Cine-spiration: I’m a Dottie, Not a Marla

As the release of Light It Up continues to sneak up on me (aiming for October 5th, and you can pre-order for Kindle now!), I want to continue to share previews with you. This week: an A League of their Own reference that I’m very excited to be able to make 🙂


Before we dive into the strategies and systems that can help introverts (and extroverts alike!) get the most out of their student leadership and involvement experience, I want to ensure that we are on the same page as far as what introversion is, and what it isn’t. At the time of publication of this book, introversion is both highly visible and highly misunderstood. It is recognized as a more common trait than ever before.

I want to provide an illustration to demonstrate what many think about introversion versus what it actually is. And, true to form, I’d like to use a movie to do it: 1993’s dramatization of the All-American Women’s Baseball League, A League of their Own.

IMAGE CREDIT: Huffington Post

In A League of their Own, there was a character named Marla Hooch who I’m convinced serves as the archetype for introversion in most people’s minds. She spoke little, had relatively few close relationships (with her father, and later her husband Nelson), but was outstanding at what she had chosen to focus on for so many years. I think you’d agree that there are relatively few people in our lives like Marla; in fact, introversion is only proving to be more and more common and is shown to be valuable at the helm of successful companies like LinkedIn, Apple, and Campbell’s Soup. And yet, it still evokes images of trembling before parties or networking events, declining to speak up at meetings or in front of groups, or avoiding it altogether and taking on the role of recluse.

Sometimes a good way to focus on what something is, can be to focus on what it isn’t. To that end, I want to focus on busting some myths associated with introversion (and for that matter, its counterpart in extroversion).

 

Introverts don’t like people. This is perhaps the most pervasive myth haunting introverts. In reality, I know as many extroverts that don’t care for people, as I do introverts. Their seeming dislike, however, is rooted in different things. While introverts don’t, by nature, gain energy from social situations, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care to be around people. In fact, when in relationships with people they trust and care about, introverts are the most caring and even energetic people you may meet. They simply recognize that social situations don’t give them energy in the same way that it does for extroverts. Introverts require time and considerable energy to warm up to people- when allotted that time, and when around the right people, they can flourish.

As a follow-up, I want to bust the myth that temperament (both extroversion and introversion) are grounded in social factors. Adam Grant says it best when he too busts myths about introversion:

If you’re an introvert, you’re more prone to being overstimulated by intense or prolonged social interaction—and at that point, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings can help you recharge. But introversion-extraversion is about more than just social interaction. Extraverts crave stimulating activities like skydiving and stimulating beverages sold at Starbucks. Introverts are more likely to retreat to a quiet place, but they’re very happy to bring someone else with them.

That form of stimulation that energizes extroverts and drains introverts could be the result of many things- social interaction, temperature, even caffeine or hunger!

Introverts are shy. Closely related to the previous myth, many people (introverts included, at times!) are of the belief that introversion and shyness are one and the same. Not so. Susan Cain puts it best in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking when she notes that introversion is a preference toward ideas, while shyness is a fear of social situations. The former is tiring, while the latter is painful. It’s also worth noting that while shyness refers to social situations, introversion comes into play with any form of excessive stimulation (including temperature, pain, or even hunger).

Introverts are quiet. Is this a myth? Is this true? To quote one of my favorite professors, “it depends.” Introverts who are shy, will be prone to long periods of quiet. But as we just learned, this quiet is symptomatic of shyness, not introversion. Social introverts (yep, that’s a thing!) and introverts in situations that draw less energy from them are not as quiet. In fact, they may appear to “extrovert” (more on that later) better than most. But look closely- they may maintain that level of energy for a shorter period than others. Some introverts are quiet, but so are some shy extroverts (yep, also a thing). Look deeper before assigning this label.

Introverts can’t lead. In early research on introverted student leaders, I met some resistance from colleagues who insisted that such a term was an oxymoron. But as we dug deeper and talked to students in leadership positions, we learned it was far more common than most would imagine. Society is starting to recognize this fact, as leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and even President Obama are gaining attention for the leadreship they provide while honoring their introverted tendencies. Introverts may not always appear at the front of a room with boundless energy, but they can have influence when in the right spaces and supported by good people. In fact, Grant, Gino and Hoffman found that in some cases, introverts can be better leaders than their extroverted counterparts!* So if you’re looking to bring someone into power, don’t overlook introverts! And introverts, if you’re nervous about going for it- take a chance. You could be great!

Introversion is cultural. Introversion isn’t the dominant culture in the United States; that said, it is more common in different cultures. Many Asian cultures revere qualities associated with introversion, for example and with that comes more acceptance in those countries. However, that doesn’t mean that all Asians are introverted, any more than all Americans are extroverted. Introversion and extroversion exists in varying levels of abundance around the world. This myth is a good one to remember when traveling, so as to calibrate your behavior based on how the culture behaves, but is not to be wielded as a means to generalize about people.

Introverts and extroverts can’t get along. With differences in lifestyle, social preference, and energy, it may seem as though a harmonious union between these two types. Introversion reearcher (and extrovert!) Jennifer Kahnweiler believes differently. In her book Genius of Opposites, she dedicates her pages to demonstrating how introverts and extroverts are the perfect business partners. In her mind,

The sooner that introverts and extroverts learn about each other’s different languages, the quicker they can get to results. We would together in offices, on conference calls, and through text messages. Yet it often feels like we introverts and extroverts are speaking entirely different languages. We need to learn how to glide seamlessly in and out of these conversations with as little stress as possible. Being able to do this not only gets results but is also personally gratifying.

For my part, one of my best friends is an extrovert, and he’s wonderful at encouraging me to think bigger on projects when I need ideas. Conversely, when those ideas need to be focused and narrowed down, I really excel. Whatever type you lean toward (keeping in mind always that everyone has elements of both!), the odds are good that having a friend or significant other in the opposite camp can make you stronger and more well-rounded.

Introversion can be faked. I hear all the time that introverts feel as though they have to “fake” extroversion in some situations. It always bothers me when I hear someone “faked extroversion” to get through a big speech or a long party. Conversely, friends of mine who have to spend more time alone or have to sit quietly will sometimes claim they’re “faking” introversion. But I don’t see it that way.

In my mind, behaviors aren’t introverted or extroverted, people are. And no behavior is outside of the bounds of anyone’s ability. But, activities like parties or other social situations are easier for extroverts because those situations give them energy. Similarly, being alone and reflection tend to be easier for introverts because they get a charge in those moments. So no one ever “fakes” one temperament or another; rather, you give off the appearance that a less energizing activity is easy.

Introversion can be “fixed.” This is actually a relatively new myth to me, that I saw in the comments of a TED talk about introversion. One rather vocal commenter claimed to have “learned” to not be introverted anymore, and that those who still owned the title simply weren’t trying hard enough.

Believe it or not, there may be something to this one. Not much, but some.

As I mentioned before, introversion isn’t about not being able to do “extroverted things,” but rather being able to convey that these things are easy. Indeed, some elements of life that can challenge introverts (like public speaking, or breaking into new groups of people) can be made easy when we learn the best way to do them for ourselves without them draining our energy. This has been true for me with public speaking- anything that we’re used to, gets easier. And yet. The need, the natural tendency, the physiological need to turn inward in order to get our energy back…never goes away. Even the most comfortable social situations won’t give you energy, they’ll simply deplete it at a slower rate. So introverts, you can “train” to operate out in the world, but your introverted ways will never go away. Spend the time learning how to make the world work for you, and you’ll shine just as brightly- albeit differently- as your extroverted counterparts.

 

I want to dedicate this book to changing the image that comes to mind when you think about an involved introvert. It shouldn’t look like A League of their Own’s Marla Hooch anymore, struggling painfully to endure a baseball season by hiding behind her hair. Instead, I want you to think about her teammate Dottie Hinson. As most people do when considering what introversion look like, you may have discounted her introversion. But look a little closer: she absolutely fits the bill. Dottie took the time to get to know people, had a few close relationships, and did her job well (including being an inspiration for the team) without much fanfare. Even when the spotlight was turned her way, she shied away from it or sought to turn it toward other people. All of these, and not Marla’s timid shyness, are realistic hallmarks of introverts in control of their style. Seek to inspire a legion of Dotties, able to manage their energy and shine bright on our campuses and in our organizations. The pages ahead will show you how.

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