Once upon a time, not that long ago, the quiet ones among us kept quiet about the fact we were quiet. We tried to hide or make excuses for the fact that we didn’t like big groups, had zero interest in being the center of attention, and liked time spent alone. There was a time when being an introvert was a bad thing.
Over the last couple of years, the introverts among us have quietly crept up, positioning ourselves as tomorrow’s rockstars. The cool kids. The A-listers. The sought-after ones. Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, which made the case for introverts and the important role they play in society, business, family and friendships, questions the way our world values extroverts over introverts. Cain brought introversion out of the closet. As a result, introverts are finally talking (in their own quiet way) and people’s perceptions of introversion are shifting.
I am a classic introvert. I’ve always preferred small groups and one-one conversations over large gatherings and the dreaded small talk that comes with them. I don’t enjoy being center of attention. I like to observe, gather intelligence and influence outcomes from the sidelines. I have always loved time alone, often choosing a solo night at home over joining a large group of friends. Not because I didn’t value or like their company, but because I knew I needed time to recharge. Introverts like me gain energy in quiet times, while extroverts get a buzz from a crowd.
I write about being an introvert now, but there was a time when I wouldn’t dare. For years, I always thought there was something wrong with me. When I stressed about big networking events, I cursed myself for lacking the mental strength and small talk gene. When I felt bad for saying no to 20+ person girls trips every year, I beat myself up for not being more social and outgoing. As a kid, when I heard the concerned, disappointed tone in people’s voices when they’d say, “She is quiet”, I’d feel I wasn’t normal. When I didn’t land a leadership job with a summer camp program in university because I was deemed “too quiet”, I vowed that one day I would get loud and seek the limelight. That day still hasn’t come.
When I was chosen as one of Avenue Magazine Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2011, in the interview I talked about being an introvert and having shy tendencies. Saying you are a shy leader makes for sexy magazine copy, as my Top 40 story revolved around my admission of introversion. I have to admit, I was aghast to see this angle in the pages of Avenue. I had never publicly talked about being a shy introvert. And here it was, in print and online, for everyone to see.
The response to the article was unexpected. People thanked me for talking about how quiet, shy types make for effective leaders. I had random introvert strangers reach out and connect. I also had extroverts make jokes about my ability to handle more than one person in a room at one time, in typical extroverts-are-best fashion. But what I realized is that my admission in that article gave some people the freedom to shed their firewall and take pride in who they really are. It was my teeny tiny small scale Edmonton version of what Susan Cain’s book has done for so many; freed them from conforming to society’s longstanding love affair with loud, overly assertive types and gave their introversion a voice.
Just because I am quiet doesn’t mean I’m not assertive, unsocial or boring, or can’t lead or inspire others. Those who know me, know I ALWAYS have something to say. I believe introversion is one of my superpowers. It gives me strength to watch and observe before acting. It gives me the ability to listen before talking. It gives me the grace to consider others at the same time I consider myself. It gives me the power to think smart. It gives me the energy to recharge and refresh without the help of aids or others. It gives me the freedom to travel alone. It gives me the pleasure of enjoying my own company. And it’s the fuel and point of differentiation behind my successful independent communications business for more than seven years.
While introverts may not win a Grammy anytime soon, we’ve broken into the Top 40 charts. People are sitting up, taking notice and asking good questions, because the shame in talking about our love of quiet is starting to fade.
So fellow emerging rockstars, let’s take center stage and make some quiet noise.