My co-worker Patrick likes to make poems from the magnetic words in my office. Recently, he asked me whether I like to plan things before I go on vacation. I said yes, which to me seemed the only logical answer. He then said, “We’re complete opposites. But we can still be friends.”
Patrick is an extrovert.
He also laughed at me when I showed him the book The Introvert Advantage and said, “Only an introvert would need a self-help book about being an introvert.”
He doesn’t understand. You see, our culture is oriented toward high-achieving extroverts. A successful person is someone who is a) rich, b) popular, and c) charismatic – and being rich is optional. She is bubbly and vibrant with lots of friends, and these things make her irresistibly charming and beautiful. She loves to do things and be with people, never slowing down, always busy.
Most of my closest friends are this way. Extroverts. Which makes sense, I suppose, since apparently there are three extroverts to every one introvert. But having friends who are so busy and need stimulation and need to be going going going impacts how I see my own life.
Often I’ve felt lazy. Boring. Overlooked and unseen. Something’s wrong with me. I’ll never make anything of myself. I’m unambitious. Lack self-control. I’m just wrong.
No, I’m not. I’m an introvert.
I knew that. I was a psychology minor, for goodness sake. I’ve taken the quizzes; I know them by heart. I was certain I was an introvert. But I didn’t really know what that means or how to manage it.
Well, The Introvert Advantage is pretty helpful in that regard. It starts out defining introversion: what it is and what it isn’t.
Introversion doesn’t mean that a person is shy or hates people (though I’ve joked about that plenty). It just means that introverts draw energy from their internal world, from being alone. The outer world can just get a tad overwhelming at times.
Another characteristic of introversion involves liking to know a lot about things one experiences and feeling them deeply. Sometimes it takes longer for introverts to process and be moved to speak because 1) they haven’t fully exhausted the issue yet mentally, and 2) they want to be sure to speak correctly.
The chapter on socializing and what to do at parties made me laugh, but it was quite helpful. I find I’m most out of my depth in large group gatherings where I can get lost in the crowd. I struggle with creating and maintaining conversation. I can do it, but it’s incredibly exhausting. I chuckled to read things like “Many introverts tend to foreshadow. They think ahead about what could go wrong…” and the whole section on eye contact. It’s so silly but it’s so true.
Some of the tips were far too specific or basic to be helpful, but I also realized I am a fairly outgoing introvert – if that makes sense. I know myself, my limits, and I work around those easily (after years of breaking myself). Some of the examples are for far more extreme introverts than I – though I could see myself in some of them more than I realized.
Side note: A downside I must mention is that, as a literature person, I felt the tone of this book was occasionally condescending and repetitive. I didn’t like the writing, but I’m a snob.
Regardless, I honestly feel like this book is important – especially if you’re an extrovert and you love someone who is an introvert, but you cannot understand him. Even if you think you do understand him, read this book. I mean, I learned loads of stuff, and I’m a self-aware, well-educated introvert.
This book didn’t fix me, but I don’t need to be fixed. I need to be me, I need to mellow out my extroverted friends, I need to think about things long and deep. It freed me to be myself and to think about why I do things in new ways.
At the very least, The Introvert Advantage highlights the quiet ones, and maybe the louder ones could slow down to listen a while. There’s always room to understand each other a bit better.