At a recent business event I found myself sat next to a cheerful, friendly young woman – we were asked by the speaker at the event to share why we do what we do with the person next to us, so we had few minutes to chat.
I won’t share her story, as it’s not mine to tell, but I started my explanation of my own by saying “I’ve come to realise how much of an introvert I am”.
Before I could say much more, this woman sighed and looked with compassionate concern at me and replied “Don’t worry, when I was younger I was very shy but I found with practice, and forcing myself to do it I could get out and meet people ok”. I was momentarily speechless, before stuttering “No, no – I’m not shy at all! I’m an introvert.”
She looked at me puzzled and confused, but unfortunately before I could explain further the speaker called our attention back to the front.
For the rest of the event this lady just gave me pitying smiles, and was politely avoidant, as if I had some sad and terminal illness that she didn’t quite know how to deal with.
I found it both bemusing and frustrating; a useful reminder that I can get caught in my own little bubble of awareness.
I’d thought, with the recent explosion in literature and interest around introversion (Susan Cain’s TED Talk and best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking being one of the best known), that it was more widely understood that shyness and introversion have nothing to do with each other, and that we introverts don’t need ‘fixing’ and help to become more ‘normal’ and extroverted!
On the other hand I found it encouraging too – I’m writing an ebook for a corporate publisher about introverted leadership, so I guess my encounter underlined that the topic has by no means been done to death yet. (I’m also looking for case studies for inclusion in the book – if you think you can help I’d love to hear from you).
Embracing and accepting my more introverted preference is proving a liberating and enjoyable journey for me; the more I explore the topic, and encounter others on the journey too, the more reassured, confident and productive I am.
By understanding what I need to restore my energy, and being better prepared for the situations I find stressful, overwhelming or draining, I feel far more ‘in control’ and resilient, rather than inadequate.
Nurturing, rather than suppressing my quieter nature feels like coming home.