When I was young, I loved to pretend. Imagining I was a superhero or a pirate or a space alien helped me explore who I was and who I wanted to become. As an adult, and as an introvert, I have also done my fair share of pretending to be something other than who I am, to try and be what I thought others wanted. And through that process, I have come a long way in understanding myself and embracing my introversion.
I have learned how I operate best and what I need. One of my big epiphanies was that those qualities that make me an introvert are with me to stay, and I have some unique gifts because of them. I think, I spend more time in my head than not, I usually think before I speak, and so on. Introverts and extroverts each have great gifts and strengths and there is a wide spectrum of gifts and strengths even among one group or the other. I have learned who I am and who I am not. I have different needs and abilities than anyone else. I have also learned that I am most successful and happy when I am true to myself and not trying to act like someone I think others want me to be.
I’m an introvert, not a “defective extrovert.”
What I don’t like to hear is that in order to be successful, I sometimes need to “pretend” to be an extrovert or “act like” an extrovert or “fake it ‘til I make it.” I’ve heard some say that introverts need to “extrovert” from time to time. It’s as if the perception is that introverts are somehow “defective extroverts.” I’m sorry, but extroverts don’t hold a monopoly on any particular activity… if you are an introvert that participates in public speaking, making conversation, leadership or many other activities that may be perceived as “extrovert” activities, doesn’t mean you are PRETENDING to be an extrovert. It means you are using your own strengths and succeeding in your own way. I don’t think introverts or extroverts “own” different activities, but rather each approach and do them differently.
Let’s take the example of small talk – an activity often identified with extroverts. It’s true that introverts tend to avoid small talk, preferring deep and more intimate conversations. Introverts also tend to think before speaking, and sometimes the pace of the small talk may be a bit fast for the introvert’s liking. I have often avoided small talk.
However, as I have come to understand myself, I find myself making more small talk than ever. Does this make me an extrovert? No, I am an introvert making small talk in my way. Let me explain a bit further. I don’t enjoy small talk for its own sake, but I know that some people do. I enjoy getting to know others better and to build relationships. And for me the relationship is the key. I find myself engaging and being more comfortable as I try to build a relationship with someone. I try to remember things about the person and also try and think of interesting topics ahead of time. This doesn’t always come naturally to me, so I have to make a bit of an effort, but I’m getting better at it. And this doesn’t mean I’m pretending to be an extrovert. It just means I’m improving my relationship skills, but I’m approaching it in my own introverted way. My ability and patience for small talk with those I know or would like to know better has greatly improved. However, I am not likely to strike up a conversation in the grocery store checkout line just for fun. There are times when I need to make small talk and I have learned to prepare for it and just relax and try my best to enjoy it.
There are many other examples of how I may engage in activities that some may perceive to be an extroverted activity. I have learned that by participating in these activities, I am not acting like an extrovert, but rather embracing who I am, getting what I want and need, and doing things the way I do them best. I have tried to be someone else and it doesn’t work so well. Be yourself. And Be Strong.