Why Being an Introvert Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be a Shut-In
I always thought there was something wrong with me.
For as long as I knew the term, I knew that I was an introvert. This was only confirmed when I took a Meyers-Briggs test in college and came back a 98% introvert. The woman who analyzed the tests said this was the highest rating she had seen for someone my age.
And the test was not wrong.
I was the guy at parties who was standing in the corner quietly while everyone else was out meeting new people. My friends would invite me out to parties to “hang out” and the second we walked through the door I wouldn’t see them again until the end of the night.
So I just stopped going.
I just became their own designated driver (seriously, where was Uber back then? I would have made a fortune!).
I thought it was interesting because I could hang out with one or two friends shooting pool, usually at the expense of studying, and not miss a beat. Even four person video game sessions were normal and not much of an issue.
It really made me wonder why I was so “anti-social” at parties or other big events when meeting a bunch of new people.
The Reality of Introvert v. Extrovert
The biggest problem was that I was following the social definition of what an introvert and an extrovert are, despite neither being accurate.
Most people think of the extrovert as being some loud, life of the party type person who makes themselves the center of whatever event they are at. I had plenty of friends like this and of course compared to them I felt small, anti-social, an outcast.
But that was simply a myth. The extrovert does not need to be the life of the party, and an introvert is not always the person who hides in the corner of the room. They’re not shy, socially anxious, or judgmental as the stereotypes would like you to believe.
But with stereotypes like these you can see why someone who is introverted might feel something is wrong with them, especially when society tends to favor extroverts as the ideal personality trait. But there is nothing wrong with being introverted.
Being an introvert just means your social interactions are different. Introverts prefer small groups or one-on-one time to large gatherings. And, most importantly, they find social events to be energy taking rather than something that recharges them. Knowing this, you can see why spending time with those loud, stereotypical extroverts can be overwhelming and quickly drain and introvert of his social energy.
Recognizing this is crucial to social success and you should plan your social life around this concept.
Ruthlessly Plan Your Social Time and Alone Time
If you know what your schedule is going to be like, you can anticipate when you will need to have quiet time to recharge.
When I got to Meet-Ups, even if it’s only 5 or 6 people, I plan on being there no more than about 2 hours because by that point I know I’ll start feeling drained. A few months ago I went over that time and a friend of mine mentioned that I was looking drained (we were, ironically, talking about this subject at the time).
He was right. And I knew he was right.
Fortunately for me, I had an hour car ride home that provided some solid recharging time.
A more extreme example for me is that I would need to recharge my batteries after every baseball practice. Being surrounded by 25 other guys for 3 hours was beyond exhausting. Sometimes that meant I was missing out on some time to spend with teammates off the field, but trying to force it when you are that drained would have likely meant a poor interaction.
Instead, I would go recharge for a while and then go hang out with the team later. It allowed me to be at my best (i.e. the most socially energized) and still get some quality time in with friends.
The point is to know when you will likely be drained and plan your social life around those times. Or, if you know you have a big event coming up (i.e. birthday parties, fundraisers etc.) you know that you will need sometime before the event to charge up your social batteries before heading out there.
By planning accordingly you can maximize your social time and limit the amount of time you’re drained while out and about.
Embrace Your Quiet Side
Another bizarre stigma for introverts is how quiet they are, and how it is perceived to be a bad thing. However, you can embrace this and reap the benefits from your silence.
By actively focusing on not trying to dominate the conversation, introverts can be fantastic listeners and observers. Embrace the fact that you let others spend more time talking (usually about themselves). Not only do others enjoy the time because you make them seem interesting, but you are also saving social energy to allow you more time to be social.
Understand that you are not being shy or anti-social. You are relaxed but saving your energy so you don’t “crash” after the event. You are trying to maximize time with your friends. It is also okay to acknowledge that you may not enjoy small talk. If you would rather have deep conversations with 1 or 2 people and you’re hanging out with 10 other people, it’s okay that you won’t be talking too much.
You do not need to be the chatty one for people to enjoy spending time with you. Simply going to events, participating in the conversation once in a while and, showing that what that you are finding their conversations interesting will be more than enough for your true friends. Do not worry about anyone else.
Find People/Events that Share Similar Interests to You
One of the biggest challenges for introverts is that we hate all the idle small talk that comes with meeting new people. We would much rather skip ahead to the things that we are most passionate about, including our goals and dreams. But you obliviously don’t start out doing that with people you just met. It creates the prospect of conversations with new acquaintances being more painful than a root canal.
So one of the easiest ways to cut down on this problem is to go to places where you KNOW people will have the same interests as you.
This is a concept that we don’t always recognize and instead try to do the things that our friends do or that we are generally expected to do.
For example, I was never a big partier in college. But it was almost expected that you would go to the off-campus parties. But again, being at parties with 50, 80, 100 people in an extremely loud environment was exhausting.
It’s weird to say, but I felt alone in a house full of 100 people.
I was not enjoying them nearly as much as others or what conventional social norms expected me to. So I ended up spending more of that time either as my recharge time (usually after night practices) or with friends who weren’t going out that night. I was always down for a night of Halo or Guitar Hero battles more than beer pong (not to say I never played beer pong, but I preferred the former).
As an adult, I’ve made it a point to only go to events that I find interesting or that have people with shared interests. I do this because I’ve found that gives me an extra boost of social energy. Find things that you enjoy talking about and go to events with people who enjoy those same things, the things you can talk all day about. You’ll find people who you can enjoy spending time with and creating a social life around your life and priorities.
For me, I regularly go to events from an online mastermind community, called Ramit’s Brain Trust, where we all share similar interests in both our business/career and personal lives. I find I can spend more time with members of this group than if I go to a random bar or club on a Friday night. Where I get drained after about 90 minutes at a bar, I can talk to my friends for hours over dinner!
I no longer felt like an outsider.
Embrace The Deep Conversations
Those friends from my online mastermind group? That I can talk to for hours? We don’t waste time talking about random junk like the weather or politics. We talk about high level stuff. Such as books we’ve read, online courses we’ve taken and our future goals (such as starting a side business). These conversations can become deep as we dive into many different aspects of these topics:
The hopes & dreams.
I find these conversations to be amazing. As do most other introverts.
They’re deep, meaningful and I also can learn a lot from them. We try to find those people who we can feel comfortable not only sharing our version of the above list with, but also who will be comfortable to share those with us.
They let us shine as we can be quiet and listen while also being able to ponder the deeper meaning of what is being discussed. One of our biggest strengths as introverts is out ability to be present during conversation. It is our biggest weapon to become irresistibly engaging. We can take a slower, deeper approach to our conversations. We slow the conversation down and ponder the meaning behind each sentence.
It gives us the chance to create more powerful, relationship building conversations and less of the short, quickly changed and meaningless chit chat that we despise.
But there is a danger to such deep thinking: it takes us out of the present moment and cause us to miss out on great conversations. As one of my favorite introvert coaches, Michaela Chung, says, “it’s difficult to be engaging when you can’t see through the fog of your own thoughts.”
Instead, focus on listening intently to what the other person is saying, and then take your time to respond. By showing that you are deliberately thinking about what the other person is saying, you are giving them value by showing them that their comments are worthy of such deep thought.
Your nature as an introvert is to be curious and by taking in the other person’s words and responding, showing intense focus, is a great way to show that you find them interesting. You can do this using the “child-like wonder” technique that my friend Felicia Spahr recommends.
The child-like wonder technique consists of you getting to know more about the subject the other person is talking about by asking them “how” or “why” or “what happened next?”. But the real key to this is to actually be interested in hearing more about what the other person is saying. If you are not, you will just come off as a condescending jerk.
We know it can be difficult to thrive in a society that consistently favors extroverts. However, by knowing and playing to our strengths and designing our schedule to limit any potential challenges, you can have as vast of a social life as you truly desire.
What that does require, though, is for you to take action. So in the comments let me know what ONE change you are going to implement to start to make this happen.