We live in a society and an era that exalts the extrovert. Self help books proclaim new methods to assert yourself, to make friends and influence others, workplaces encourage open floor plans and constant brainstorming and discussions, and schools emphasize group work and the importance of being a leader.
There’s a big flaw in this mentality, though; if everyone is his own leader, who will be left to be lead?
Often times we forget about the introverts, which is natural when the most outspoken person in the room is always calling the shots. But how often in the most outspoken person the one with the best idea?
Being introverted in today’s society is often considered undesirable, which has led many introverts to disguise themselves as extroverts. If a child likes to read by himself instead of play soccer with the rest of his classmates, he is labeled as “strange” or “nerdy,” and the person standing quietly alone at the party is likely regarded as having few friends. The outgoing, popular people-pleaser is always in the spotlight, but what about the quiet, reclusive genius?
As an introvert myself, I can say I was never able to just read my book in peace. During my entire childhood, my father would become impatient with my lack of desire to go outside and play with my siblings, taking the book from my hands and ordering me to “go be social.” He used to tell me that I was missing out on life by sitting and reading by myself, but what he and many people don’t understand is that spending time alone is just a different way of living life, and nobody can say whether it’s more or less meaningful.
After all, solitude is one of the things that all of the greatest religious teachers and prophets of history have in common. Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad all spent time alone meditating, praying, fasting or the like. This is because solitude inspires creative thought, introspection, and inner peace. In fact, some of the greatest people of the past century were introverts, including Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Bill Gates.
So if we know that such great ideas can come out of such soft-spoken people, why do we continuously push the importance of being outgoing? According to Susan Cain in her Ted Talk, it’s due to the fact that Western culture has tended to value the “man of action” over the “man of contemplation.”
If we examine the nature of the US in respect to the rest of the world, we see an increasingly extroversive pattern forming leading up to modern day. Today, the US finds itself involved in foreign matters across the globe, from China to Egypt, whether welcomed or not. It only makes sense that a country that participates so actively with its neighbors would value the qualities of an extrovert over those of its quieter and more reserved counterpart.
So how do we change this one sided mentality?
What I’m calling for first of all is awareness, not just of those around us who are introverts (or the introverted nature in ourselves) but of what it means to be an introvert. Misunderstanding and ignorance are the root causes of discrimination. For a simple explanation of the difference between an introvert and an extrovert, check out this video.
The second part of this call to action is appreciation. Stop expecting everyone to act like an extrovert, because although we all fall somewhere on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, not everyone feels comfortable being the center of attention or raising their voice above the collective noise to be heard.
For the self-proclaimed introverts out there, understand that you have nothing to be ashamed of. There are many positive qualities about being an introvert that are often overlooked. Here are some examples, just to shed some light on the subject:
- The natural preference for deep, meaningful conversation over small talk usually results in closer, more intimate friendships
- Time spent quietly alone generates more creativity and insights than time spent in busy or stimulating environments
- A soft-spoken, contemplative nature indicates thinking before speaking, so you know that an introvert won’t waste words with pettiness
- Naturally good listeners, introverts make excellent leaders because they hear and encourage others’ ideas without imposing their own opinions (as is common with extroverts)
- Introverts are less likely to make big risky decisions because they think things through completely before acting, and therefore less likely to be filled with regret
In conclusion, remember that whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, ambivert, or somewhere in between, there is always something we can learn from each other. This may be learning to find your voice for one person, or learning to step out of the spotlight and listen for another. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we are all completely unique, and we should never feel ashamed of who we are.
Kelsey Frizzell is a writer and founder at The Essential You. She is a former high school valedictorian and “poster-child.” Fed up and worn out, she finally shed off the expectations and pressures to make her own way. Leaving everything behind, she moved to São Paulo, Brazil with only $600 to her name and zero knowledge of Portuguese. She is now focused on proving how to build the life of your dreams from the ground up.