6th Grade. Clarendon School. First day of Mrs. Domini’s class.
“Besides your homework, a big part of your grade will be class participation,” she announced.
I didn’t hear anything she said after that.
Asking me to raise my hand and make comments or ask questions in class was like asking me to bungee jump off a bridge blindfolded. It was possible, but traumatic.
I wanted good grades, so I knew I had to make it happen. Every morning, I’d listen to the topic and try to figure out something I could say.
It wasn’t because I had valuable comments.
It was because I wanted the grade.
I’d spend the next hour or so building up my courage. Then, when the tension was too great, I’d shoot my hand up in the air, wait for her to call on me, and blurt out my comment.
It was over. The pressure was off. I had made it through another day, and could relax until it started all over again tomorrow.
I was a pretty good student, and actually liked most of what I was learning. But I was what we now call an “internal processor.” I learned by thinking, not talking. When I thinking of something to contribute, I wasn’t learning – I was performing.
All these years later, when someone asks me something, I often don’t immediately know how to answer. I have to ponder for a while until my thoughts come together, then I can share those thoughts.
I was an introvert. Mrs. Domini was an extrovert.
I didn’t hear the term “introvert” until years later. But I was in an environment where talking was much more valued than thinking. I always felt like there was something wrong with me, and I had to become more vocal and outgoing if I was going to navigate this life thing.
I wondered why it was so hard. Why couldn’t I just be like those other people that seemed so confident?
Because I wasn’t them.
I had to realize the value that only an introvert has to offer.
Sure, it’s important to learn to communicate. I’ve spent my entire life focused on communication and relationships, and it’s what I’ve written and spoken about for years. But it’s only effective in the context of who we are. Anyone can learn to communicate effectively, but it has to be through their natural temperament, not trying to become someone else.
I can strap a set of wings on a turtle and say, “Go for it! You can fly! Look what great views you’ll have!” Well-meaning, but futile. Maybe I could motivate that turtle to do more exploring and move beyond what he normally does, but it’ll always be on the ground.
Each of us has been created uniquely so we can live like nobody else can live. When we try to become something we’re not, we rob the world of our unique contribution.
Extroverts tend to think faster. Introverts tend to think deeper.
Are you an introvert? Celebrate it. Build your communication skills, but don’t try to change your temperament. Become the best “you” possible so you can capitalize on your unique strengths.
Are you more outgoing? Recognize that the quiet people have a level of thinking that’s priceless, but you can’t just grab it and yank it out. You have to mine it like diamonds – and like diamonds, the value makes it worth the effort.
What’s the best way to celebrate quiet people? It’s pretty simple:
- Recognize that each of us is unique, and we each bring something unique to life.
- Celebrate quiet people for who they are, then explore them like crazy.
You’ll be amazed at the hidden treasure you’ll find!
If you’re an introvert, what would you add? Share your comments below.
Want more help understanding introverts (whether it’s you or someone else)? Listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk called “The Power of Introverts” or pick up her bestselling book, Susan Cain: Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Hardcover); 2012 Edition.
Next week: Part 4 – What to Do in Case of an Extrovert