The Reality of Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

Team-building. Networking. Meet and Greet. If you’re like me, these phrases make you cringe; wishing you could just curl up under a blanket and forget about the outside world. To be successful in life, you will have to endure these events and activities. You don’t have to like them, but you have to do them. 

The Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts

If you read the first three words of this article and felt a sense of energy and excitement, then you are definitely an extrovert. You get your energy by being surrounded by other people. Those kinds of events fuel you up so that you can run all evening long. If you read those first three words and you thought, “Ugh, not again”, then you are probably an introvert. Introverts get their energy by being alone and away from the buzz of the outside world. Being in a room filled with the drone of multiple conversations and trying to conjure up small-talk with a stranger is not an introvert’s idea of a good time.

The word “introvert” has been getting mentioned a lot more lately than it has been in the past. I had actually never really heard of it until a couple of years ago when I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

For a lot of people, including me, hearing the definition of introvert is somewhat a sense of relief; relief to know that you’re not in the boat alone; relief that there are millions of other people out there who feel the exact same way you do. Being an introvert is not a bad thing.

A lot of people use “introverted” synonymous with “shyness”. There is actually a difference in the two. As mentioned before, an introvert gets their energy from being alone in a quiet space. They don’t mind talking to people and going to events, they would just rather not. Being shy is having anxiety about doing those things. People who are shy may not even go to these events because they are just too afraid to go. They’re afraid they will be judged negatively or mess up and embarrass themselves.

I would classify myself as an introvert who is not shy. Check out Personal Finance Blogs by Personality by the author of the blog “My Sons Father” to see what personality type you are. The post includes a list of various bloggers and what their personality type is. Honestly, I was shocked at how many introverts there were. 

 I don’t mind going to social events and even enjoy going sometimes. It’s just need time to be alone beforehand as well as afterwards and there is a point near the end of the event where I’ve had enough and am ready to leave. My energy (fuel) has been exhausted.

Until the recent introvert vs. extrovert buzz, I lived my life thinking that I was lacking something that other people seemed to carry with them naturally. I didn’t realize that my body was wired to gain energy by being alone and then deplete my energy by being at social engagements. This is literally something you are born with. No matter how many self-help books you read, strategies you try, or times you tell yourself that you will change. This is how it is going to be so you need to learn how to use it to your advantage.

The Struggles of Middle School

My elementary school was very small and I went Kindergarten through 5th grade with all of the same people. Once middle school started, we had to go to a new school, in a different town, and intermingle with twice as many kids who I had never met. Because I didn’t run wild during free day in gym class or announce every thought that went through my head, I was immediately labeled as quiet and shy and it never went away.

This topic has always been very hard for me and although it’s been close to 12 years since, I still feel a sense of inferiority and can still see crystal clear, the memories seared into my brain. Because I was immediately labeled this way, people didn’t seem to want to give me a chance to get to know me.

In middle school, my best friend moved away so I felt a sense of lonesomeness I had never known before. Lunch time in a crowded cafeteria or free days in P.E. class were like my worst nightmare. I just wanted to find a quiet corner and read a book but I knew that would be frowned upon, so I just sucked it up and tried my best to fit in.

The saying “You never have a second chance to make a first impression” is so true in my circumstance. Just because of my being overwhelmed of so many new things thrown at me at once, I was permanently labeled as a shy and quiet person. I admit, I can be quiet because it’s just who I am, but I am not to the extremeness as the other kids were labeling me as being. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You hear something repeated so many times, you think it must be true, and eventually it is.

“Why are you so quiet?”

“Do you ever talk?”

“Do you know how to talk?”

I mean, what kind of questions are these and what did they expect me to say in response to them? This is the pure cruel spirit of a typical middle school bully. They had no idea how these simple phrases can impact somebody’s entire life. This was 12 years ago and I can still remember all the people who said them, where they said them, and how I felt.  These people made me feel like I was a nobody, like I had some sort of disorder. I wanted more than anything to have a different identity, to have the ability to start over and make a different first impression.

Back in those days, if you weren’t jumping up and down, running around wild, or spouting off every thought that came to your mind, you were probably labeled as “shy” and that was that. Nobody knew what an introvert was or what it meant. “Shy” just had such a negative connotation about it. Like “oh, something must be wrong with her, she’s shy.”

An Epiphany

As the years passed and I went through high school and college, I was exposed to many different personality types and eventually learned that there was actually nothing wrong with me. This is just how I am. I may not blabber away like some people do, however, I don’t mind giving a presentation to a room full of board members or going to a networking event with thousands of people in attendance. (Both of which I have done, I might add).

Ideas for Thriving Outside of Your Comfort Zone

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I will list some strategies/tips on what I do to survive and thrive when I’m not confined within my comfort zone.

My ideal comfort zone is when I’m at home, under a blanket, and reading a good book. It is literally impossible for me to be within my comfort zone at all times of the day. Below are specific times I was out of my bubble of comfort, how I felt, and what I did to “survive”.

Going around the room and saying “something interesting about yourself”

In college, this would inevitably come up on the first day of each class I took, every year. When found in this position, my heart would race in anticipation and worry that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say that would be of any interest.

I learned, although it may not be interesting to myself, it could be of interest to someone else because they don’t know you at all yet. I eventually came up with two answers that I would use every time, but nobody knew I was repeating my response because there were new people with each class. My answers always ended up being “I grew up on a farm” and “I’m training for a half marathon”. Both interesting topics because most people do not grow up on a farm and most people don’t train for half marathons.

Team-Building Exercises

Everything these days involves being on a team, therefore team-building exercises are also inevitable. When I know I have to participate in these, I open my mind to prepare itself for anything remotely related to team-building (impromptu skits, trust falls, charades, etc.). I tell myself that everyone else participating is probably just as anxious as I am (they are), and that it won’t last forever. Just tell yourself, “In two hours, I’ll be on my way home”. If you put an event in the context of a time frame, it won’t seem as bad because you know it will eventually end.

Networking Events

In business, most deals are done through people you know or through referrals. In order to know people and get referrals, you have to expand your network. You do this by attending networking events. The difficulty in this for me is I’m usually the youngest person (by about ten years), in the room. I also look young for my age so people probably think I’m in high school. However, I try to not let this deter me.

People usually have differing views on networking. Some people, (extroverts), thrive in this environment while others, (introverts), would probably rather be anywhere else. If I know I have a networking event coming up that I should attend, I’ll prepare by getting a full night of rest beforehand.

Once you’re at the event, try to find someone you know. Get this person to introduce you to someone they know that you don’t know.  Using this strategy is an easy and comfortable way to get at least one new contact. Once you’re ready, find someone you don’t know and try to find common ground about something once you introduce yourself. You can do this by asking open-ended questions. Do not just ask yes/no questions or the conversation will die fast.

As mentioned previously, before you go to the event, set a time limit for yourself. Knowing that there is a time when you can leave makes the event much more enjoyable and goes by much faster. You might say to yourself, “I’ll stay here for 2 hours and leave with three new contacts”. You have a goal and a time limit. In order to leave, you have to fulfill your goal. Try to turn it into a game. If you need a break, just step out of the room for some air or go to the bathroom for a few minute to recharge.

Presentations

I’ve given countless presentations throughout my life; 4-H demonstrations, horse judging reasons, livestock judging reasons, book reports, history projects, science fair, research projects,  public speaking classes, an internship project, and most recently, projects for work.

Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias in the world. People are afraid of messing up and being judged by the audience. Just think to yourself that the audience does not want you to fail. They want you to succeed and give an informative presentation.

Even if you do mess up, it is likely they had a similar experience so they won’t judge you for the mistake. They’ll see you as having something in common with them.

Before giving a presentation, the most important thing you can do is to prepare. Don’t go in thinking you know enough about the subject that you don’t have to prepare. You need to read, out-loud, your entire speech; over and over and over. Time yourself so you know how long it will take. Do it in front of a mirror so you can see what your facial expressions look like. It’s also a great idea to video yourself so you can see what you will look like to your audience.

Once you’re giving your speech, if you don’t know where to look, pretend like you’re having a private conversation with just one person in the audience. After a while, choose a different person to have that conversation with. Keep choosing different people (back row, middle row, front row, left side, right side, etc.) until your speech is complete. Like all of these other scenarios, it helps me if I put the presentation in the context of a time limit. Tell yourself, “After just ten minutes, I’ll be finished.” It’s not going to last forever. It will be over before you know it. Quick and painless.

Closing Thoughts

Being an introvert is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s who you are! Learn to love your unique personality. If everyone was the same, we would be robots. Think of the positives of being an introvert: You’re very introspective. You think things through before you blurt them out. People will listen to what you have to say and value your ideas more so than if you said every thought that came to mind. You’re comfortable with being alone and can easily entertain yourself. You’re a great listener. You have a greater capacity to concentrate on complex tasks without getting distracted.

Being successful usually requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. If you are armed with the knowledge of how to conquer the task put before you, prepare accordingly, and have a plan of execution, you will go far and beyond what you ever thought possible of yourself. I know I have.

10 Comments

  • Steveark

    I think you can absolutely change from introvert to extrovert over time if your environment or motivation changes. Learning to be energized by being around others is a skill that can be acquired. I believe this because I went from classic introvert to being an extrovert when I decided it would be a good career move, which it was. It was no different from learning to give speeches to large audiences or learning acting. I don’t think anyone is preprogrammed for life to be locked into one specific personality type.

    • Capturing Cents

      That is a good point. I believe I read in a book about how your brain is pre-wired for introversion/extroversion but I can’t say for certainty whether the author was correct or not. I can force myself to seem extroverted around people but it doesn’t seem like it’s something I could ever do naturally.

    • Adam @ Minafi

      I was about to chime in with the same thing Steveaek! There are also introverts who love communication and get energy from that. Communication in a bunch of contexts too: teachers, presenters, bloggers, etc.

      I switched from being a programmer to a product manager who talks to customers all day. Initially I thought my introvert side would be a limiting factor in this, but it’s all mindset.

  • My Sons Father

    Great post! A lot of this resonated with me, although I’d say I’m a bit more shy (aka socially phobic) then you are. But oddly enough I don’t mind giving presentations either. Funny how that works.

  • Drew@FIIntrovert

    Well done. Introversion definitely does not equal shyness. They should not be confused. It is all about energy. And we can learn to manage situations to manage our energy and stimulation.

    • Capturing Cents

      Thank you, Drew! If only middle school children could grasp this concept, I would have had a much different childhood.

  • Kris

    I read ‘Quiet’ too a few years ago and I discovered my own introversion through that book. I’ve read a couple of other books on introverts and I can say I am one myself. Just reflecting on events in my past like my nervousness on public speaking, wanting to be alone and away from friends for a certain period of time and not looking forward to networking events really tells that I have a lot of traits related to introversion.
    Great post, enjoyed reading it!

  • Bonnie

    Great article and great tips for introverts to use to prepare for social situations. You are so right about shy being different then introverted. It is about preference not fear.

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