Being an introvert is difficult in today’s world.  Western culture places a premium on extrovert traits, such as decisiveness, action orientation, enjoyment socializing, and comfort being the center of attention.  This premium is prevalent in the academic setting, which you can read about here, and in the workplace.  In the workplace specifically, introverts can be stereotyped and some job descriptions overtly exclude them.  Consider job descriptions with the words “upbeat”, “team player”, “excellent communicator”, and “people person”.  Additionally, introverts can be actively rejected from the application process due to the dreaded personality test if they provide honest answers.

Introverts are commonly stereotyped as shy, anti-social, awkward speakers, ineffective leaders, and indecisive.  It is estimated that introverts make up one third of the general population.  So, with this clear bias against introversion, what is an introvert to do?

The answer is absolutely nothing!  Some of the most successful and famous people throughout history were introverts.  Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Marilyn Monroe, President Abraham Lincoln, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Spielberg, Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk, Michael Jordan, and the list goes on and on.  If you are an introvert, embrace it and be proud as you are in great company!

Considering some of the aforementioned stereotypes, it would be hard to argue Michael Jordan was indecisive or that Abraham Lincoln was a poor public speaker.  In the case of introverts, it is simply a matter of developing specific skills rather than pretending to be an extrovert.  Regarding President Lincoln, he trained for years to polish his public speaking abilities and the final product was impressive, as noted by The Dover Inquirer on March 9, 1860:

Mr. Lincoln spoke nearly two hours and we believe he would have held his audience had he spoken all night.

So for those of you on the introversion side of the spectrum, I salute you!  I am in awe of your abilities to see the larger picture, think outside of the box, analyze complex problems, deeply discuss topics, and develop creative solutions.  I commend your natural leanings to be independent, actively listen, intensely concentrate, and to appear somewhat mysterious!

When provided the opportunity to establish and hire teams, I actively sought both introverts and extroverts to enhance the team dynamic.  Once this dynamic is balanced, the whole team’s performance becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts.  So rather than employers avoiding introverts, they should embrace them and add a dynamic and complimentary skill-set to the extroverts on their team.

Final Thoughts

I consider myself introverted which would surprise many people whom I have met over the years.  In academia and in the workplace, I have been regarded for my communication, charisma, motivational, decision making, and leadership abilities.  I also have delivered captivating speeches and presentations when called upon to audiences ranging from a small gathering to hundreds of people.  Furthermore, my confidence comes across to my audience and I am dominant in many situations.  I do not fit into the standard introvert stereotype to say the least.  That is the thing about stereotypes…they are often easy to disprove.

On the other hand, I need to recharge my batteries and like to contemplate solutions to multifaceted problems by myself before engaging the larger team.   I have invented various systems, applications, and processes throughout my career.  These inventions would not have been possible if I did not embrace my introversion and spend time alone to reflect, analyze, and dissect the problem I was attempting to solve.  So, fellow introverts, do not hide your introversion, embrace it and achieve your goals!

I would admit I’m an introvert.  I don’t know why introverts have to apologize. – Bill Gross

My main lessons learned from being an introvert and successfully navigating the academic and corporate environments are as follows:

  • Understand who you are
  • Embrace your introversion
  • Do not compromise yourself
  • Be willing to train and develop in areas where you need development
  • Take yourself out of the comfort zone periodically to gauge how far you have come

Staying true to yourself in an extroverted world can be a difficult proposition.  The easier solution may appear to be mimicking the traits of the extrovert.  However, this will ultimately be a disservice to yourself.  With introspection and perseverance, you may just find that your path to success was enabled by your introversion rather than hindered by it.  Introversion is a strength, rather than a weakness.

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