Straight up now, tell me-are you an introvert? If someone asked me this question my answer would be yes. I have attributes that some people associate with being an introvert. I would rather work alone than with teams, I don’t enjoy being put on the spot in front of people that I don’t know unless I’m prepared-which eliminates the on the spot part. I always need a little time to recharge after being around a bunch of people, the list could go on. Being introverted, I can say has been both a blessing and a curse at times during my career.
I was reminded of what it means to be labeled an introvert recently during discussion surrounding our RA selection process. In filtering through candidates there would be the occasional comment about how an extroverted RA would reach residents better, or an introverted RA would struggle getting out and glad handing with residents. I’m sure that with certain people this is definitely the case. I’m sure that there are some introverted RAs who would struggle building community as an RA but the same could be said for an extroverted RA. I guess what I struggle with is that we in student affairs seem to want to take a chance with the extrovert and are quick to let the introvert go. This subject also hit home for me when I read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
In this book Cain explores the world of introverts-how we as a culture started to associate introvertness with certain traits, how we associate these traits with leadership and the extrovert ideal. One of the items that she describes as the extrovert ideal is the belief that “He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’”
I believe every day we have students, colleagues and other people in our lives who we wish would just put themselves out there, wish they would talk more in groups, or share ideas more frequently “’cause you have so many good things to say” (and yes I’ve heard that phrase a few times). Do we really need to wait seven seconds for the introverts? Couldn’t we wait seven seconds for the extroverts to stop talking? Those that get these messages may think they have to conform to an extrovert ideal which may feel as ridiculous and uncomfortable as putting on a heavy coat on a hot summer day.
Helping someone come out of their shell is not the same for someone who is an introvert-it’s a part of who we are. I do not feel that you can grow out of it; for someone who is introverted we will push ourselves when we are ready. For me that time came years ago through discovering how I could make my introvertness work for me through strategic interactions with people, projects and life as a whole. I can work an OPE social like no one’s business and get up in front of people and wax poetically about any topic. Yet there are many times when I feel I’m doing my best work when I am quiet and being cerebral –so when you encounter that introverted colleague, friends, student etc. pause before you ask them to put on that heavy coat.
Do you see the struggle between extroverts and introverts? Do you think introverts are too often misunderstood?