I’m an introvert.
It was my birthday last weekend, and it got me thinking about how much I’ve grown in recent years. The person I am today is a fundamentally different human being from the person I was 10 years ago.
I’ve realized that one key ingredient in the process is that phrase: I’m an introvert. I didn’t become an introvert in the last decade. I’ve always been an introvert. The foundational shift for me has been recognizing and embracing that truth about myself.
A common misconception about introverts is that we don’t like people, or that we’re shy and socially awkward. Some of us may be these things–and that’s okay!–but that’s not what makes us introverted.
It’s all about energy. I’m going to let Schroeder Jones take this one:
It’s not an A/B choice – we’re all somewhere in between.
I’m not completely on the introverted side of the scale, but I’m pretty close. I also really love people (most of the time).
As an introvert who loves people (and who, as a result, most people don’t think of as an introvert), accepting that I’m an introvert and figuring out how to manage my energy accordingly has been hugely unlocking for me.
There are three practices in particular that have made me a happier and (I think) more successful people-loving introvert, friend and colleague.
Practice #1: Telling people I’m an introvert.
Knowing that most people still tend to think introvert = shy & antisocial, this was a tough habit to get into. But it’s been by far the most important for me.
When I’m sharing this about myself, I try to explain what it might mean to the person I’m speaking with:
“Since we’re spending two days together at this team retreat, I want you to know that I’m going to need to have a bit of time on my own. It’s not anything to do with you or anyone else—I just need to recharge my batteries. It’s what I need to be most effective in our work together.”
Opening this conversation still feels a bit odd and uncomfortably personal, especially in work settings. But it’s worth it.
I’ve found that sharing this piece of myself has made my relationships with colleagues and friends stronger, and has created space to discuss other elements of what’s working (or not) as time goes on.
Plus, the more I practice, the easier it gets.
Practice #2: Recognizing when people are reacting to my introversion VS to me as a person.
There’s a common theme in feedback I receive:
- ½ the time, I hear “Sam’s a great communicator, open, adaptable and easy to talk to.”
- ½ the time I hear “Sam’s cold and aloof, she can be unapproachable and intimidating.”
For ages, I couldn’t wrap my head around it: how could I be both easy to talk to and unapproachable? Open and aloof? Who am I? WHAT AM I???
After years of fumbling for an answer, the coach I’m working with as part of this amazing fellowship helped me turn on the lights.
“What do you make of that feedback?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “It’s confusing.”
He grinned, “You know what was the first thing I realized about you after I read those comments?”
I shook my head.
“You’re an introvert.”
It clicked: these comments aren’t necessarily about “me” as a person, they’re about how I’m managing my energy.
- The people who’ve found me to be aloof and cold? They’re remembering catching me in moments when my energy was low, leaving me ill-equipped to interact effectively with others.
- The people who’ve found me open and easy to talk to? They’ve met me at peak energy for people.
For the first time, I understand that becoming the best version of myself isn’t necessarily about changing these specific characteristics. It’s more about managing my energy more effectively, so that I’m most often interacting with others when my batteries are fully charged.
Practice #3: Accepting my “me” time is sacred. There is no substitute.
I’m a curious person. Especially in a city like Toronto, there’s always something I want to do or see or taste or make. I’m also blessed with a mass of fun, generous, interesting friends that I want to learn from and hang out with.
I’m fortunate in that, if I wanted to have something on the go every evening of the week, I could.
But if I do, without taking time for myself… look out.
I. become. A GRUMP.
To put it mildly.
I (and some of those friends, whom I love so dearly, thankyouthankyou) have learned this the hard way.
It’s my job to make sure I get what I need. No one is responsible for managing my energy but me. I’m still learning how to say “no”, how to tell people that I can’t make it this evening because I have a date with myself – or to be comfortable not justifying my polite decline at all.
I haven’t figured it out yet.
But the more I practice, the happier I am. I’m a better friend, I have more energy and I find myself able to soak in the fullness of the awesome things I do choose to do with others.
I like that I’m an introvert.
I like that I have fun by myself, and with other people. It’s taken the last decade to embrace that, and I’m sure it’ll take another (and possibly a lifetime) to really learn how to bring out the best in myself.
Luckily, I’m also pretty sure it’s going to be a good one.