I’m an introvert, I really am.
In elementary school, I connected with books more than people. In middle school, I went to school dances with a yearbook badge and a camera in front of my face. Freshman year, I had one friend who had seen the inside of my house. I value alone time like I value quality sleep and nourishing food- it’s necessary to my wellbeing, it keeps me from succumbing to stress. Some people are the opposite, they’re thoroughbred extroverts who require outside relationships and social interaction to keep them feeling energized and happy. Alone time makes them feel sluggish and lonely, whereas it makes introverts like myself feel calm and complete. One is not more important or valid than the other, nor is one inherently good or bad, but each one has its valuable components and skills to bring to the table.
One of my favorite books I’ve ever read is Quiet by Susan Cain. “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” explores those who prefer listening to speaking, love to create but hate to self-promote, and enjoy getting things done by themselves without having to rely on others. Each of these traits can swing toward good or bad: people like to be heard, but they also want to have someone reply. They can create all they want, but if no one ever sees it, does it have value? And are those who prefer independent work not team players or valuable leaders?
Cain proposes that introverts carry their own distinct set of powers, and learning this information changed my approach to life and view of myself. I’ve always considered myself capable of leading groups, but felt lost when it came to one-on-one relationship development. I felt inadequate because I preferred a night in with a good book to a wild party (or even a casual get together). I felt broken because I simply didn’t desire the elaborate social lives of those around me. And yet Cain revealed in her book that while I may be an introvert, that doesn’t mean I’m broken- it’s just who I am, and there are countless others exactly like me who are wildly successful for precisely that reason.
I completely related to the examples in her book: eloquent and energetic public speakers who retreated into solitude to recharge after events. Successful salesmen who use the power of listening and question development to their advantage. Powerful leaders who only talk when they have something of value to say. I’ve always felt in limbo in my world- obviously more introspective, and yet able to lead groups and voice my opinions. Public speaking has always been one of my strong points, and yet approaching personal conversations can be incredibly intimidating. In my mind I had a preconceived notion of what an introvert is: someone shy, meek, and antisocial. That wasn’t me. But I definitely wasn’t an extrovert. So where did I land?
I’ve learned that being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re antisocial or afraid to connect with others, it simply means that they prefer less stimulating environments. Introverts are easily overwhelmed- something I can clearly see when looking back on my life. Loud concerts and dances with bright lights and loud music and intertwining conversations leave me feeling panicked, exhausted, and, well, overwhelmed. Soothing environments like a library, lake, or yoga studio leave me feeling open to creativity, expression, and activity.
Being extremely cerebral (perhaps related to my introversion), I was fascinated with the scientific perspective offered in the book. Introverts are less responsive to the chemical dopamine (the “feel good” hormone released during exercise, eating, intimacy, etc.), and are thus less driven by instant-gratification or reward-based learning. Instead, they value caution, research, and intrinsic motivation, resulting in a more calculated approach to risk-taking than extroverts. Introverts are also more governed by the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking, planning, decision-making, and language. This all leads scientists to believe that introversion is a heritable and birth-given trait- in fact, babies who display introverted traits will almost definitely grow into adult introverts (likewise for extroverted infants). Babies who appear highly reactive to stimuli like loud noises, or appear to listen (if not understand) conversation around them tend to be introverts, whereas extroverts will actually be less interested and stimulated by the world around them.
I deeply connected to Cain’s understanding of “the need to recharge”, as explained in the quote below.
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
So what does all this information mean to me?
It means that I’m incredibly powerful, even if I need to be alone sometimes. It means that I can walk into a room and take charge if I need to, whether or not I feel comfortable going to a party with those same people. It means that even if I appear quiet while I’m checking you in at the front desk or folding towels, I can still go into my class with confidence and speak with conviction. It doesn’t mean that I’m shy, awkward, or incapable. It just means that I’m a bit more careful with my words, and when and how I use them.
Introverts are deeply creative. They love philosophy, sciences, and hearing people’s stories. That’s why I believe introverts can be incredible yoga teachers. We have the creativity to choreograph a creative flow, weave in life-lessons, and connect with our students. We have the ability to hone in on other people’s social cues and react appropriately. We want to do things “the right way” while still finding a way to innovate and excite. We have a knack for listening and responding valuably, when we truly feel like we have something of importance to contribute.
I’m a introvert, and I want my voice to be heard. I want my messages to spread as far as they can reach, and I want to touch lives.
I just need a chance to recharge my batteries every once and awhile.