Just me – the introvert?

Lone woman with umbrella

I don’t know if I am an introvert, if I am I don’t know if I want to label myself. But I did a personality profile (was forced to by a boss) that did, in fact, label me as such, so I wanted to examine the world through introverted eyes (so to speak). A world where being social and outgoing are celebrated, even necessary.

“When it comes to creativity and leadership we need introverts doing what they do best”,  Susan Cain

I recently read an article in company magazine, written by Stevie Martin who describes introversion as “not being the same as shyness”, as is often mistakenly assumed, but as someone who needs alone time to recharge after spending time with a lot of people. In the article there is a quote from the actress Emma Watson:

“Extroverts are bigged up so much, and if you’re anything other than an extrovert, you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you. I felt like there must be something wrong with me because I don’t want to go out and do what all my friends want to do.”

I know this well, because I have always suffered through an introverted personality. At school opting to do homework at lunchtimes and finding any excuse to not go to parties; now people know better than to invite me to parties. They cripple me, literally, regardless of how early I go home or whether or not I have a drink, I still feel like I have the worst hangover, which can last for a week or so.

It takes a lot of power for me to overcome the restless energy that comes from being with other people and just chill out in the presence of others. A lot of my favourite activities are singular, I like reading, writing, shopping, walking, watching films, creating mood boards, acting (monologues) and other things that I can do alone or with small groups of close friends. Introverts feel more creative and switched on in quiet environments, this is where they do their best work. This is how I do my best work.

I have found the workplace to be worse than school life. I find it very difficult to be myself if I am in an office or busy environment. My opinions and creative impulses just switch off, compressed by all the people surrounding me. This is not a physical thing, I quite like working in a busy coffee shop or walking through bustling streets amongst strangers, it is the expectation of interaction that gets me. Sometimes I feel the need to “switch on” extrovert behaviour, which leads me to burn so much energy, and leaves me feeling demolished. I have made the choice to follow an acting career, which, whilst it is a job that involves working with others, all the preparation and creative development can be done alone, or within small groups in very safe environments. For this reason I feel more true to myself as an actor than I have done in other working environments. I feel especially grateful to the director on my current job who is conducting some of our rehearsals by Skype, and I am producing some of my best work.

However, don’t be confused, I am not a shy person and I don’t dislike people (although I may have been heard saying that on one or two occasions).

Social media means that I can be social without having to give up on my nurturing solitary time. It means that I can be part of a community, and not just the ones on my doorstep, but global communities. That, in turn, leads to the deeper relations with the world that enable me to step out in the physical realm as well as the digital one (I refrain from using the word real and not-real, as there is reality in both worlds). So, for this reason, I have decided to create a youtube channel: Spitting Diamonds, where I can express myself in the way that I would in my own solitary space, but still connect with others. I have even already made plans to work with other people on this channel, but I can do this whilst creating in my own space.

I saw a play last week that touched on the negatives of social media, particularly around comparisons with others. It was a great show and I agreed with the messages, in fact I raved about it in a video (see below), but I think that the positive community and communication aspects are the flip-side to that.

I’ve always felt a bit sad that none of my amazing friends know each other, because I largely stick to being with people on a 1:1 basis, where I can feel nourished by spending time with fantastic people. I’ve also always felt like I won’t achieve in the world because I wasn’t able to bond in the social ways that others do. Don’t get me wrong, I am no hermit, but I have never been able to have superficial conversations or even superficial friendships, which makes me feel like I can’t be a good networker. The things I do and the people I interact with matter to me. But that meant no crazy nights with societies at uni, or impromptu evenings at the pub with my boss or colleagues, and that led me to believe that I couldn’t achieve as I couldn’t build solid networking foundations.

I seem to have concluded that I probably am an introvert, but I am in good company, as it turns out introverts make up approximately 30% of the population, so there are a lot of other people feeling the same way. Just think how much introvert power may be unharnessed because of the way our workplaces and education systems are set up. Don’t let it stop you from being your best. If you are an introvert I would love to hear how it has impacted you in the comments box. Or perhaps you are an extrovert who doesn’t think that the grass is greener!

I will leave you with Susan Cain’s TED talk who says that introverts are “pretty excellent as they are”.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Just me – the introvert?

  1. Another enjoyable read Becky. I like your explanation of an introvert. I would like to add that in every extrovert there is an introvert seeking the solitude away from the masses.

    In regard to networking and getting on see extroverts as machine guns firing lots of bullets knowing one should hit and extroverts with the rifle, spending a lot more time lining up the target and being more accurate in the shot .

  2. Hi

    I’m Marcin. We meet very briefly after TEDxBristol last year and you probably don’t remember me (that’s quite fine given the circumstance).

    Very interesting post. I thought about whole introvert-extrovert thing couple of times but never really in depth. Today I took four personality tests (scientific method, HA!). Scored about 70% extrovert on average.

    Now this is interesting. It probably reflects an outside view fairly well but internally it is completely false. My internal self is completely introvert. From early age I remember difficulty and weight of meeting people and going to parties. I actively disliked it. But for some bizarre reason I always accepted every invitation and every opportunity even though many times I ended up sitting in the corner by myself. Not mentioning that early romantic encounters were complete humiliation (at least my friends had something to chat about).

    But mind adapts. Sitting in a corner allowed for observation and analysis. Slowly acquiring and infusing into myself more and more models and patterns of social behaviour. It was a bit like learning how to dance. At first even simplest moves and rhythms seem difficult and require full attention but with time ideas, moves and counter moves sink in, first to conciseness then sub-conciseness and finally to muscle memory and become instinctual. Finally you just dance without thinking about it at all. As with dance I believe that mind, given enough determination, can learn and leap to the other side. Being it from introvert to extrovert or other way around.

    Having said that I don’t have full understanding of social dynamics just yet and some of people behaviours will stay mystery for me probably forever :).

    There is different angle to this as well. Mainly introvertism and extrovertism being tools to achieve end goals. Imagine Britney Spears tackling relativity theory or Einstein trying to achieve world lever popularity in show business (although he probably would have a better shot at it than her). Some tasks are better suited for one and some for the other. The thing is that natural extrovert would have an much easier time gathering and guiding a team and through that he would leverage much more resources towards the goal than introvert trying to do work by themselves. I think this leverage and ability to unite significant resources towards single goal gives extroverts an edge. This means convincing people to work on the case, convincing directors to give green light to a project and convincing investors to pay for the whole show. It’s all dancing with people.

    And as people seem to be the shaping force of local universe it seems that we, introverts are forced to play the social game.
    Right, you and your post managed to eat up most of my morning 🙂 I hope my comment contributed :). Let me know what you think.

    On different matter. I love TED and I was looking for a way to help and get involved with next TEDxBristol. Do you know what is happening with it and if guys need any help? I would love to get in touch with organizes.

    On yet another matter, I just briefly checked out Plexus website. I’m in process of starting hight-tech R&D business (UAV’s etc.), potentially looking for help with marketing in close future but also tring just go and build new connections in “stratup” and “robotics” areas. Is this of any interested to you guys at all?

    Cheers!
    Marcin

    1. Thanks for this considered contribution Marcin. I think I do remember briefly meeting you at TED (was it at the Colston Hall bar after the day had come to an end?), although that day was quite a whirlwind so I could be wrong.

      I am going to send a longer response to you once I have had a chance to digest and have time. Thank you for your thoughts and for your time.

      Becky

    2. Hi Marcin

      It is interesting to read your views on this and the more I think about it, I think the more confused I get. I wrote the post just to question whether I’m an introvert or not. To be honest I think that I am borderline and it is interesting to see that you scored 70% as an extrovert despite feeling introverted. Obviously the testing mechanisms are often a little dodgy, although you do say that you have always put yourself in social situations even though you may stand at the edge and find it difficult to interact. I am the opposite, I will find every reason not to go anywhere unless I know that I have a strong purpose for going (e.g. at TEDxBristol I was project manager so I had a lot of clear purposes which had been well defined in advance). For me, the main judge of it is how much “recovery” time you need after spending time with others. I usually need a lot, but recently I have been struggling a bit because I am not working so I am stuck at home alone a lot, which makes me feel like I don’t want to go out but it makes spending time with people even more necessary and, in fact, therapeutic.

      It is interesting what you say about Britney vs Einstein in terms of what they achieved and their perceived personality types. Believe it or not performers are quite often introverts. For me personally I found that being an introvert made it really hard to progress in research. When I was in the lab I found it really isolating and difficult to succeed in because it is impossible to do experiments without input from a wide range of people, whereas when I am performing I can do a lot of work for myself. Reading scripts, learning lines, creating character, even standing on stage are things that you can largely do yourself.

      Interestingly I enjoy leading teams (much more than being in a team), because I can hide if I am in a team, but if I am in a leadership position I am forced to overcome my more introverted qualities.

      I seem to be saying “although”, “but”, “however”, a lot in this reply and I think that is because as people we can be quite contradictory and paradoxical. I think that introversion vs extroversion is just a tip of the iceberg (especially for me). I could probably talk around in circles on this forever!

      With regard to TEDxBristol, we are on a hiatus this year, it is a case of “watch this space”, but make sure you follow the social media and you will see when new team stuff is required.

      I am interested in hearing more about your new business too 🙂

      1. Hey

        Perhaps simple introvert/extrovert scale is too much of a simplification. I find myself switching into different “modes” depending on what I want to do. A bit like going into different characters. Sitting alone and figuring out stuff is a task for Introvert Marcin. Going out, having fun and making other people feel good is for Happy-Social Marcin. For solving problems that require input from lot’s of people I would choose Leadership Marcin. And when situation requires putting people back in their place there is Serious Marcin there as well. And few more. I think the tests mostly look at social situations and I would naturally reply from Happy-Social perspective thus giving 70% extrovert result. Ask questions differently and you get different answers 🙂

        I know what you mean saying that it is easier if you have a strong purpose. I’m really bad at small talk and just sitting around and chatting about everything and nothing. Much rather have a clear set of objectives. Don’t mind if I’m leading or not but I am naturally quite curious and with time I always tend to gain wide perspective and gravitate towards leading. I think.

        As per business… I’m fairly adept at building robots and more recently I have chosen to try building business as well. We are building small flying drones and we also fly them for clients – mostly doing aerial photography. Everything is in very early stage. There are some pictures on the website (shameless self-promotion :P): http://www.dronex.co.uk

        Also, you say you worked in the lab. I’m intrigued! Would you mind saying what did you do?

        Cheers
        Marcin

        PS.: Great photos!

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