The results are in. I’m an introvert and work in the creative industries. Not only that, but one that works closely in the music industry, a community filled to the brim with super-big personalities. How have I survived all these years swimming in a sea of extroverts?
Like many people, I thought being an introvert equalled being shy. But I don’t need to ‘come out of my shell’. Shy I’m definitely not so, in my ignorant state, I had ruled out introversion long ago. There must be another problem with me, something more sinister, a darkness in my psyche, I thought. But no. Just a garden-variety case of introversion.
I can hold my own. I’m not the loudest person in the room but I’m no shrinking violet either. I’m usually not awkward. I just feel totally bombarded when I’m in a party situation or a group of loud talkers.
I have diagnosed myself. Not via Dr Google but by reading Susan Cain’s brilliant book, ‘Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’.
I nearly shrieked aloud when I read passages of this brilliant book. Finally, an explanation! I’ve often wondered why I couldn’t get amongst it at the after-party. Maybe I was too tired, bored (or boring). Was I depressed (at one time, yes) or just plain anti-social? All of these things have crossed my mind time and time again.
So, this self-diagnosis has come as a huge relief because over the years I thought there was something properly wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out why being around large groups of people left me feeling so utterly depleted. And more than a little flat. And after the sensory assault that is a music festival, instead of cutting loose like my colleagues, I craved a far less stimulating environment. Usually a hotel room with a small group of people. Or the quietest corner of the bar.
Reading this book has been nothing short of a revelation. I realised I AM NOT ALONE! All those times I felt like an outsider in social settings, I realised that I’m in the ‘quiet’ camp, not someone who needs to be fixed.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Psychologist Carl Jung defined the terms introversion and extroversion as such. He said that introverts draw their energy 'from the internal world of thoughts and ideas, preferring depth and pausing for thought'.
Privacy is crucial for introverts. On the work front, they often like to fly solo, developing their ideas through reflection. They tend to crave a quiet environment so they can focus and don't mind working on one project for a long time. On the other hand, an extrovert 'draws energy from the world of people, things, and activities, dealing in breadth rather than depth'. So, for an extrovert, being around the energy of others is a big deal.
While both introverts and extroverts can both be outgoing, the crucial difference is the way they draw their inspiration and energy. As Susan Cain writes, “Tolerance for stimulation is one of the biggest differences between introverts and extroverts.”
SYMPTOMS: SMALL TALK IS TRICKY FOR STARTERS
Here are some indicators that you may be an introvert:
-You find small talk tricky, sometimes painful
-You find show-offy people a bit off-putting
-When someone calls to invite you out to a gathering, you’re excited. Until it’s time to go.
-You often these gatherings leave early
-You always want to drive so you can leave when you need to.
-You need an escape plan
-You love time spent alone.
-When you reach out, it’s with a small group or close friends rather than big scale action.
-You find being in a group of loud people difficult
-You love working alone or in small groups
-You listen more than you speak
-Find multi-tasking draining
-You find yourself over-stimulated easily
-You think before you speak
-You dislike conflict (even healthy conflict)
You already probably have a pretty strong inkling which camp you’re in (maybe you’re an ambivert?). If you’re still unsure, check out this quiz that Susan Cain has put together.
INTROVERSION IN A TYPE-A WORLD
Introversion in the creative fields seems like an oxymoron. Yet we’re out there in bigger numbers than you might imagine doing all sorts of interesting things. There are untold numbers of us working across the arts and creative industries in roles that people would usually associate with extroverts. And many in leadership roles.
So why do many of us introverts feel like we’re on the outside? There are creative giants like PJ Harvey, Thom Yorke, Meryl Streep and J.K Rowling (among others) who have at one point or another have been described or have described themselves as introverts. It's hard to argue that their introversion has limited their success. You could look at it the other way and believe that their introversion is a defining factor in their success.
FAKE IT ‘TIL IT’S TIME TO GO HOME
Is there a time and place to act more extroverted that you really are? And if there is, how easy is it to fake it? Many introverts, including myself, are able to do this. I used to think I was a great pretender. But being able to adapt is a real ‘thing’ which is described in ‘Quiet’ as being either a high or low self-monitor. A high self-monitor is sensitive to social cues and what any given situation is demanding of them and can adapt accordingly. A low self-monitor has fewer tricks up her sleeve and is less sensitive to social cues. So, for some people, it is possible to fake it depending on the circumstances. Then once we’re out of that situation, we can retreat back to our introverted world.
So, you’re an introvert. How do you manage yourself in a noisy world?
REFRAME YOUR MINDSET ON INTROVERSION
If you have a mindset that introversion is a negative trait, try and flip that right on its head. Instead of thinking of introversion as problem that needs to be fixed, can you think of all the positives that come from being an introvert.
SET AND PROTECT BOUNDARIES.
This is a big one. I used to feel guilty about turning down invitations. But then I’d go and feel worse because I was so uncomfortable and probably appeared to be aloof or anti-social. So now I have a balance. I’ve figured out what my limits are and I stick to them as much as possible. My nearest and dearest understand. And that’s all that matters to me.
BE PREPARED TO COMPROMISE
That said, sometimes work and life requires us to compromise. So, what if your other half is an extrovert that thrives on social encounters? Or if your boss expects you to be at every function or networking event? You might need to figure out ways to compromise so that the needs of both parties are being met. If your partner is an extrovert, allow he or she the freedom to socialise without getting cranky when they’re not ready to leave when you are. On the flipside, introverts need the space to be alone without being made to feel guilty for not being more social.
STOP WORRYING…AND MAKING EXCUSES
So, you’re leaving another function early, again. Do other people really care? Probably not because they’re too busy worrying about themselves! If pressed for an excuse, instead of saying you’ve got to be up early for work or have an urgent deadline, try radical honesty. “Thanks for having me. I love you but I’m leaving because I’m an introvert and being here is seriously exhausting me.” The truth will set you free.
BE WISE WITH YOUR ENERGY BUDGET
It’s been called an ‘introvert hangover’, a reaction to spending too much time in big groups or at large parties. Many introverts have limited rations of energy compared with some of our extroverted counterparts. So, manage your social energy budget accordingly and don’t say yes when you really mean NO.
ENJOY THE DIFFERENCES
Introverts need extroverts and vice-versa. We can learn from each other’s qualities and strengths. We can fill the space in each other’s knowledge gap. We can learn from the different styles of emotional intelligence on offer. We can appreciate our extroverted friends and work mates when they think out loud and build on their off-the-cuff ideas. We can do what we’re good at – listening.
AVOID TOXIC VAMPIRES AT ALL COSTS
You know who they are. And they will suck you dry.
ENJOY THE SILENCE.
When you can, take time for yourself to be alone and have some quiet time.
READ SUSAN CAIN’S BOOK, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. This incredible, thoughtful book will totally change the way you think about being an introvert.
According to ‘Quiet’ approximately one in every third person has some degree of introversion, so we are well and truly out there, even in the creative industries. The ones you’ll find standing quietly in a corner at an event talking to one or two people. That’s us!
I love an extrovert and some of my closest friends are the proverbial life of the party. But there can be anguish on both sides due to the lack of understanding about what it’s like to be an introvert.
An extrovert wants you to join in the party. An introvert wants you to understand that sometimes they simply can’t.
This can get tricky when you work in an industry where there’s networking and pressure to be social. Plus, an expectation that you’ll go to everything, be everywhere and love it.
Contrary to popular belief, introverts love people! We’re just operating at a different social speed and sometimes run out of puff just as all our extroverted friends are hitting their straps. Sometimes I can keep up but, more often than not I can’t, so you’ll rarely find me in the bar at a festival.
And just having the awareness that my speedometer is wired differently to others has meant being able to protect my energy and plan social encounters that are truly meaningful to me.
So, enjoy the silence and know that you’re not alone.
Share this with the person next to you. Chances are they’re probably an introvert :)
Coach Viv XO
If you’d like to check in with where you’re at, sign up to www.nextactcoaching.com.au for a copy of Your Mid-Year Reality Check.