Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World

I consider myself an introvert. Many people who know me would find this amusing or think this is completely untrue. This is because when I’m comfortable with people, I’m loud and I’ll tell you anything you want to know about me.  If we’re friends, there’s no way you think I’m quiet or reserved. But if I’m with unfamiliar people or in a large group, I am most certainly not my normal self. I get sweaty and flushed. I stammer and say the wrong thing. I prefer to have a routine and know what’s going to happen next. I don’t like to just play things by ear. I was this way even as a kid. I used to make my mom go to birthday parties with me (cool, I know) and I was much more comfortable having play dates at my house than I was going to an unfamiliar house. I’ve become more outgoing over the years, but at the heart of it I’m definitely an introvert. I think I just disguise it better now that I’ve gotten older. This is sad, because I shouldn’t feel like it’s something that needs to be disguised. But for some reason it seems as though being introverted is viewed as a negative thing. I don’t think it is. I value people who are good listeners. I value people who take time to really analyze what you’re saying instead of just waiting until you’re done so they can blurt out their own opinions. That’s not to say that all extroverts do this, of course but….some do. Yes, introverts are a rare yet important commodity if I do say so myself.

Yesterday I was asked to speak on a panel. It was a huge honor. I was speaking with well-respected people in front of current students at my alma mater. But as I was sitting on the panel I realized that I really am a true introvert. I was much more comfortable listening to what the others had to say than I was interjecting my own thoughts. When it came time to voice my opinion I immediately started blushing, rambling, and getting nervous. The odd thing is that I’m very comfortable in front of a camera. I love doing vlogs and I loved the reporting part of my Broadcast Journalism major. I think it’s the idea of speaking in front of a large group of strangers that flusters me.

The other day I was in a meeting of about 20 people. In the middle of the meeting, my boss called me out for not hitting “reply all” on e-mails (sidenote: I think overusing “reply all” is a sin and is one of the most annoying things ever, but that’s neither here nor there).  She did it in a joking sort of manner, but I literally wanted to melt into a puddle and die as I saw everyone turn to look at me. I turned bright red, got super hot and panicky, and didn’t know what to do. I realized that most people would probably have brushed it off, or not even realized they were the subject of the joke. But as an introvert, this was my worst nightmare. Being the target of a joke/critique is okay, but in public? No way. Pull me aside and critique me. Send me an e-mail. I should mention that these are the same meetings where I literally dread having to explain what’s new in my department. I’ve also gotten scolded for not speaking up enough in these meetings. My boss explained that people interpret my silence as a lack of attention or hard work, when actually I’d rather talk than listen. And I’d rather not speak unless I’ve had time to plan out what I want to say and know I won’t say something goofy. It sounds silly, but that’s how I’m comfortable. Once she explained how my silence was viewed, I began working on talking more. I make a list and think of things to say ahead of time and really push myself to speak up. It’s a challenge, but I do it. It’s interesting because I work in the family business and have known a lot of these people since I was a kid. You’d think I’d feel comfortable speaking up in front of them. But it’s something about the feeling of having 20 pairs of eyeballs swivel to look at you as they write down what you’re saying that makes me twitchy.

http://lotsofintrovertproblems.tumblr.com/

Again, people don’t believe that this is how I feel because I was in basically every play and performance my high school had to offer. I went to performing arts camp for years. But it’s so different when people are paying to watch you act as someone else. You’re entertaining people and making them happy. You’re not yourself receiving criticism in front of others or speaking off the top of your head. Completely different types of attention, completely different feelings.

As I was processing how it was possible to both love the stage and hate being addressed in a meeting, I saw this post from my friend Jenn over at Pursuing Our Passion and it was such an “aha!” moment. She posted this:

 

via http://glidingcalm.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/me/

I realized that I’m not alone and that I’m the true definition of an introvert. I prefer to be in control of the situation. I’d rather listen than speak in public, unless I have time to collect my thoughts. That’s why I didn’t do well on that panel. It was too fast-paced and I didn’t have time to process what I wanted to say. It involved a lot of people I didn’t know. There was the chance of public embarrassment in the form of debate or questioning.

I realized that, for introverts, it’s completely normal to be loud and unguarded with people you know well, yet to feel like you’re going to break out in hives if you have to go to a networking event or a conference or business function. It’s normal to feel comfortable speaking in front of people when you’re playing another role or when you’ve had time to prepare your thoughts, and yet feel panicky in the same type of situation when you’re put on the spot. I feel much better knowing that other people feel the same way I do.

Are you an introvert too? Have you experienced similar feelings and situations? How do you handle being an introvert around extroverts?

Like this post? You're awesome! Be even more awesome and share it!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on Google+

Comments

  1. This is my life! I love this post so much. This sounds exactly like me too. If I’m comfortable with someone I am outgoing, but otherwise it is definitely a struggle. Also, love the fact that we’re both named Lauren. 🙂

    Lauren
    http://www.laurensthoughts.com
    @lrstewar

Speak Your Mind

*