Are You Ashamed of Being an Introvert?

I am a classic introvert. I prefer quiet, reflection, small groups of close friends, and large gatherings completely drain me. What about you? Are you an extrovert or an introvert?

For years I have been ashamed of being an introvert. Specifically, in my career and MBA program, I was pushed to be outgoing, social, and to speak more. For years I wondered what was wrong with me as I didn't want to do what I was told is necessary. I even had mentors tell me they would teach me how to be an extrovert. 

Everything changed last week when I started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I am still in the middle of the book, yet it is eye-opening as it dives into the history of America's obsession with extroverts and the biology of introverts. What I am uncovering is being an introvert has a lot to do with genetics. 

For example, there was a long-term study conducted at Harvard where individuals were examined for over a decade. Starting at 4-months old, infants were brought in and different stimuli were introduced, i.e. music being played, a balloon popping, and more. Some of the babies would react dramatically, they would cry, flail their arms, and generally have a high reaction.  Then there were other babies who weren't phased by the stimuli, they had a low reaction. 

The researcher hypothesized the high-reactive children would grow up to be introverts and the low-reactive children would grow up to be extroverts. This hypothesis, at the time, seemed contradictory. Yet, he was correct. As the babies grew to toddlers, kids, adolescents, and beyond there was a direct correlation between reactive sensitivity and introversion or extroversion.

Essentially, some people are more sensitive to stimuli and these people are generally introverts. In large settings, too many stimuli can be overwhelming which is a cause for the loss of energy, anxiety, and discomfort introverts feel. 

The above is just one example from the book, and I am not doing it justice. I highly recommend reading it as it's enlightening. Click here if you want to learn more on the book.

As I am reading the book I keep reflecting on the past half-decade. The entire time I really thought something was wrong with me. Why didn't I like going out with a lot of people? Why couldn't I just go to the event and talk to everyone? Why was it so difficult to be outgoing compared to my wife who can naturally spark a conversation and be likable?

I am realizing the answers are likely closely tied to biology more than I ever knew. Don't get me wrong, networking, public speaking, and being social are important traits. However, they are not the only important traits. Being alone to think, read, and be creative are also essential. Especially, if you are an introvert. 

Have you ever felt shame for being an introvert? If so, stop it. You are wired a certain way and can make a positive impact on the world. I recommend many books and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking is going to the top of my book recommendation list. If you are an introvert don't waste another day wondering if something is wrong with you. Read the book and learn the science behind your personality.

Matt Avery