In defence of the introvert
My name’s Hannah, and I’m an introvert. You may have already got that impression if you’ve read my blog before, or met me, or had in your head a picture of someone who calls themselves ‘a writer’. I can’t imagine I’d have made myself one if I swung the other way. Or, in fact, made many of the decisions I have in the last few years. If I was an extrovert, I think this long stretch of unemployment would have driven me mad with boredom and loneliness. Introversion is an advantage in my case, but a lot of the time, it’s not, and that’s what I’m here to gripe about today – oh, the prejudice!
When I hear other introverts describe themselves – their tendencies to prefer solitude and working alone; their fear of large groups and public speaking; the antisocial/weird/old person inside them who calls a good book and a cup of tea (read: eight cups of tea) a pretty heckin’ perfect Friday night – I’m always sad to hear how defensive or apologetic they are. But I don’t blame them. We’re living in an extrovert world. One of open-plan offices, ceaseless communication and group projects (someone take this spider-chart we made together, crumple it into a ball and choke me with it please).
To 50-60% of you, I probably sound like that closeted misanthrope we all know, jokingly bemoaning being forced to leave the house, or socialise, or God forbid talk to somebody. Because that’s the role you’re forced to play as an introvert. You probably ham it up on occasion, just to be sure everyone knows that you know you’re weird. But you’re not.
I know I’m not. I don’t hate people. I’m not even shy. I am just – by popular definition of the word – a person who prefers to focus their attention on the inner world of ideas and impression, rather than the outer world of people and things. Your point on the introversion-extroversion spectrum is about how you take in information, make decisions, and interact with your surroundings, and it dictates your comfort levels for various stimuli and situations i.e. a crowded dancefloor, a deserted beach, a spotlight on a stage. We all find ways to process and appreciate experiences that suit those on all points of the spectrum, but if you’re not comfortable talking about yourself in front of thirty people on the first day of training at your new job, that’s not a failing on your part; it’s just who you are. Maybe your new boss should have considered a one-on-one exercise as an alternative. Did he even think about that? No, he only thinks about himself.
Whether you’re super introverted, on the cusp of ambiversion (somewhere in the middle), or just questioning, maybe read Quiet by Susan Cain, and allow it to make you feel more secure about yourself. Because everybody has strengths and weaknesses, and yours aren’t worse, they’re just thrown into stark relief in a society that doesn’t appreciate you. Yes, extroverts are better conversationalists, but introverts are more cerebral. Yes, extroverts make better leaders, but introverts are innovators. We need each other, and we need room for our differences.
So embrace being soft-spoken, observant, conflict-averse, solitary, or whatever you are that marks you as an introvert. You’re allowed to have only one or two close friends and be fine with it. You’re allowed to think you work best by yourself. You’re allowed to be wiped out after a weekend of socialising, even when you’ve enjoyed yourself. Raise your tiny, shaking voice and stand up for who you are. Or don’t, because that’s scary.