In a typical university business class, a learning environment is established to produce the future business leaders of the world according to how the class defines a successful business person.
Whether it is an auditing class or an entrepreneurship class, most — if not every single one in the American university system — define successful business people as those who speak often and forcefully.
In the business classes I have taken, participation — more like saying anything even if it does not make sense — makes up 15–20% of my final grade. The aim is to get me in the habit of speaking a lot because, apparently, acting extroverted is the only way I will succeed in a business setting.
I am an introvert, through and through. Whenever I have a sliver of down time, I usually prefer peace and quiet. In a conversation, I tend to listen, analyze what is said, and say something only when I feel like I have something important to contribute. I am neither shy nor holding myself back; I just do not like to have a hand in making discussions go in unproductive circles.
If this is who I am, why are my classes indirectly telling me that I am not enough and will not go far in a career path that I am passionate about?
In our culture, extroversion is praised while introversion is seen as an oddity. Extroverts are usually viewed as leaders because they talk more, even though there is no correlation between speaking often and having ideas that are high in quantity and quality.
During parent-teacher meetings, my teachers told my parents, “Lisa is very bright… but she is a bit quiet.” Me not talking as often as extroverted children was something that, in my teachers’ opinions, needed to be fixed.
According to a Wharton article,
The business world is filled with office environments similar to one described by an Atlanta area corporate trainer: “Here everyone knows that it’s important to be an extrovert and troublesome to be an introvert. So people work real hard at looking like extroverts, whether that’s comfortable or not.”
At my university’s business school, there are classes about leadership, entrepreneurship, teams, and negotiations, all promoting extroversion as the only path towards success. Instead of being taught how to be successful leaders as simply who they are, introverts get the idea of needing to be more extroverted hammered into their minds.
What does this say about our schools? Our company cultures? Our societal culture?
After wrapping my head around all of this, many questions arose. How do I, an introvert, succeed in this extrovert-biased society? Do I have to compromise who I am? Should I give into the external signals telling me to act like an extrovert?
PSA to every introvert out there who has had these, or similar, thoughts: You are enough.
Yes, self-help books, the media, motivational speakers, your university business classes, and your elementary school teachers may have told you to adopt an extroverted personality, but why put in effort to change who you are when you can just embrace your introversion and rock it like no other?
I am currently reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and everything speaks to me to the point where I want to stand up and say out loud with one hand in the air, “Yeeesss!!” From her research, she found that because introverts are open to listening to other’s ideas and dislike being dominant, they have a unique ability to lead initiative-takers to be proactive more than extroverts can.
In argument of the idea that extroverts make better CEOs, Susan says,
We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.
Notable leaders who are introverts include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Rosa Parks, and Audrey Hepburn (a.k.a. my queen). If you are a millennial, you know J.K. Rowling, Emma Watson, and Beyonce (a.k.a. my other queen)? Yup, introverts.
We may live in a culture where extroversion is often promoted, but that does not mean that, as introverts, we need to succumb to the pressures to change who we naturally are. Being introverted does not define our capabilities, the level of impact we make, and our success. No matter what personality type you are, you are enough and the only one who can define what you are capable of.