Imagine. Over 30 years ago. 6thgrade me. Waiting by the door for the teacher to let us in to 4th period math. Other classmates begin to gather. I’m standing alone, books in hand, observing the bustle between classes and overhearing the two guys standing not more than 10 feet away.
“She never talks to anyone. She is probably a super snob.” Said one.
“Maybe she’s stupid.” The other countered. They snickered. I looked away.
They were talking about me. They looked at me as if I wasn’t there and didn’t matter. Their words stung like a hundred bees. Years of being “the wallflower”, feeling invisible, worthless. I fought back tears that day.
That conversation, waiting for class to begin, I’ll never forget. If only they could see the real me. I was the furthest person from “a snob”. I was one of the most caring and compassionate friends you could ask for. I also had your back if you needed anything.
My parents moved my sister and I to a new state, new school, new big city in search of better jobs. I had very few friends. My sister on the other hand, adapted just fine. Me? I spent every year, year after year in the emotional anguish of feeling lonely in an ironically overcrowded world. Why?
Sadly, I agreed with the “she might be stupid” sentiment. I unwittingly equated social skills, eloquence and extroversion with real intelligence. Thank goodness, I was only very partially right. Those attributes are only a few intelligences out of a bouquet of others.
The irony? I was so shy, in my quiet observation, I was adept at noticing irony surrounding me. I would come up with hilarious jokes and share them with my best friend. When we got together with a group of friends, she would tell my jokes and have the whole group laughing. My heart sank further.
Living in a primarily extroverted society, there is often confusion around introverts. And, if you happen to be a shy introvert, it is a double whammy.
It is so fascinating to me that every extrovert I’ve spoken with, tells me they are really an introvert. I believe this is true, in part, because everybody needs down time in their life regardless of their primary hard-wiring.
Yet, I’ve learned that introverts are a physiologically unique breed, with many unique gifts and assets that are born from the solace and sensitives we come into the world with.
Today, I’ve learned to live in peace with the fallacy society cloaked around me… that I was an “inadequacy” and I just needed to buck-up and get my extrovert in-gear to be a success.
Now in my forties, years of tears behind me, I see the gifts and nuances that my many busy counterparts gloss over. Today, I embrace who I am and stand strong in my quiet resolve… my quiet leadership.
Seeing Susan Cain’s TED talk, The Power of Introverts (1), was a new era in my awareness. Not only did she effectively dispel all societal myths that introverts were lazy, snobby or unintelligent, she also illuminated the true gifts we bare to the world and to the people we impact.
Did you know that introverts are more sensitive physiologically from birth than our extroverted counterparts? (2)
This seems counterintuitive because we seem so calm on the surface. Yet, on the inside, the introvert is taking in multiple aspects to what is happening in their environment, all at once and synthesizing information on micro and macro scales.
In other words, when you stop me in a busy hallway, ask me a question and I look at you like a deer in headlights, it is not because I don’t know an answer. It is because I’m calculating all probable outcomes, including past and future possibilities and aware of who else is walking by and my potential impact on them. There is a lot going on for introverts… our internal processors are loaded like a super power.
The emotions, the details, the nuances, the red flags, the many potential outcomes, etc. It is no wonder we then need more reprieve than our counterparts that are less sensitive to their environment and therefor seek out additional stimulation.
Cain also spotlights that the shift in our society from character valuation to performance valuation has taken its toll, even on extroverts. We no longer care how much integrity, honor, or courage someone has, as much as we tend to care about how well someone can put on a performance for us, talk to us, demonstrate to us and be boisterous and fun!
As a society who began valuing performance over character, the value of extroversion is subconsciously established, unless you happened to be raised by your grandparents the twenties.
Now, Cain points out, we have science backing up the gifts of introversion, which is a valuable counterbalance, to a world running itself ragged and misplacing priorities on external bypasses.
Are people casting aside character in order to be “seen”? Has our self-development become external and therefor shallower? Is introverted brilliance being overlooked and potentials left untapped because it isn’t “showee” enough? How do these unconscious favoritism biases limit our business, economic, emotional and cultural success?
Since imbalance in any direction blocks potential, let’s eliminate the bias and get real.
Character does matter. People’s gifts do matter, internal and external. Can you see through someone’s social performance and into their heart? An introvert can. Can you look and see who hasn’t spoken and not assume it is because they have nothing to add? Can you have a team that values, honors and gives space for both ways of being? When the answer becomes yes, a greater potential is within reach.
Extroverts. Your introverted counterparts are your counterbalance. They will offer you depth of thought, care and intimacy. They will remind you it is ok to not burn out and to take “me time”. Since introverts need time to process all the information we take in, with much less stimulation needed, give us time. Don’t brush us aside too quickly. With space, we will gift you conclusions that unleash new possibilities.
Introverts. Do not allow this culture, in its current state, to fool you. Your character, depth and insights matter. They matter a lot. Many of the most transformative people in science, religion and psychology were introverts who, in their solace saw farther, imagined deeper and even extrapolated relativity.