I’ve always been content with who I am, and my interactions with the world around me have been largely positive. However, as a relatively quiet person, I have periodically been made to feel that it’s wrong for me to be so quiet. Since elementary school, hearing others ask me “Why are you so quiet?” has abruptly coerced me into talking.
Armchair psychology forces people into two categories: extroverts and introverts. And the world seems dominated by extroverts, built around a society that exalts extroverted qualities like attention-seeking, the ability to immediately vocalize feelings or opinions and enjoying large-group interactions.
This makes introverts like me feel as if we have to assimilate to this expected way of being – at our schools, work and most social environments. In office settings especially, group projects seem to be valued now more than ever, leaving those of us who prefer working alone under a negative spotlight.
I was recently relieved to learn I’m not alone in feeling this way. I had never really taken the time to analyze my personality, but a work retreat about a month ago led me to some introspection.
When my coworkers and I were first informed that a facilitator would evaluate our team and individual personalities, I almost instantly cringed. I thought I knew what was coming: the typical type A-type B personality test, the answer to which I’ve been led to believe meant I was in the less recognized category.
The retreat facilitator, Randy, began by giving our staff a crash course in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and then separating us based on our introvert-extrovert personality type, which nearly evenly split our office. He explained the distinctions that characterize these two personality traits: introverts prefer to recharge either by themselves or with one or two other people, while extroverts feel most energized when they are amidst large groups.
To my surprise, Randy did not use the words “shy,” “quiet,” or “anti-social” to describe us introverts. We were not diminished for being introverted despite working at a gregarious public relations firm, and our distinct attributes were deemed at least as valuable as those an extrovert could bring to the table.
For the first time, my personality tendencies were finally, and appropriately, defined. It was liberating to recognize I am an introvert and that it’s not a bad thing.
As Susan Cain explains on the TED talk “The Power of Introverts,” great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks were introverts. Great ideas can also arise from solitude. The key is discovering how to mold your introverted qualities to any situation.
What I learned from Randy and our staff retreat is that knowing yourself is empowering, as was having been alerted to the subtle advantages of introversion. In the end, self-awareness isn’t about placing yourself in a personality box, but rather about recognizing and appreciating yourself wherever you fall in the spectrum.