As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew there was no turning back.
I don’t know what prompted me to say it – to a magazine reporter, of all people. I hadn’t planned to reveal my quiet little secret in a media interview recognizing me as one of Edmonton’s Avenue magazine “Top 40 Under 40” in 2011. But there was something about the reporter, a connection we had, that when she asked that one simple question my firewall faded and what I had been hiding for years simply came out.
“I’m an introvert,” I told her.
I’m certainly not the first person to talk publicly about having a preference for quiet and needing time alone. In recent years, both the quiet types and the social butterflies have talked more about introversion. Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, made a case for introverts explaining the important role they play in society, business, family and friendships. The book also questions the way our world values extroverts over introverts.
Many people assume introverts lack confidence, aren’t social and have little to say. Speaking from my own experience, this perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am a confident, secure woman. I enjoy getting out with friends and being social but, like most introverts, I am particular about whom I hang out with and I always prefer small gatherings to big groups or crowds.
I do not have the gene for small talk, but I love nothing more than engaging in a real conversation about real issues. We introverts gain energy in quiet times, while extroverts get a buzz from a crowd. After a particularly social day with lots of meetings or networking, I need to be alone to recharge and reboot for the next encounter.
And many of the other introverts I know choose to listen, observe and think before talking. As a result, when they do speak, they usually have something insightful to say.
In a society biased to those who are outgoing and social, being quiet can be tough. As a kid I asked my parents why I wasn’t normal, like the other kids at school. I knew I was different and, for years, I thought there was something wrong with me. Fitting in meant pretending to be outgoing or trying hard not to come across as shy. As an adult and a high achiever, I learned quickly that sometimes I had to act out of character to advance my professional goals. The masquerade wasn’t all bad. It built my skills as a public speaker and made me comfortable in asserting myself and my opinion, when I had to.
And I am not alone.
As a self-declared “introvert living in an extroverted world” and the head of human resources for Canadian Western Bank Group for 24 years, Uve Knaak understands first-hand the challenges introverts face as they progress in their careers. Since introverts tend to observe and listen, “it’s harder for introverts in a short period of time to show the value they bring to a project or job,” says Knaak, who is currently the senior vice-president of culture, leadership and succession management at CWB Group.
“Introverts have a lot to offer an organization. They tend to be more thoughtful and, as a result, can produce stronger ideas earlier on,” says Knaak. But to gain recognition and get ahead in their careers, she says, introverts must create opportunities to assert themselves and show confidence. “Being quiet has no value until you demonstrate the benefits quietness brings.”
I got to where I am today from pushing the boundaries of my own introversion and I’ve reached the point where I can proudly and publicly call myself an introvert. I don’t need to hide it, and I recognize that every one of us is a mix of introvert and extrovert. My introversion gives me the grace to consider others at the same time I consider myself. It gives me the power to think in a smart way and the energy to recharge and refresh without the help of aides or others. It gives me the freedom to travel alone and the pleasure of enjoying my own company. It gives me the strength to watch and observe before acting. Imagine if more people took the time to listen before they spoke. What was once a secret, I now consider a superpower.
Even though we quiet types don’t say much, people are taking notice. A funny thing happens when you talk publicly about being an introvert. It encourages other introverts to find their voices to share their love of quiet. While it’s unlikely we’ll steal centre stage from the talkative majority, in time, I believe the quieter our society becomes, the more we will hear.
Quiet, but Out There
Here are a few well-known introverts (as per Forbes.com) to possibly help you relate to introverts – or accept being one yourself
- Susan Cain (mentioned above) – Author and TedTalks celebrity. Visit ted.com and search “The power of introverts.”
- Albert Einstein – Physicist, author of the theory of relativity, awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. Yes, that guy.
- Charles Darwin – Scientist who explained evolution. Eat or be eaten.
- Mahatma Gandhi – Spiritual leader from India who pushed for justice in many paths of life.
- Larry Page – Co-founder of Google. (Just imagine if you weren’t able to say, “I’ll Google that.”)
- J.K. Rowling – Author of the Harry Potter series of books that still gets kids, teens and adults away from the screens and nose-deep in a nice, long book.