Nice To Meet You; I’m An Introvert

29 Jul

I am an introvert. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me, but turns out I’m just an introvert. This doesn’t mean I’m shy or meek or don’t like people. Just the opposite, I love people – I just love them in a different way.  When I tell people I am an introvert, they look at me and say “wow, I had no idea, you are so engaging and communicative and not shy!”

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are a socially awkward shut-in; it just means that you get your energy from different sources than extroverts. Being at large networking events where I am “always on” exhausts me. Being in small purpose-filled groups, talking about things I’m passionate about with like-minded people energizes me. Being able to spend some time with myself and my own thoughts re-energizes me daily – it’s my ying to the yang of spending my days with extroverts.

I am not shy. I have very strong ideas and I stand by every one of them. I enjoy lively debate, exchanges of ideas, and meeting people with those ideas. I do not enjoy communicating for the sake of filling silences and I rarely start conversations with people for the first time. It’s funny how awkward first conversations are for me – unless we already have some kind of a common connection or a common purpose. Social media and online communities has actually helped me tremendously in this regard, by allowing me to have the first meeting online, asynchronously and on my own terms.

If left to my own devices, I’d just study, write and read on my own. I enjoy these moments of getting into my own brain. This is where deep thought comes from and this is where my energy comes from. All of my best blogposts – the ones that have had the power to shape my career – they all came from deeply solitary, sometimes even soulsearching experiences. This is where I shine. I’ve been like this since I can remember. One summer, just a couple of years into studying English, I ventured into reading a few books in their entirety. I did it by looking up every single word I didn’t know in the dictionary (my native language is Russian, in case you didn’t know). That same summer, I wrote a few poems in both languages and read an entire dictionary, while other kids played outside.

This is not to say that I don’t enjoy carbon-based interactions – quite the opposite. Just like solitary thought energizes me, so does meeting people who are driven by the same passions as me. I come alive when that happens; at other times, I fall flat. Fortunately, I select my jobs and friends carefully and only do jobs I am passionate about. Perhaps knowing how bad at life I am when I’m not passionate has allowed me to pay more attention to internal signals of dissonance.

“But you talk to people online all day long!” people say – and they are right. My job building and managing communities and making them successful – and this takes lots of social interaction. Social media and online communities have been rather fortuitous for my career precisely because I am an introvert, not in spite of it. Instead of awkward first conversations, I can now help find people — and be found by others — on the basis of common interests and passion. Online communities are only sustainable when members are driven by a higher purpose, by working together on something; being part of these experiences is personally meaningful to me. When I have an opportunity to meet in person people I know digitally, it’s not stressful or awkward at all! Because I form relationships online through social media and online communities, I can now jump into deeper conversations during the first meeting.

As a community manager, I am a huge believer in extending online communities to the offline world – I think by blending the two, maximum impact is reached. I thrive at events where I have a purpose, where it’s not just loud noise with people trying to stand out, and me trying to stand out amongst them, collecting business cards. I am there to connect with people around shared interests, learn their stories and create something amazing together. After events, I take my time to unwind, and I usually tend to tap out at the end – and I limit events to just a couple per week. Conferences are hard because events bleed into each other, but I just make sure to take a few breathers in between and try to meet people (and rekindle friendships) through social media prior.

Check out this inspiring TED Talk by Susan Cain (thanks to John Hagel for the tip!) that clears up a lot of the misconceptions about introverts. Her talk brings up great points about the bias that exists in our society towards extroverts, with our schools and workplaces set up in ways that favor extroverts. This bias is pretty deeply hardwired into our culture, and we don’t even realize that it’s happening. When I was just starting out my career, my Myers-Briggs type always started wit “E” — I had subconsciously convinced myself that I exhibited extroverted behaviors, behaviors that are generally lauded in business.

Because, you see, we introverts are not shy or socially awkward — we just process the world around us a little differently. Heck, you may even want to hire as many of us as you can because we don’t micromanage — we let people run with their ideas and don’t feel threatened by them. As more organizations become more open and participatory, these types of leaders will be more and more in demand.  The real win is for introverts and extroverts to develop a deeper understanding of how the other works and thrives and create the conditions that plays to the strengths of both.

Photo source: moriza

  • shargem69

    Great article and I can relate to this. I’m an introvert too. It took me many years to acknowledge and accept it.  But, now that I have, I am proud to say that I am one.  There seems to be much misconception about us and it’s nice to see them addressed in print.

    • themaria

      Thanks!! Being able to acknowledge  and accept brings a whole new level of comfort, doesn’t it? I agree; there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts! Thank you for stopping by and commenting here!

  • Anonymous

    An excellent article! I found it hard to watch Susan Caine, it was like she was untwining my very being. Thank you for sharing :) 

    • themaria

      Very well said and I felt similarly when I watched the video — “hey, you’re talking about me!”

  • Berta Sandy

    Aww that is just so me. Some people thought I am shy to talk to them. But really I am not. I just love to exchange ideas with sense. I don’t like to have a conversation for the sake of filling the silence too.

    • themaria

      Thank you for sharing your ideas here, Berta! 

  • JT Murfey

    We’ve just done the MBTI at work and it was a really interesting process, having done it 20 years ago as well.  I found this a really great article to read Maria, and have forwarded it on the other I’s in my group!  I really enjoyed the TED talk from Susan Cain – what an inspiration

    • themaria

      Great seeing you here, JT! I’s unite! I’m so happy to finally be an I out in the open  and find solidarity with other Is :)

  • Susan M Steele

    I remember how liberating it was when I found out I was an introvert.  And I wholeheartedly agree with you about social media — I think it’s a great tool for introverts to use to connect (though it will never replace real human contact).  Fabulous post!

  • Cazz J 17

    Fantastic article. I’m an introvert and don’t have many friends but it doesn’t bother me as I’m more than comfortable in my own skin and spending time on my own. I love my space and time to think. I’ve done so much research into finding out about myself. There are a lot of misconception about introverts and I have found in my own case I have a large  level of understanding and listening for others which is not often reciprocated from the “E’s” I know. I’ve realized being comfortable and happy in ones self makes for a happier life :-)

  • JT Teran

    Excellent article and I loved the video as well. As an extrovert (I think) I’ve always found it difficult to understand others’ desires to be alone and to their own thoughts. This really helped me understand and think a lot so thank you again.

  • Natalie

    Great article!
    When I found o@susan_m_steele:disqus t what an introvert really was and that it is a perfectly natural and normal way to be, I was so relieved. Then I was so excited, I was almost ecstatic!! There’s not something wrong with me!! My life changed at that point. Knowing that I am VERY introverted helped me accept myself and learn how to use it. I almost said I learned how to cope with it, but that is my social brainwashing coming out.

  • Anonymous

    From one introvert to another I say “good day sir, but goodbye….there is still the origin of existence for me to contemplate”

  • Anonymous

    From one introvert to another I say “good day sir, but goodbye….there is still the origin of existence for me to contemplate”

  • Wong Chee Mun

    Nice article. I realized that I am an introvert just last month and accepted it as who I am and dare to tell others. Working in IT field. But not really enjoyed it. I enjoyed myself reading random articles. Just want to do what I am interested. How to do that?

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  • Hezziatthedale

    I am begining to accept that being an introvert is not something wrong with me but I still find it very hard when everybody expects me to like social events like going out clubbing and parties.

     I feel like people think im boring, not a good person to make friends with and without
     a personality. I have very few friends as I find iniciating conversation very hard and I loath small talk.

     I suppose i dont realy nead alot of friends since I like being in my own company most of the time but I still feel hurt when people forget about me because im so quiet as I do get on well with my college classmates and would like people to listen to me when I do talk.

    I also worry that I will find it harder to fit in at work as I will be perceived as being anti social and unfriendly when i join a new workforce and in order to fit in i will have to push myslef to go to staff parties which i will not enjoy.

    It also annoyes me when people misinterperate what being introverted entails…..I feel selfconsiouse having to explain it. Sometimes I realy wish I was an extrovert and then I feel angry because it feels like society is making me feel bad about who I am. And I dont realy want to change, if i wasn’t introverted I wouldn’t be me.

    rant over……..

    • Ngh

      I can definitely empathize. Extroverts never really seem to understand us. It helps when we embrace who we are without apologies.

  • Shai Mee

    im an introvert too