The world is set up so it works for extroverts. Speaking confidently, saying your opinion, being able to promote yourself – all qualities that are valued in this highly competitive society. We seem to be in such a winning society – at a young age kids start winning awards in school, performing or being called out in front of the whole class room. Somehow someone seems to think that being yourself loudly is a good quality. And I believed that for a long time.
I am a major introvert. I find comfort in watching other people succeed, in spending time on my own. I used to spend lunch all alone as a child and I still do. I kept asking myself what was wrong with me, why I didn’t like spending time with other people. It seemed so easy for other people to be in groups and for me it was so hard. I just thought with time I would learn to change. Only as a teenager did I learn what an introvert was and I was surprised to find that my being had a name. So other people must feel that way too.
Another great comfort was reading Susan Cain’s novel: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. For the first time I read about other people in the workforce being introverts too. And being able to own it. You cannot be the best version of yourself if you do not own every bit of your being. I have learned that being an introvert has many positive qualities:
- Unlike other people, you are sensitive in social settings. You can pick up on ques, like understand when other people are not happy with a situation. In meetings you can therefore adjust – you know when to backtrack an idea or notice when to lighten the mood. Being sensitive was always known as a weakness, instead, like a superhero – it can be your biggest strength.
- You can take a step back and let other people shine. In a society where extroversion is fostered, extroverts will love having the spotlight. You will not seem threatening to a boss, or many people around you thus people will be willing to work with you more.
- You care about what makes people an individuals. You remember finer details about them, and are able to foster stronger bonds and relationships. Power doesn’t make people do good things, but a personal connection does.
Play to your strengths. If you are an introvert, embrace it and cherish it. And also – don’t forget to cultivate it.
Have lunch on your own. One of my colleagues, a major introvert – lets call him Bob – told me he blocks 1h for lunch, goes to a restaurant with his headphones and just eats listening to a podcast. It is the only way he can balance all the loud noise at work. I was once given the advise “Never have lunch on your own” as a networking tip. I tried it for a month. It was the worst thing in the world. It cost me so much energy to be with people, the lunches just killed me. (Another life lesson here: Not all advise is solid!).
Go for a 10min walk on your own. Get yourself a cup of tea or a coffee. Just make sure to be on your own even for just a minute. Soak in your own company.
In meetings – its ok to take a step back. Its ok to just spend a minute checking in on how you are doing (lets be honest – no one is present the whole time). In doodling or thinking about how excited you are to spend the weekend with Netflix. Whatever helps you touch base with your inner self.
Plan your weekends with enough time to recuperate from people. Office culture can be so loud and overwhelming. Its full of egos, goals to meet and targets, sounds and pressure. Its ok to take a step back, work from home for one day (if you have the luxury) or just spend a whole weekend not meeting people. Whatever you have to do to energize – do it. Spend hours in bed not doing a thing. Scroll on your phone reading articles you are not sure you are even interested in. Whatever it may possibly look like, embrace it. It’s what got you to survive in this crazy world so far.
Last but not least – don’t forget that it is ok to be you. Do not judge yourself just because someone told you to be different (I bet it was an extrovert;). The world wont work if we are all loud and shouting. Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Abe Lincoln, Warren Buffet – all well known introverts that found ways to get by. Remember that you add something unique to this world and you don’t even have to be aware of it.