By Mirka Mendez
I decided to write about the topic of introversion since it has been an essential component of my personality and played a fundamental role in my development. I know many people, introverts and extroverts, who can gain valuable insight from this article. I’ll start with basic definitions. Introversion is not a synonym of shyness or fear, it is about how people respond to stimulation and how we channel energy. While an extrovert may feel at its best in a social environment with constant interactions, an introvert needs alone time to recharge and he or she feels more energetic and complete in quieter and smaller settings. Introversion and extroversion do not have anything to do with capability, intelligence or quality of interactions. Being an introvert doesn’t mean not liking people, it means that more selective and personal connections are prefered.
Growing up, I was always known as “the quiet one”. There was not a day that passed by without me hearing phrases such as: Why are you so quiet?, you should talk more, be more outgoing, are you okay?, where are your friends at?. Having an introverted personality was never an easy task. I never understood why I didn’t like settings that I was supposed to like and why I didn’t quite fit in into many situations. I can speak for more than one person when I say that these circumstances can lead to self-consciousness and insecurity. I heard countless times that my personality was not the right way to go. That my quiet and introverted style was somehow wrong and that I had to change. All these expectations made me believe that success was not something realistic for someone like me. At the same time, I felt extremely guilty for being the way I am. I made so many attempts to try to be an extrovert but instead of feeling accomplished I always felt drained and uncomfortable. There is a reason why professional hockey players are not asked to compete in basketball tournaments or vice versa. Both of them are athletes but their field of expertise is different. Then why would we ask introverts to act like extrovert if that is not their best way of being?
There is a very deep bias and in our society when it comes to personality. Individuals who are outgoing, talkative and who enjoy attention are usually praised by teachers, parents and their peers or described as capable and leaders. On the other hand, if someone enjoys solitude or has a more reserved personality, they are seemed as outliers and antisocial. Our society has adopted the idea that we all work best when we work together all the time and that in order to be heard, we have to be louder than our neighbor.
Characteristics that are valued by society change over time. During the era of social change, thoughtfulness and modesty were highly valued traits, developing personalities like Abraham Lincoln or Mahatma Gandhi who were remarkable introverts. Today, with increasing globalization and big businesses, we live in an era of constant competition where dominant attitude is praised. Qualities like magnetism and charisma are very important to stand out and we now look up to big salesmen or CEOs. As an introvert I admit that it sounds very scary, how are we supposed to stand out in such a hectic and busy environment if our strengths are hard to see?
I came to the realization that denying who we are as introverts does not only affect our own personal being, self-esteem and originality, it also affects our teams and communities. When it comes to innovation, creativity and teamwork we need everyone to do what they do best and complement each other’s personalities to create effective teams and workplaces. For Introverts, being recognized might take longer and sharing our ideas might be more difficult. The following are some points I have been continuously working on and that have help me through the years:
1. Dedicate time to know yourself
As odd as it sounds, knowing who we are is a crucial element for growth. Knowing why we think and act the way we do and being able to translate those qualities into efficiency, freedom and good relationships. I’ve taken multiple personality tests, in all of them my results for introversion is always above 90%. It is good to know aspects of your personality not only to know the classifications but also to analyze how you can link those descriptions of yourself in your everyday life. The UT SHPE officer team has an event every year to study each other’s Myers Briggs personality types and know how to work effectively with every single one of them.
Taking leadership workshops, seminars and retreats might not sound very exciting because it involves continuous interaction with people. After participating in several of these opportunities, I can say that I enjoyed every single one of them. I found out that I always felt refreshed, knowledgeable and motivated by the end. I encourage you to sign up for personal development opportunities such as LeaderShape or others offered by your university. Similarly, signing up for a leadership position in an organization or team also helps develop intrapersonal skills and build your way of thinking. Being an leader in my SHPE student chapter and working side by side with my fellow officers made me see myself and others in a complete different perspective.
I can’t emphasize enough that as frustrating as it sounds, going beyond your comfort zone might take a lot of courage but it is only there where you get to know parts of yourself you have never seen before. As you get to know yourself, you will also understand the people around you better which leads to an open mind. The more you know yourself, the better you will be able to work with diverse groups of people.
2. Don’t be afraid to be recognized
I used to give up opportunities because I was so afraid to be the spotlight. Even if I received an award or won a tournament, I would prefer to not make it public. The idea of talking to recruiters about myself was my worst nightmare. Every person values recognition, hard work shouldn’t go unnoticed. Learning to be proud of your accomplishments, even the most minimal of them, is the first step.
Last year, I was part of a Leadership and Professional development seminar that took us to Europe during Spring Break. I was talking with a French lady about how introversion was perceived in Europe. I was surprised when she said “Americans are unnecessarily loud and dominant that we perceive it as an aggressive or even obnoxious attitude. You can tell them apart by their noise level”. Then she emphasized that even when dominant personalities are not praised in their culture as it is in the US, they recognize that having both types of people make a work environment better in many ways.
Groups usually mimic opinions and actions of the most dominant people in the room but there is no correlation between being the best speaker and having the best ideas. Here is where knowing each other’s needs and strengths is necessary to develop the best results. Even if you feel the opposite way, the world needs you! Specially in STEM careers where innovation and authenticity is always on demand. Statistically, introverts tend to be more careful, less likely to take unnecessary risks, and therefore more like to deliver more inclusive environments and better results. Take that correlation at your advantage and showcase your skill set.
4. Seek for the right moments
Have you ever had a great idea and know that you can make an impact, but you shrink yourself down and afterwards you regret not sharing it? Even a few years ago, I would find myself ending conversations prematurely during career fairs because I was concerned that I was taking too much of people’s time.
It is hard to find a voice in a place where everybody wants to keep talking. I’ve learned that it takes either one big act of courage to change any situation.
Introverts are usually more comfortable in small settings and one on one interactions because they feel more personal, significant and private. I’ve learn that seeking for these interactions is essential to be recognized and remembered. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and start with small steps until you feel confident in a specific setting. Going to SHPE’s RLDC and national conferences are good examples of what I call right moments. Small groups allow a better bonding between members. Conferences are great opportunities to break your daily routine and explore new possibilities while creating new connections and strengthening existent ones. Look for those opportunities and make them yours, even if every particle in your body is telling you not to, because the outcome is long lasting and rewarding.
Working closely with people is always a win-win situation. With time, you learn to feel comfortable with your team them and eventually they are able to notice your invaluable skills such as reliability and organization. I’ve learned that individuals and teams appreciate soft skills more than anything. Once people in my team know my style and work ethic, I don’t have to worry about them being skeptic about my efficiency because I don’t talk as much.
5. Accepting that introversion is not a weakness
As humans, we do best when you we are free to be who we are. Make introversion your strength, highlight your attributes and continuously improve skills that you would like to acquire. I have improved many aspects of my life since the day I decided to think about my personality as something negative. People, introverts and extroverts, value coworkers and friends that listen and cooperate.
I can’t guarantee that people won’t continue to tell you to put yourself out there, to work on your self-confidence. In reality, meeting those requests can be harder than running a 10k marathon. It takes time and dedication, but it is completely possible. Some others will try to “fix” you and solve your problem of being a reserved person, just remember that it is not a problem and there is nothing to fix. Stop seeing the downsides and start seeing the strengths of being an introvert. The more freedom we have to be ourselves, the more likely we are to contribute and innovate. Keep maximizing your talents when you are in the stimulation zone.
I encourage you to take opportunities that go beyond your comfort zone. But I also encourage to embrace who you are, start spending time how you like and not how you are supposed to. Introversion is not a limitation, it is a gift and it is time to put it into practice. Seek for opportunities, showcase your talents, make an impact and never stop growing.
* Free personality Assessment here
* Recommended Reading:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain