There’s not much doubt in my mind that I’m a massive introvert. As far as personalities go, I’m the hermit, the librarian (a sexy one, of course), the wry observer smiling from her corner in a smoky café. Unfortunately, from a less romantic point of view, I also can’t talk to a room full of people to save my life, turned an unflattering pink and stumbling over words as quickly as possible, gasping for breath- not unlike a stranded fish- in order to achieve an immediate exit to the presentation.
This being pretty inconvenient, I’ve been doing some research on the topic lately and apparently I’m not the only the one trying to get rid of the shyness. It’s becoming far more common to talk about personality types in terms of introverted versus extroverted, and not just by using the stereotypes shy vs. outgoing. I can recognize myself in the picture Susan Cain, for instance, paints in her book ‘Quiet’. As a corporate lawyer and consultant with an interest in psychology, she writes about how popular and corporate culture seem biased towards outgoing personality types by trimming our educational and work environments to suit that particular style of personality (cue the dreaded open office plans, brain storming, and group-based learning at school and university alike!) It’s obvious that we need a better balance between outgoing and socially dominant people and the thoughtful and risk-averse, but that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about in this post. Instead, the question should be how is this going to help me, personally?
It’s easy to get lost in fit of righteousness, especially if you share a bit of my history and things haven’t always been so easy at school: it’s easy to be say, “see, It’s okay to be quiet. I’m not doing anything wrong.” True – It is a great relief to not have to feel so guilty for saying no to a party because I’d rather read a book sometimes, but I think there’s one big thing we can learn from this that I’d initially overlooked. Let’s face it: introverts can be a little boring sometimes, and pretty unproductive. A great love of analysis and talking in great depth about things also means things I want to do don’t actually get done. I think and talk about all the things I want to write, and sometimes I do write them – only for the story to be left unfinished, or lying around in a drawer without ever being read by anyone. My excuse is invariably that I’m too shy. It’s the equivalent of getting dressed up in the very best dress you own, for which you’ve saved your money up for the longest time, and then never making it to the ball.
The wisest advice to introverts I know of actually comes from an interview with Vogue with pop singer Florence Welch. After gently talking about the buttons on her jacket to some length (it is Vogue, after all), she talks about her being shy in contrast to the personality she is on stage, which she describes as “being vulnerable and powerful at the same time.” I think the key is to allow the rest of the world a look into your mind, by bringing whatever is important to you to the figurative stage and at least pretending to be confident in presenting it, “so what is introverted in your thought process can come out, and the extrovert take over.” What a wonderful thing – there isn’t much I wouldn’t give away to be able to do that.
Fortunately, from what Susan Cain and others have written, it might actually be possible to fake it, and pretend you’ve got that extroverted confidence when you most need it – what do you think, great survival strategy or too close to pretending you’re something you’re not?