For the majority of my life I felt like something was wrong with me. I thought I needed to fix myself to be “normal.” I hid who I was, pretending to be something I wasn’t because I figured it was what I needed to do to fit in. It took me almost 30 years to figure out that I am an introvert. Now, it feels like there’s so much discussion about being introverted, and in some ways it’s even celebrated, but for the majority of my life it was something I didn’t know how to live with, or even recognize.
I never understood why I would get sick the first week of school every year. I’d be so physically and emotionally drained I’d end up with a debilitating migraine, like clockwork, every year from kindergarten through high school. As I finished college and started my career, I struggled through migraines, vertigo and back problems, all of which I attribute to not understanding myself and what I needed. I was the point person for organizing and helping to run our big meetings and events for our consulting practice, an introvert’s kryptonite. I would get home after those meetings barely able to function. I remember when our team took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test and my dominant energy style was introvert. Some of my team members were shocked. Really, you’re an introvert?! I was good at faking it. Had I paid attention to my body though, I would have realized I wasn’t that good, I was suffering. But I kept pushing through because I was convinced it was just me, and in order to survive and succeed, it was what I had to do.
Growing up there was no such thing as an introvert, at least in my mind and experience. It wasn’t discussed or acknowledged and it certainly wasn’t something anyone celebrated. The world around me was made for extroverts, from group work in school to open concept floor plans at work, it’s just how it was, and I figured that’s how it would always be.
It wasn’t until I quit my job and started working for myself that I realized what helped me thrive and succeed: spending time alone, leaving a party early, staying in rather than going out, working by myself – many of the things now summed up in memes we share on social media.
How can you be an influencer/blogger and an introvert? Well, it’s actually a lot easier than one might think. Sharing things about yourself on the internet is quite different than interacting with 50+ people at a meeting or an event. Granted in the beginning, I did go to a lot of blogger events, and they were absolutely soul sucking, so I stopped. I realized, once again, I was falling into the pattern of thinking if I want to succeed, this is what I have to do. It’s just not the case. But there is a delicate balance, and over the last few years I’ve gotten better at how I manage my business and social life in a way that’s beneficial to my brand but not detrimental to my health. Here are some of my strategies for surviving as an introvert.
You are doing yourself a disservice when you apologize for everything. You don’t need to say sorry for leaving early or needing time to be alone or not wanting to go on a group trip. It only perpetuates the notion that you’re doing something wrong, that you need to be fixed. One of the most rewarding things for me personally has been to embrace who I am and what I need, and not apologizing for it. Those who truly care about me understand that, the rest doesn’t really matter.
No need to make up excuses or lie about why you can’t do something or go somewhere. If you’re not feeling up to something or need a break just say so, in my experience, the majority of the time the other person fully understands and appreciates the honesty. At this point, all my friends and family know Craig (fellow introvert) and I are probably going to be the first to leave the party.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.
Wait what? Yes, this is important too, just be kind to yourself in the process. One of my business goals for this year was to create more opportunities for face time and in person events. I didn’t quite know how that would look, but in the first quarter of this year several speaking opportunities came knocking at my door and I decided to say yes. While public speaking is quite literally the last thing on Earth I would choose to do, I’ve enjoyed the personal challenge of doing something so far out of my comfort zone. You can’t get better at something if you don’t try. That said I know my limits…
KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
When doing something like public speaking or going to an event where there’s a lot of socializing, I recognize my limits. Instead of going out to dinner after or making additional plans I go home or to my hotel room where I can recharge. I allow myself to do what I need, not what the group wants or expects. When I’m traveling I literally never go anywhere without my noise cancelling headphones from Bose. They are a lifesaver when I need solitude in a public place.
FIND YOUR EXTROVERT FRIEND.
I have a few extroverted friends (family members too), but I tend to follow their lead at social events and situations where I’d normally prefer to sit in a corner. If there happens to be dogs or cats at this event, even better, just make friends with them.
SQUASH SELF-LIMITING BELIEFS.
Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful, happy, fulfilled, have friends, have a social life, etc. It’s certainly a more acceptable time to be an introvert, but don’t allow self-limiting beliefs to hinder what you can achieve. I told myself I wasn’t good at public speaking. While that may be true, I was never going to get better by not doing it at all. I was finding myself in a pattern of closing myself off from certain opportunities because I was afraid (of the attention, the unknown, the demand for more socializing). Sometimes there is power in doing the uncomfortable, even more so when we challenge ourselves and find that the thing we were so afraid of doing, isn’t so bad after all.
For as long as I can remember I have been a writer. When I was young I wrote journals, in school my favorite class was always writing, and now, I have a blog, fitting. As someone who doesn’t quite enjoy expressing myself or my feelings through talking, I can get a lot off my chest with writing. Doing this can also be helpful in business and even personal situations. Prepare yourself by writing out what you think and feel first.
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS.
It took me 33 years to get to a place where I feel like I know myself well enough to do this. Not to say I have it all figured out, I DEFINITELY do not, but I understand and recognize my strengths and my weaknesses. If you’re finding yourself stuck in a position where you’re forced to pretend to be someone you’re not, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. Introvert vs extrovert isn’t black and white, we are complex people with different life experiences and personalities. Pay attention to when you feel most productive and creative, what re-energizes you, what truly makes you happy. Don’t worry about the labels and the expectations, focus on being confident in who you are, that will get you farther than anything.