If you’ve been alive and had access to the internet for the last few years you have probably already heard the news that all introverts are misunderstood geniuses. There are also plenty of think pieces telling us that extroverts are mostly obnoxious morons. Okay, so both of these views might not be totally accurate. What is true, is that as much as 50% of the population lean towards introversion, but it doesn't feel that way.
If you’re an introvert then, like me, you may have scrolled through listings for rooms to rent and repeatedly read phrases like, “looking for a housemate who is outgoing, sociable, the life of any party,” all the time asking yourself, where are all the people who would prefer a quiet, friendly but unassuming housemate who never lets dishes pile up in the sink? (The answer – they’re probably living alone and loving it.)
Then there’s reality TV, job interviews, dating and the word that sends a shiver down the spine of every introvert – networking. There’s no escaping the fact that our society seems to favour outgoing and gregarious personalities. But of course, there are still ways to succeed as the exact opposite. Here are a few of those ways.
Stop fighting it
A long time ago I learned to accept that being 5'6" and having the body shape of a twiglet means I will probably never play professional rugby. I have also accepted that my inability to understand some very basic concepts limits my chances of making a meaningful contribution to science. But for some reason I have still wasted years of my life trying to force myself into situations where I’m naturally uncomfortable and socially ill-equipped.
When you embrace your introversion, you can start to excel at the things introverts do best (and I’m not just talking about feigning intellectualism and accumulating cats.) This is not a new or profound truth but it’s one I wish I had learned sooner.
Surround yourself with extroverts (but not every day)
There’s a lot of advice out there for introverts and it often includes suggesting that you make friends with other introverts. While I understand people’s natural desire to gravitate towards like-minded individuals this strategy has one obvious flaw which is that that two introverts might never actually get around to leaving their respective houses to see each other.
This is why it’s important to have extroverted friends. The kind of friends who will guide you through the perils of social activities with a hand on your shoulder, and occasionally give you a firm but helpful shove out of your comfort zone.
Just make sure to have your excuses rehearsed and ready for when you need to be alone. A quick brunch with your extrovert friends can easily turn into a full day of high energy activities, which can run into dinner and then a night out. And if you let that kind of hell start to unfold you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.
Give less of a shit
On one horrific night I found myself attending a dinner party with about twelve people I barely knew. During a moment of silence around the dinner table the girl beside me turned to me and said, “hey, you haven’t said anything all night!”
I think at the time my response was to blink way too much and mutter an apology. But what I should have done was to point out that I had, in fact, been talking quietly to other people all evening while this girl had been monologuing about geo-politics in the Middle East despite apparently not realising that Qatar and UAE are different countries.
The point I’m trying to make is that being an introvert gets easier when you stop caring so much about what people think. Stop trapping yourself in situations you hate while fantasising about the half-read book beside your bed and instead master the art of the ‘French Exit’ and nope the hell out of every social situation you find yourself miserably attempting to endure.
Despite what some people may think, introverts do occasionally like to leave the comfort of their Netflix subscription and the well-worn arse indentation in their sofa. Travelling can be the perfect way for people who are natural observers to find inspiration and engage with the world in a more active way. But travelling with others can also feel like torture if there’s no down time.
For me, travelling alone has been a revelation. It has allowed me to experience everything on my own terms without running out of energy or feeling overwhelmed. Any loneliness is easily fixed with a notebook and a pair of headphones. And sure, occasionally you will still find yourself sharing a hostel with overly talkative tourists but in these situations I recommend pretending you don’t speak English. Just learn a few phrases in Finnish and repeat them whenever someone tries to talk to you. (I suspect that nobody actually speaks Finnish, not even people from Finland, so you don’t need to worry about getting caught out.)
Call People Back
Introverts often struggle to match the energy of others and it can be particularly difficult when we’re pulled out of our own thoughts by an unexpected phone call. So it’s okay to let a call go to voicemail sometimes, but you should always return that call because being an introvert is not an excuse to be an unreliable, serial-ghosting, shitty friend/colleague/son or daughter. Find the motivation to return the call and make small talk like your happiness depends on it, because in one way or another it probably does.