“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The world has a preference for the extroverted among us. In school we learn public speaking, and we are expected to raise our hand and participate in discussions. We act as if what we hear and see from a person can tell us everything there is to know about them. But what about the unspoken, that magical light that lives within us?
Here’s what I’ve learned about being an introvert that has helped me embrace, value, and honor myself.
1. It’s okay not to love small talk.
As an introvert, I grew up sometimes wondering why I was different. Quiet time felt like sustenance for my soul. I would relish in the serene morning glow, breathing in the fresh stillness in glorious solitude.
Then I would go about my day. Often, I could get lost in my thoughts, which were then suddenly interrupted by small talk and chatter from those around me. It took me a while to learn how to do small talk in a way that felt comfortable but still authentic to who I am.
It’s not that I don’t have a personality or don’t enjoy (meaningful) conversations with other people; it’s just that there is a rich, inner world inside that needs tending, like a garden needs water.
2. Don’t feel pressured to change who you are.
“You’re really funny when you come out of your shell!” my classmate told me. Wait? Does that mean I need to change? Should I try to be funny more often? It’s not uncommon for these types of comments to be directed at introverted personality types, like me.
My classmate had the type of personality that was loud, boisterous, but also charming at times. A much more outgoing personality type, definitely. Luckily, the world has room for all of us, I learned. Not only that, but it needs all of us.
“Why are you so quiet?” a new acquaintance asked. I tried to make some conversation but felt an awkward pressure to find just the right thing to say.
I now know there’s nothing wrong with being quiet. It’s just the way I am, and I don’t need to analyze or defend it.
3. Sometimes silence is best.
A friend was telling me about the death of her father. Unfortunately, I know this kind of pain and loss myself. No words could change or take away those emotions for her, so I simply sat with her in the silence, just existing and letting it be.
“I know this is hard,” I said. “Thank you,” she said. There was no more to say at that moment. Only the silence could speak just then. It said enough, and there was no need to interrupt it.
Introverts don’t shy away from silence, which makes us well equipped to hold space for other people when others might attempt to talk them out of their feelings.
4. A quiet presence can be powerful.
While in training to become a teacher, I was told to “be more authoritative” and commanding. At the time I felt hurt by this comment. Now, years later, I look back at that and realize that who I am at my core is not in line with that type of persona. And that’s okay.
It’s not even a bad thing. It’s just a misunderstood thing. Introversion is not good or bad. It’s just an orientation. The world doesn’t need only extroverts or only introverts. We need each other.
Now, rather than feeling ashamed of my quiet presence, I know that the world values and needs my good listening skills. I’m good at making observations about people and the world around me. I think deeply and carefully craft what I say.
5. Choose your environment and your people wisely.
In college, I spent some time working in a busy restaurant that required a lot of juggling, constant interaction with many different people, and multi-tasking. I learned quickly that this was not the type of environment I could thrive in. It would take me an hour or more after coming home to just feel myself come out of the overwhelm.
Now, I know that that was a good learning experience about the type of work atmosphere that isn’t compatible with my long-term happiness. I like working with people, but if I fully deplete my battery at work and then use my free time to recover from that, it’s an exhausting way to live.
The time that we spend at work, at home, and with friends is precious. Choose where you spend your energy and invest wisely. Understand what overstimulates you and where you thrive. Keeping that balance helps to protect you from too much stress and overwhelm.
6. Be kind to yourself.
As an introvert, I spend a lot of time with my thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts can feel self-critical. We all have this tendency to be down on ourselves at times. It can feel easy to do this, especially when people are telling you to be more outgoing.
Rather than being down on myself and self-critical about my skills, I try to leave more room for self-compassion and awareness. I may have a different style or way of being, but there’s just as much room for me in the world as there is for more extroverted types.
7. Dare to be yourself.
To my fellow introverts out there, know that you are enough and your rich inner world is beautiful. Don’t let the world pressure you into feeling that you should be louder, more outgoing, or different than you are. It’s the rich diversity of people and personalities that makes the world interesting.
Also, be sure to take care of yourself so you can be your best. As an introvert, quiet and solitude recharge and energize you—it’s how you’re wired. It’s okay to tend to your need for space and quiet contemplation . Having enough alone time is as important of a need as sleep, food, or other areas of replenishment in your life.
Sometimes living in a world of extroverted personality types can feel challenging or draining to navigate as an introvert. It’s okay to be different and allow space for that part of you. With time, those special extroverts around you may even get to know you and learn to respect and value you for just the skills and qualities that make you unique.
“Introverts are collectors of thoughts, and solitude is where the collection is curated and rearranged to make sense of the present and future.” ~Laurie Helgoe