I’m not proud to be an introvert. I’m not ashamed of it, either. I just am an introvert. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.
To be honest, I’ve had enough of the introvert-pride movement. Everyone I know sends me introvert memes that insist that introverts rock, or that we’re here, we’re at home, and we want to be left alone!—or that extroverts are boring and needy and talk too much.
First of all, enough already. It’s great that we’ve embraced our introversion, but isn’t it time to move on from making sure everyone knows we want to be alone? Don’t we protest too much? If you’re truly OK with your introversion, do you have to keep hollering about how you’re OK with your introversion? Can’t you just go about your business?
Second, a lot of the introvert pride movement seems to involve telling people to leave you alone because you want to go home and read a book. Of course a need for solitude is part of being an introvert—but it’s only the re-energizing part. If you really want to be an awesome introvert, isn’t it time you figure out how to bless the world with the benefits of your introversion?
If you treat your introversion merely as a reason to turn down invitations, then you’re not really doing the introvert-pride movement much good; you might just be confirming people’s impression that introverts are antisocial.
That’s just one way you might be doing introversion wrong. Let’s start there, and talk about four others, as well:
1. You stay home too much.
You don’t like parties. That’s fine—although you might find that you like parties more if you figure out how to do them your way. For example, try going for only as long as you feel like it and then leaving, no matter how early it is. If you give yourself permission to leave when you’re ready, going in the first place is easier.
Or maybe you can enjoy yourself by finding a corner to sit in and watch everyone else circulate, talking to whoever wanders into your sphere. People might hassle you about not mingling, but so what? You’re fine with your introverted self.
If you really hate parties, of course, don’t go to them. But if you just turn down invitations willy-nilly without generating any yourself—invitations to people you really like to do things with—you are not introverted, you are reclusive. It’s OK not to enjoy the kind of socializing other people do, but you should make sure to do the kind of socializing you like.
Can you be the kind of introvert who extends invitations to interesting people to do interesting things—lectures, museum exhibitions, bookstore readings? Do you throw intimate dinner parties where you have excellent conversation? Do you hike with a favorite buddy who knows how to converse and be silent? Do you make time for lunch with those friends who nourish your soul?
If you don’t do these kinds of things, then you’re not doing introversion justice. Do them, and show the lucky few how cool introverts are.
2. You put your head down at work and just get things done.
I understand; sometimes meetings move too fast for us to formulate our thoughts, and it can be difficult to break in and make our ideas heard. But it’s up to us, then, to figure out how to get our ideas out—whether it be through memos, via one-on-one meetings with team leaders, or by teaming up with a buddy or advocate who can help amplify your ideas. Management types have started talking about introversion and extroversion as another aspect of diversity to be considered when building effective teams. Make sure that you demonstrate the skills and strengths of introversion rather than just getting your work done and fading into the office furniture.
3. You eschew small talk.
Generally speaking, small talk is kryptonite for introverts. I get it. I, too, tend to avoid chit-chat. However, while some research suggests that people who have substantive conversations are happier than small talkers, other findings indicate that a little chit-chat can be a good for your state of mind. An October 2016 article in The Atlantic states:
“In a series of experiments, psychologists gave Chicago commuters varying directions about whether to talk with fellow train passengers—something they typically avoided. Those told to chat with others reported a more pleasant journey than those told to ‘enjoy your solitude’ or to do whatever they normally would. None of the chatters reported being rebuffed. And the results held for introverts and extroverts alike—which makes sense, since acting extroverted has a positive effect on introverts.”
Let’s dig even deeper: While chit-chat is sometimes an end to itself, it also can be an entrée to more. Relationships don’t start deep. Plunging right into the deep end of conversation with a new acquaintance can be off-putting. You probably know this because I’m sure people have done it to you: Introverts’ excellent listening skills tend to make us sitting ducks for over-sharers.
Chit-chat, on the other hand, dips your toe into the conversational water. It is a little point of contact while you and the other person size each other up, pick up nonverbal signals, and assess possible commonalities. When everything lines up, chit-chat can lead to the substantive conversation introverts thrive on.
If you avoid chit-chat at all costs, you may miss opportunities to make solid connections. Don’t avoid it, just learn how to do it, and walk away when you’ve had enough—because the more people you meet, the more opportunities you have to show off the awesomeness of introversion.
4. You pretend all solitude is good solitude.
I talk about this a lot because it’s among the mistakes I make that affect my happiness. We are introverts, but we are also people—people who need people. Staying home alone is the easiest default for most of us, but too much of that is simply not good for us. Our need for interaction and connection may vary widely, and we obviously don’t need as much as extroverts to feel in balance, but the flip side of the exhaustion we feel after too much interaction is the blahs we are bound to feel after too much time alone.
There is evidence that a tendency to feel lonely is related to our genes, but that doesn’t mean that you’re immune to loneliness. I recently listened to an interesting radio discussion about loneliness, and one thing these experts (including Emily White, who I interviewed about her book, Count Me In) mentioned was that, unfortunately, the easiest way to handle loneliness is to be alone. Loneliness is so all-consuming and difficult that withdrawing and nursing it in solitude is easier than feeling it in the midst of a crowd. And of course, this only perpetuates the loneliness.
As humans, we contort our thinking however necessary to justify what we do, even if it’s not in our best interest. It’s like the “sunk-cost fallacy”—the cognitive bias that keeps us doing something we don’t like just because we’ve already invested in it. We tell ourselves that solitude is good and that we are superior humans for being comfortable with it, even after we have stopped being comfortable and started feeling lonely. Again, we protest too much.
I was interested, too, when these experts pointed out that, among other things, lonely people tend to be more hostile. Might that explain the introverts I hear from who want nothing to do with other people, who would rather stay home alone than commune with another human being? I have always considered them misanthropes, but now I suspect they might be deeply, painfully lonely, and stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of rejecting and being rejected. When those people proudly, loudly proclaim their introversion, they’re perpetuating some pretty ugly misconceptions about introverts.
5. You believe you’re socially awkward.
Is this what you tell yourself when you go to a party and don’t feel immediately comfortable? Or when you feel a little shy when you first meet someone? Do you soothe yourself with stories about your innate inability to enter a room with panache, your hopelessness at making sparkling conversation, or your miserable social skills, which make every group event a minefield? Cut it out.
Stop convincing yourself that you are different from everyone else. Yes, some people are smoother than others. Some are easy conversationalists. And some people do light up a room just by entering it—although those are rarely the people I’m drawn to. I find them a little off-putting, to tell the truth. I’d much rather talk to the person sitting quietly in a corner, or someone I already know. I don’t go to parties to meet new people; I go to see people I already know.
But I also believe that everybody is at least a little bit insecure in new situations. Everybody worries about the impression they make. Everybody plays the fool sometimes. The people who enter a room dancing just cope with their anxiety by faking it until they make it.
I don’t suggest that you enter rooms dancing, but you don’t need to exacerbate your perfectly natural anxiety by telling yourself that you are “hopeless” at parties, that you can’t carry on a conversation, or that nobody ever notices you. Yes, you feel anxious, but unless you suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder (and I don’t downplay that), that anxiety is not dangerous to you—it’s a natural response to a new situation. Ride it, feel it, let it move through you, and then show people how interesting introverts can be when they choose. And tell yourself how lucky people are when they shut up long enough to hear what you have to say.