When is it absolutely OK to screw your best friend’s party invitation to stay home in your pajamas and read “100 reasons it’s OK to sit in your pajamas and read instead of going out?” When do you need to fake it until you make it, fake it until you become it, suppressing your crowd fright and getting up the nerve to interact with people?
People are usually mistaken introvert for shyness as when observing from the outside, a shy person and an introvert can sometimes behave in a similar manner. For example, you invite your two friends Carly and Marie to a big party. Both decline your invitation, but for a different reason. Carly is an introvert. She doesn’t like to be around many people since it drains her energy. She enjoys spending the evening by herself, reading, taking a small walk and reflecting. On the contrary, Marie is an extrovert. She loves being around people and secretly wants to attend the party. But she is shy, not sure how to be around people and afraid that she might look awkward. Assume that Carly and Marie attend the party; they would likely behave in line with each other. They would listen more instead of talking a lot.
As they repeat this kind of behavior, we then assume that Carly is shy, Marie is an introvert, both are shy or both are introverts. Our assumption is not entirely correct.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung popularized the concept of introversion-extraversion, one’s direction of energy flow and his focus to either his inner world of ideas or the external world of objects and people. Characteristics associate with extraversion are outgoing, talkative and introversion reserved and solitary.
Take Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, two different individuals observed by Susan Cain, author of the book “Power of Introverts.” Bill Clinton is a classic extrovert while Bill Gates is an introvert. Is Bill Gates shy and afraid of the crowd? No, he couldn’t have cared less about what others think of him and Microsoft.
Shyness is a trait that if we want we can overcome while introversion or extraversion is more innate and specific to a person. You cannot hypnotize and train Bill Clinton to think and reflect more and turn him into an introvert nor can you put Bill Gates around ladies, business partners, asking him to charm their socks off and make him a believable extrovert.
Well-developed introverts are not shy. They can conduct themselves better in social setting than under-developed extroverts. They can mesmerize a huge crowd with their powerful inner strength and build amazing rapport with people. Mahatma Gandhi, the quite leader, peacefully freed India from the British rule. Abraham Lincoln, the resilient leader, freed the slave and united the US. [source]
Are you Carly or Marie? Are you the charming politician Bill or the nerdy entrepreneur Bill?
Knowing this is important as a step toward knowing and claiming yourself. You don’t want to feel like a social inept when actually you’re just being yourself, an introvert. On the other hand, you don’t want to feel like a lousy extrovert either not having the nerve and proper skills set to mingle with other people and enjoy the things that truly energize and make extrovert come alive.
In more reserved cultures like central and northern Europe, introverts and shy people can fit in as they behave more in line with the norm of the dominant culture. There is a joke about the Finns, “An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when talking to you. An extraverted Finn looks at your shoes.” If you come from a highly extraverted society like the United States where introversion can sometimes be seen as a disease or a serious lack of person development, imagine the amount of distress you might endure.
For years I typed myself as an Introvert because I was shy and easily embarrassed. I often avoided social situations that might draw attention to me even when the interaction involved with only one other person. I was afraid that I might behave stupid, and people would laugh at me. I avoided parties and social events unless I knew the people there. But if I knew the people and they brought someone I didn’t know, I then felt uneasy. I didn’t talk to people unless I needed something impersonal, or they were my close. I preferred to be by myself to read book, watch television, reflect and live in my head; I did that for years.
I had some personal issues, but I wasn’t able to get sufficient help because for people to help you, they need to know what. They don’t know what unless you tell them what and why. If you don’t know the what, you need to talk even more so they can determine the why. But I couldn’t open my mouth to speak.
At some point, I realized that I couldn’t continue living this life, hiding in a shell and be afraid of the world. At the time, I still wouldn’t talk. I preferred to self-diagnose myself and self-design a training program to be more outgoing, a trait I thought would be good for my confidence. I didn’t have the nerve to be on stage or speak in public, so I thought by throwing myself in a less public but still people-oriented environment would be a good start. I started to work in bars and pubs as a bartender in an “extraverted” environment where I would be the center of attention and forced to open myself up. In America, bartenders are like your therapist. You pay for your drink, tip your bartender and you can talk to them forever until their closing time. So that what I became, an unlicensed and untrained therapist. First I listened a lot, something I was pretty good at. But as time went on I couldn’t listen, sometimes I had to response because people didn’t like to talk to a puppet who said only “yes” and “thank you” all the time. But I couldn’t just response because not all my customers were extroverts. Many of them didn’t talk at all, and I had to initiate the conversation. Being alcoholic is bad. Being an introverted alcoholic is bad. Being an introverted bartender next to an introverted alcoholic is really really bad because, beside the silence, you wouldn’t get any tip. As a bartender, I worked for tips. I got more tips if I interacted more with people. After a while, I talked and didn’t care about tips.
I liked to be around people, and some people liked to be around me. I got more confidence around people. I talked more and more. Then I got into traveling, seriously traveling and noticed that I felt more energized by the world of objects and people around me. I was more productive working in a team instead of working by myself, playing team sports instead of individual sports. I related more to the description of an extrovert. Later when I didn’t need to train myself to talk to people, I began to talk naturally. Sometimes I couldn’t stop the urge. I talked to even to strangers to the point it might be not be a proper behavior. Sometimes I ride the metro and wonder why can’t we strike up a random conversation with random people? But I resist the urge from doing that because this is a Czech Republic, a country with a preference for introversion. I would look strange, and people would see it as a serious lack of social skills in unsociable social situation.
Followed this awareness about myself perhaps being an extrovert was a painful realization and regret of what-ifs. Had I known sooner, I would have avoided the many years of terrible isolation from the outside world. Had I talked sooner, I could have gotten out of my social awkwardness, enjoyed the activities that energized me.
I have an introverted friend who says that she hates being an introvert and wants to be an extrovert. No, it is not how you suppose to do it. Introversion and extraversion are two directions of mental energy flow, inward or outward. You should not feel the pressure to convert. You do not want to hang around with people because you think it is an appropriate social behavior. You want to hang around people because you truly enjoy it for connection, networking, caring or out of a family or job responsibility.
Instead you can identify your preference for introversion or extraversion and pick up the skills associated and activities enjoyed by this preference. At the same time, you observe and adapt to others’ preference if needed.
At the end of the day regardless of being introverts or extroverts, we all engage in the same activities: being around others, communicating, spending time on our own.