How I Manage to be a Successful Introvert in a World Filled with Extroverts
When I was in elementary school, I was a teacher’s pet who couldn’t sit still. I was always the first kid to finish whatever task was given to the class, and I would get up from my desk and wander the hallways, usually ending up in the library. I gravitated toward a certain spot, wedged between two bookcases with my back to the wall. Sometimes I would read, other times I would just sit and think. Sure, I was often thinking “poor me, I don’t have any friends” but usually it was more a dream thing. I would dream of what life would be like after I finally had friends, after people stopped making fun of me for being smart (and wearing glasses…the kiss of death for a kid’s social life!), after, after, after.
That’s right, I was assuming that eventually it would just get better. That’s what adults always tell kids, “it gets better.” But guess what? It does not get better. Nothing changes as you get older. People are still mean to each other, people still make you feel bad for being smart and excelling at things they can’t wrap their heads around, people still tease each other over stupid things. I don’t know why this happens, I can’t offer you any solutions for making other people be better.
But you can make yourself better, and that’s really the only thing that matters. As much as we introverts fear that other people are out there constantly judging us, every action we take, every sentence we utter, that part just isn’t true. For the most part everyone is just living in their own little bubbles and couldn’t care less about what you do on a daily basis. Sure, people can be plenty rude, but it’s almost never actually about you, it’s because they’re busy leading their own lives and *gasp* things go wrong for them too. So take charge of yourself and make good things happen regardless of what other people may or may not think.
Here are three ways I’ve found to help myself be comfortable with the big bad world out there while embracing my inner introvert.
1. Know Thyself
First, I learned about myself. Instead of trying to fit the mold of what other “career women” were trying to be, I sat down and was honest with myself. Am I the best dresser? No, but I can look professional while still being comfortable. Do I want to move around the country chasing promotions? No, because I know that loving my life outside of work is more important to me than the “next step” in my career. Do I like to chit chat with my coworkers about reality TV? HELL NO. But I’ve learned how to have real conversations with the people who matter.
There are a million questions you can ask yourself, and honestly it’s a constant process. But making time and mental space to think critically about your personal values and needs and desires is priceless. Once you have clear answers to these questions, you can be confident in your actions because that’s who you are.
2. Knowledge is Power
The next step is to own this knowledge about yourself. No, you don’t need to send out a weekly newsletter to all your acquaintances letting them know about your specific needs and desires as a special introvert. But you do need to be clear with people when it concerns your sense of wellbeing.
Of course there will be times that you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone, but you can minimize those if you calmly let people know that no, you’re not interested in after hours drinks and conversation three times a week. It’s always a good idea to offer an alternative, so tell them you could instead commit to two times a month (or whatever works for you — be honest with yourself!).
I recently joined a Board of Directors for a local organization, and after a few meetings it became clear that I was going to be the new vice-chair of the board. I stated from the get-go that I do not appreciate unplanned evening phone calls, and in fact will not even answer my phone if they happen, but that I will always promptly respond to emails. Nobody questioned it, and all my Board business is now done via email. If I hadn’t stated my preference, no one would have known.
3. Make compromises without compromising yourself
As much as I prefer communicating via email, there are people out there who feel strongly that the phone is the only way to get business done. For those people, I use the phone, but I set clear boundaries as to when and how often is appropriate. No one calls me anymore “just to say hi” because I actively discourage the practice. Yes, I still have friends, but they know that I prefer to have real conversations in person, and don’t need to constantly feel “in touch”.
Remember that the world does not revolve around you. You have to be clear about who you are and what you need out of life, and remember that every other person out there is on their own journey with their own needs and desires. It’s completely up to you to move your life forward, make your voice heard (however quiet it may be), and live a life of introverted awesomeness.
And, when all else fails, there’s always time for sitting in a corner with a good book.