok to be an introvert


Late last year we did some psychological profiling of our team in the Swish Design office and that profiling revealed some interesting things. First of all it confirmed for me that yes, I am an introvert. Now this is something I’ve known forever, but I always thought ‘introvert’ meant that someone who was shy and unsociable.

In actual fact, being an introvert is not about shyness at all, it is an energy issue. Introverts need their own space to recharge and gain energy while extroverts draw their energy from other people. This went a long way to explaining why I battled to get anything done in a large open plan office that had three other people in it. It also explained why I LOVE working from home in the quiet of my study and could happily go a full working day without speaking to anyone else.

Not long after going through that profiling exercise, my friend Kirsty linked to this very interesting talk given by Susan Cain titled The Power of Introverts. It shed further light on issues that us introverts have trying to operate in a world that celebrates the ‘extrovert ideal’. The synchronicity didn’t end there either. Less than a month after seeing Susan’s talk, I found her book Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking in an airport book shop.

As ridiculous as this may sound, this book completely changed the way I thought about myself.

Now I’d like to think that I’ve never had much trouble just being me but when I look back at my 35 years on this earth, the reality is that I have always been an apologist for myself. The world that we live in celebrates big charismatic personalities and subtly sends the message to all of us that if you want to be liked, then that’s how you need to act. You need to be vivacious and gregarious and the life of the party.  You need to be that person that dominates group discussions and readily exerts your will on the people around you. You should love going out and socialising. And if you don’t love doing these things what then? Well you gotta fake it.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for years, faking it, because it never occurred to me to be true to myself and my natural personality. No way, my natural personality is ‘boring’ and boring is VERY uncool.  I like to be liked, and no one really likes introverts because introverts are anti-social beings who prefer the company of books to humans.

Even as an adult with amazing friends who love me for who I am, I STILL do this! Earlier this year I attended a blog conference. There was a dinner dance scheduled for the night of the conference and everyone was talking it up on twitter. Sure enough I joined in the chorus despite thinking to myself ‘after spending the whole day with people I don’t know that well, I can’t think of anything worse than fronting up for a dinner dance too!’

Fast forward to the day of the conference and I could see early on that it was going to be a step too far for me to go to the dinner yet I still kept saying to people ‘yeah, woo hoo, I’ll see you tonight!’ In the end I made my friend Nat make my decision for me and the decision was not to attend the dinner. In the taxi home from the conference, the relief I felt told me that heading home was exactly what I needed to be doing, and it was at that point that I told myself all this rubbish had to stop. No more apologising for myself and making excuses to get out of going somewhere I don’t want to go. No more putting it on other people to make decisions of this nature for me. From that point on I decided that if something was not my scene, then I was just going to say so.

In the comments of this post about saying ‘no’ Kirrily mentions that she used to say ‘yes’ a lot to avoid rejection or not being liked.

Yep, me too. But not anymore.