Embrace introversion as a strength and don’t be someone you are not

From Autism Awareness Day to Zero Discrimination Day, there are national and international days for just about everything you can think of. But there is one particular day that is close to my heart – World Introvert Day.
Carol Stewart with her book Quietly VisibleCarol Stewart with her book Quietly Visible
Carol Stewart with her book Quietly Visible

Whilst the existence of some of these days may be questionable to some, they raise awareness about social matters and other causes that we may not ordinarily get to hear of. Today (January 2) if you don’t know it, is World Introvert Day and as an introvert myself, I appreciate its significance.

The society we live in very much favours those who are extroverted, particularly so when it comes to leaders. It’s often the case that he/she who shouts the loudest is the one who gets heard, gets the recognition, and the reward. The quieter ones are often overlooked. However, just because someone is loud and gregarious, it doesn’t automatically mean that they’re the best.

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There are several misconceptions about what introversion is. Many people think that because someone is introverted, they lack confidence, they’re shy, they’re aloof, they don’t like public speaking and so on. But just because someone has these traits, it doesn’t automatically mean they are introverted. Extroverts can equally lack confidence, be shy and not like public speaking.

In a nutshell, it’s about how we are energised. If you find overly stimulating environments and being around lots of people energising, chances are you are extroverted. If being in overly stimulating environments with lots of people for too long drains your energy, chances are you are introverted. Introverts typically like to think and reflect before speaking, whereas extroverts are more likely to respond off the cuff.

Depending on the situation or the environment we’re in, we can all act in both ways, but we have a preference for one most of the time.

Because of the misconceptions, introverts are often given a raw deal. As someone who coaches introverted leaders, I regularly get messages from introverts sharing their experience of having been treated less favourably in the workplace.

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Being overlooked for promotion in favour of louder colleagues, not being heard in meetings, feeling drained from loud, open offices, are just some of the challenges. Add to that self-doubt from years of being made to feel they are not good enough.

When carrying out research for my book Quietly Visible: Leading with Influence and Impact as an Introverted Woman, 53 per cent of introverted women who were senior leaders said self-doubt was an issue for them. Many were constantly told to speak up more and to be more outgoing as children. Some try to put on an extroverted persona but find it draining and stressful. When they accept themselves as they are and learn to adapt they are less stressed and more confident.

If introverted children are allowed to be themselves in a nurturing environment, they are more likely to grow up self-confident. If all they hear is they’re too quiet, it will impact their self-belief.

I recently met a woman with children aged seven and five. The outgoing seven-year-old runs off to join in with other children when at social events, whereas the five-year-old is quiet and sticks by her side. She would push the five-year-old to join in and be more outgoing. This was despite the child’s teacher telling her her child is happy, does play with other children, but also enjoys playing by herself. What do you think the 5-year-old will be like in the next 15 years if she’s constantly told she needs to be more outgoing? She’s going to grow up thinking that she is not good enough.

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This is something that I can relate to. As a child, just before I started at Hunter’s Bar infants, I remember going along to visit. All the children were playing together but I stuck by my mum. Growing up I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I was quiet, and this affected my self-confidence. Once I developed self-belief in my 20s, I realised that I’d mistaken my quiet, introverted nature for a lack of confidence. Once I accepted myself, I saw my confidence soar.

If you are introverted and have been made to feel that you’re not good enough, embrace introversion as a strength and don’t try to be something that you’re not. Extroverts, the next time you are thinking of favouring someone because they’re loud and gregarious, don’t overlook the quiet ones. The introverts are just as good.

Quietly Visible: Leading with Influence and Impact as an Introverted Woman by Carol Stewart publishes on January 28. P re order at https://amzn.to/2Zeqty2