Are you really an introvert?

Anthony Shaw
Feb 10, 2017 · 3 min read

Are you an introvert? Are there things you feel you can’t do because you’re introverted?

A colleague of mine said “he’s a smart dude, but I wouldn’t put him on stage in front of 100 people”. I was within ear shot, he was talking about me. Being “smart” is all about perception and perspective so I typically ignore those types of comments, but the challenge was laid down.

5 years later, 2 of my eldest kids start school and my wife and I are discussing our concerns around them fitting in. I said “I wouldn’t worry too much about Jasmine making friends. She’s shy, like me, but she’ll settle.”. My wife turns to me and laughs. “You are not shy”. I pause for a second, a bit confused and say “of course, people have been telling me all my life that I’m shy”. “How can that be true?” she says, “I’ve seen videos of you bounding around on stage in front of hundreds of people. Shy people don’t do that”.

Working in technology, most of my friends and colleagues would categorise themselves as “introverts”. If you’re reading this now and thinking you’re an introvert too then I’m going that challenge that face on.

What is an introvert?

The difference between an introvert and an extravert was summarised well from a psychologist I heard on the podcast hidden brain,

An introvert get’s their energy from spending time alone. An extrovert get’s their energy from being with people.

In 2009, I took the Myers Briggs test, which had me as an INTJ. So social psychology has me pegged as an introvert.

More recently, I have made demolishing any preconceptions about my own ability to do “extroverted” things a priority. I have put my hand up to speak at 15 events, spoken in front of crowds of up to 300, been a guest on 3 podcasts, and after all that, I still deep down- consider myself shy.

At a large event, I feel highly uncomfortable in the “networking” sessions afterward, especially at bars where I can barely here people I often find myself stuck between conversations or just pulling back and listening to others. I know I’m not the only one, in fact I’d go as far to say that the majority of my friends are very similar.

Are you just guarded?

Digging into that generalisation about introverts, what is it about large crowds, meeting new people and busy situations that makes us introverts so uncomfortable.

Often, I struggle to keep up with conversations in noisy environments, so I retreat to just sitting back and watching the people and dynamics. Straining to hear can be very tiring. When thrown in front of a stranger or introduced to someone, my confidence is cumulative. If I’m feeling confident that day, or week, I’m more likely to spark up conversation. If I’m having a bad week, filled with anxiety, negativity or just circumstance then I’ll retreat more. It’s not my personality, its my situation, my own issues with anxiety (which I’ve spoken candidly about). When we think of extroverts we picture that loud, confident sales person or leader we’ve all met. But having travelled with many of them in the past, I know once the crowds are gone, they sit down, sigh loudly and relax. They are tired too. We’re all in the same boat.

After all, an introvert gets “their energy from spending time alone”, so why do I get lonely? When it says Energy, is that Energy from people, or energy from the right people? I love spending time with my friends, shut in a booth in a nice quiet bar, over dinner or just on a road trip. It’s that one-on-one conversation that I relish, gain energy from. It makes me happy, relax, and confident to spend time with good friends.

Spending a week with friends, or on holiday I often need time alone to think and not just talk. It’s all about balance.

So in conclusion,

I’m not an introvert. Nor are you. There is no such thing. You are your own person, make your own boundaries, relish your own strengths, values and challenge perception. Time alone is O.K. Enjoying time with others is O.K.

Don’t hold back based on labels

Anthony Shaw

Written by

Group Director of Talent at Dimension Data, father, Christian, Python Software Foundation Fellow, Apache Foundation Member.

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