Extroverts are stimulated by being around other people, while introverts are re-energized by being alone, or so the common definitions go. And that seems pretty accurate – I fit right into the definition of introvert. Then I ran across this article, which argues that our modern world actively filters out the introverts, and even worse, that no one wants to be labelled an introvert anyway. As the author himself describes it, “Given that introversion is frowned upon almost everywhere in U.S. culture, the test [for introversion] might as well have asked, ‘Would you prefer to be cool, popular, and successful or weird, isolated, and a failure?’” This tendency towards selecting for extroversion and against introversion, he argues, leaves aside the potential warning voices of introverts, and results in a culture of “shallow thinking, compulsory optimism, and escalating risk-taking in pursuit of success.” He also argues, for introverts attempting to appear more extroverted, it can cost them their health and personal lives.
I can sort of relate to that idea. When I was in my first year of nursing school (yes, waaaaaaay back then), I was told by my instructor that I would not do well in clinical if I did not speak up more. And, memorably, another instructor the next year spent half an hour of discussion with me about how to conquer my natural introversion. Now, it turned out that I did keep passing my courses despite my introversion failures, and furthermore it turned out that despite passing my courses, nursing was not the career for me. So in the end, it was a moot point. But I thought it’s strange how everyone indicates to me that introversion is something to be conquered in the career hunt, and never something to be embraced.
See, my natural way of operating, when thrust into a bewildering and uncertain situation (or anything new, really), is to retreat into myself and watch everyone else very closely. If I try to say or do something too quickly, I end up tripping all over my feet or my tongue. That’s because my brain is actually pretty slow at processing things, and a lot of new information at once overloads it. All I can do is sit back and wait for the normal rhythm of this strange situation to start to become normal to me, and then my brain can ignore that and focus on how I should act in such a situation. Until then, I just can’t jump in. Presumably an extrovert could handle all that external information firing at them at once, but I can’t.
I don’t deny sometimes you do have to conquer your introversion. The world is not made for anti-social basement dwellers who don’t know how to speak to another living soul. New jobs kind of require you to take in a lot of random information at once. Also, if I never went to crowded social situations like parties, I’d never have any fun (though I’ve had enough boring or awkward situations in that area too). Sometimes, you just have to push your shyness and lack of confidence to the back of your mind, and pretend you actually are an extrovert. And you know what? That actually does work. The problem I’ve run up against is that it saps superhuman amounts of energy. Now, practice definitely makes perfect. If I am used to being around people and talking to lots of different people often, my tolerance of external stimuli goes up (and then I get people telling me they’re surprised to find out I’m an introvert). The amount of energy needed to network goes down. But if, for any reason, I’m left to my own quiet routine, or if I lock myself in my room to study for exams or something, my tolerance goes way down again. So it’s basically a back-and-forth struggle.
This, however, begs the question – how much of a struggle should it be? Should introverts really be required to make a superhuman effort all the time, or try to ‘pass’ as an extrovert? It’s good for me to be somewhat tolerant of external stimuli, but do I really need to overcome introversion completely?
And here’s where some argue the world is made for extroverts. Everyone forms opinions of everyone else in split second decisions, and outgoing people have an edge in that department. If it’s a job interview, someone with easy social skills present well. If you’re trying to get the attention of some good-looking guy… well, you get the picture. Then there’s our modern world, which constantly bombards us with information and expects us to keep up with it all (and cope with continual interruptions too). In addition, some of the better sides of introversion is ignored or overlooked. You know, the deep, inward reflection that sometimes results in bursts of creativity. And thinking (maybe too much sometimes) before you speak. Introversion often gets linked to imaginative pursuits too, such as being an artist, writer or inventor. Yet if someone catches you staring off into space, thinking… they usually wave a hand in your face and tease you. 🙂
When it comes down to it, introverts just are introverts, and no amount of coaching by instructors or faking extroversion will change that. And I don’t think it’s right, if certain sectors of this world do tend to select for extroverts, for introverts to be continually urged to become something they’re not. There’s got to be parts of introversion the world can embrace and use. Let’s not train our kids to grow up to fit identical outgoing-personality-type boxes.
The article I mentioned at the beginning (‘Screening Out the Introverts,’ by William Pannapacker) mentions a whole slew of books about introversion, shyness, and how to best adapt to the world in that case. Maybe I should do some further reading 🙂
Anyway, would you agree the world tilts towards the extroversion side of the scale, or do you think introverts are properly appreciated?