It might surprise some of my students to know that even though I get up on stage and lecture with abundant enthusiasm on a regular basis, public speaking has never been "easy" for me. Why? You see, deep inside, I'm just a big introvert. I would much rather be sitting in the comfort and solitude of my own home than be on a campus with more than 20,000 people. But I do it anyway.
Why? Because in today's society, extraversion is rewarded. Susan Cain puts it quite elegantly in her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, "It is, first and foremost, a superior mind -- the antidote to [the] inferiority complex (p. 40)."
According to Cain, businesses show a hiring preference for extraverts; extraverts are viewed as superior leaders because they can make quick, assertive decisions and motivate employees with their infectious enthusiasm. Extraverts are creative. They're outgoing. They are natural born salespeople. They're just downright more fun.
Introverts, on the other hand, are apparently disordered. Yep, that's right. The "introverted personality" even has its own diagnostic code in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-9 CM). The American Psychiatric Association has a proposal to add their own version of the introverted personality, called "detachment," to the fifth revision of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), due to come out in May 2013. If that weren't enough, introverts have been warned that they are at risk for more physical health problems -- even though this particular study was not even about introverts!
Call me an introvert. I agree with you. Call me "disordered" due to my "introverted personality." I take offense. As Susan Cain points out, "In a world that never stops talking, we need to start listening." Although largely undervalued in today's society, there is a place for introverts -- both in the classroom and in the boardroom. Introverts shouldn't have to pretend to be something they are not. Introverts are creative. Introverts are reflective. Introverts are cooperative. They make both great leaders, with their soft spoken authoritativeness, and great team players. They get the job done.
Are you an introvert? Good for you. There's nothing wrong with that. Are you tired of trying to hide your "disorder"? Me too. I would love to be able to snap my fingers and have the world value us instead of trying to call us disordered. Unfortunately that is not likely to happen any time soon. Do I think introversion is bad for your health? No. Do I think being forced to work in an extroverted environment is? Yes.
If you are one of the lucky ones that get to work at home all the time, then call me jealous. But if you work, like me, in an extroverted environment, instead of "faking" extroversion, give yourself a break. Literally. Take several quiet breaks during the day to recharge, calm down, and regain your focus. Close the office door for five or 10 minutes -- or if your office is in cubicle city, flee to the stairwell (trust me, no one takes the stairs these days) or the bathroom or just outside for a little fresh air. Try to negotiate being able to work during "off hours" or, even better, at home part of the time. If that is not possible, then for your own health and sanity, make sure you get enough quiet time. If that's at home at night, great, but turn off the TV and get rid of any other noisy distractions. If that's during your commute time, fine. Turn off your radio or iPad. Do whatever it takes; just get that alone time. Why? Because the great benefits of being an introvert don't come from faking extroversion. They come from honoring yourself, knowing what's best for you, and living that as much as possible. Be true to yourself and you'll find being an introvert is not nearly as bad as it's made out to be.
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