This post was previously published with Keep Calm and Dream: For Introverts, by Introverts.
Any group that is lesser known to the public is bound to be misunderstood, and introversion is no exception. A great many myths have been attributed to this quieter 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, but many have deeper explanations and roots than one could ever imagine- not unlike introverts themselves. Let’s dive in, and see what lies beneath the assumptions you may have heard or had attributed to you.
1. Introverts don’t like people.
This is perhaps the most pervasive myth haunting introverts. 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 just need some time to warm up to people- when allotted that time, and when around the right people, they can flourish.
2. 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 Talkingwhen 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).
3. 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.
4. 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 leadership 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!
5. 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.
6. 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. However, many things that come easily to one type, can be beneficial to others. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.