Before I learned what it means to be an introvert, followed by me realizing that I am one myself, I spent many years confused, frustrated and afraid that there was something wrong with me – that I was “oriented” differently than others. As a result, I used up a lot of my social energy pretending that I was more straightforward than I actual was, hiding the truth about the things I was attracted to, like alone time for example.
Growing up, the people around me knew I was little bit different. I was described by others as being “reserved” – as though there was something inside me holding me back from my full potential. On report cards, teachers identified me as having “hidden” leadership qualities, planting a seed in my mind that my quiet personality was inhibiting my true self.
I made efforts to amass a group of friends around me knowing that being alone in a hostile environment (i.e., high school) would be like going for a casual stroll through a minefield. Hell, I even worked for over ten years in hospitality through my 20s, and while I was amazing at my job technically, I was also repeatedly criticized by bosses and customers for not being bubbly enough.
Coming out as an introvert – which I’ve done now using this blog as a platform – was not the easiest thing to do.
It happens each and every week, once I’ve completed a new post, formatted it in WordPress, and chosen an image to go with it: I sit with the cursor hovering over the “Publish” button and I hesitate. Sometimes I close the browser window and walk around a bit or get a snack – trying to distract myself from my self-doubt. Other times I ask my best friend to have a read of it first, to make sure I haven’t said anything I might regret later on.
And then, eventually, I click that “Publish” button – and as soon as I do I get up and walk away from my computer, like a kid running for cover behind a tree trunk after having just lit a Roman Candle.
But nothing negative has happened yet – at least nothing that I’m aware of.
Of all the places where I’m concerned being open about my introversion might be a problem, it’s the professional space that causes me the most self-doubt. Were my teachers right when they said that my ability to lead – and by proxy, my ability to succeed – was being suppressed?
While it’s true that I like myself as I am (for the most part), I haven’t yet completely mapped out how I can use my personality to push myself further professionally. There are times when it’s necessary to “fake it” a bit to get ahead – and I’m totally cool with that – but those times need to be the exception, because faking it all the time is just too bloody exhausting.
Nobody likes a fake person.
This may be the first time, since starting this blog, that I’ve admitted to an inkling of a doubt residing at the back of my mind. And when I say “inkling,” I mean inkling – because I also recognize that I wouldn’t be where I am if I were different. I wouldn’t even be typing out these words.
I’m aware of the strengths my introversion gives me, like being a good listener. I’ve read inspirational stories about how introverts use their introversion to get themselves noticed or heard. But, at the same time, I find myself wondering how much MORE heard they may have been if their personalities were different. I have great admiration for the extroverted personality type in the professional world and often find myself envying their ability to plunge headfirst into ideas and projects, emanating confidence and bravado.
The professional world is set up to help extroverts succeed, while introverts often have to find their niche in a less straightforward pathway.
I once attended Toastmasters. I only made it to the second session before running away with my tail between my legs. Part of that was fear – but a bigger part of it was that I very quickly realized Toastmasters isn’t designed to help introverts expand upon their skills, it’s about introverts pretending they are extroverts.
Been there, done that.
Achieving success for me isn’t about finding a way to escape my introversion, but rather a way to gain the same kind of recognition that extroverts do because of their personality, not in spite of it – and I’m still working out how to do that. Sure, I have my inkling of self-doubt, but at the same I have my sense of purpose, determination, and focus that helps me to balance it out.
And that’s half the battle too – finding that balance and learning to feel okay about conflicting emotions. The poet John Keats coined a great term to define what it means to find equilibrium within the discomfort of in-between-ness: Negative Capability.
In a nutshell, Negative Capability describes the state of being a poet must be able to exist in (comfortably) in order to achieve success in his or her craft. If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing you’ll know that, while it’s fun to have an idea for something you’d like to write, and it’s beautiful when you eventually complete it, the middle part – which constitutes 99% of the writing process – can be filled with uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and the list of unpleasantness goes on.
You know, kind of like life.
We’re all busily writing out our own poem (our life), and finding a way to exist comfortably within that middle ground is one of the to keys achieving success. Coming out of the introvert closet (or any of the closets we hide in) might be uncomfortable at times – I’m exposed! – but no one ever got very far staying hidden away from the world.
Besides, it’s more fun out here anyway.