What I Wish I Knew Before I Found Out I Was An Introvert

I hate labels. Let me start there. It seems like once we have a label applied, we begin to live INTO that label instead of embracing what could be. Labels are limiting. Introvert, extrovert, black, white, hyperactive, democrat, republican, I dislike them all equally. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I really do. It makes it easier to understand why we do things in the way we do. But, I’ve seen enough evidence to suggest we act the way we do many times BECAUSE of the label placed on us. As a former classroom teacher, I saw many children who were BRILLIANT. But, because they were labeled, they quit. Instead of being supported through enhancement of their technical or kinesthetic strengths, they were said to be academically weak and placed in remedial classrooms. So, that’s the persona they stepped into.

But, there are differences between labels and descriptors. Short and tall are descriptors. You can’t do much about those except change the standard for each. (For example, in my family, I’m average height. But in my wife’s family, I’m really tall). Introvert is a label based on what Myers-Briggs created. I was called one long before I knew what it actually was. I thought it simply meant I was shy and stayed in my room a lot. It must have been true since I actually did. I don’t know if I was actually shy or I just didn’t talk to people much. There’s a difference. In my mind, I talked when I needed to but when I needed to be by myself, I was. When I heard I was an introvert, it was in contrast to being an extrovert. They made it seem as if there was something wrong…I wasn’t normal and I needed to aspire to extroversion. The extroverts have the fun. The extroverts get the opportunities. The extroverts are the ones the world embraces. This wasn’t said but it was my takeaway based on how the label was presented.

But, I wish I knew:

  1. While you might trend towards a certain behavioral style, you can choose to be different. No one is one thing and one way all the time. There are days where I’m happy and days where I’m less happy. There are times when I laugh and times when I don’t. There are moments where I want to be by myself and others where I don’t mind hanging out. Labels are not your death sentence. You can choose to be different when you want to be.
  2. “Introverts” are normal, successful people. Albert Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Jordan are among the famous people listed as introverts. Not only are they wildly successful, they are sometimes misunderstood. The expectation is people in the limelight are charismatic, outspoken and ON all the time. Well, expectations are often myths.
  3. While we always hear about introverts and extroverts, a third, lesser-known type exists…the ambivert. The ambivert is described as someone who is just about evenly introvert and extrovert. Travis Bradberry writes about an Adam Grant study on Forbes describing ambiverts as “the vast majority of us.” While I would definitely say I was a bit more reclusive in my teens, I had close friends and could even be silly. As I have grown, I still love alone time. But, I also recognize the value in connecting with people. And so, I do that intentionally.
  4. You don’t have to agree with the label. I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of the early statements reflected on how we create agreements from very early on. We “agree” to respond to the name given to us by our parents. In the same way, we “agree” to live by the label placed on us. Unfortunately, some of us are called poor, and we simply agree. We are called shy and we simply agree. We are called clumsy and we simply agree. You can choose not to agree with the label. You can choose not to respond to or acknowledge the label. That’s a choice you have.
  5. Labels are mostly for everyone else. They are the tool OTHER people use to create their mental picture of you and your personality. I do value the personality tests and theories attempting to help me understand how I operate and identifying my strengths. But, once I understand it, I can apply what I’ve learned and move on. I don’t need to stay there. For everyone else, it makes life easier if they envision you as a stationary object instead of the moving, growing potentialite you are. Life is easier when you fit neatly into a box…for everyone else, that is. Your life will still be your life and you’ll still need to live it.
  6. Being by myself is ok. I love me. I love thinking. I love hanging out on my own. Some of my best ideas come when I’m alone. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s not a negative. It’s not abnormal. It’s who I choose to be today. And that’s ok.

Our world is complex. There is value in making sense of patterns and identifying human behavior. But, I find greater value in the questions we ask, the variety among us and our ability to choose how we want to appear. Whatever the label is, choose to grow and never allow yourself to feel less than enough.

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