A colleague and I had just finished delivering a 90-minute workshop on job search strategies for introverts. Most everyone had left the room, so we were sitting on the edge of our presentation table quietly decompressing, as we introverts are prone to do after pouring our energy into something that matters.
It was then that a lone woman walked up to us, in tears, and whispered:
Thank you. For the job hunting tips, yes, but more so for helping me realize that there’s nothing wrong with me; I’m just an introvert.
I’ll never forget those words or, especially, the raw emotion behind them — the relief and the hope and the bounce in one’s step that come with a decades-old mystery positively solved.
The same thing had happened to me several years earlier in a workshop on personality type, when I too had come to the same realization in essentially the exact same words, which I remember flashing through my head ala an electronic billboard:
There’s nothing wrong with me!
I’m just an introvert!
These personal experiences, direct and indirect, drive my work on introverts and introversion. I see myself as someone who, to the best of my ability, illuminates introverts (makes them clear, to themselves and others) and in some ways enlightens extraverts (makes them aware of introversion as a normal, healthy personality trait). I see myself as an introvert advocate, humbly trying to contribute something good to the world while freely acknowledging that I don’t have all the answers.
Unfortunately, some people are bound to see me — and anyone else who does this type of work, formally or informally — as a hopeless whiner with an incurable case of the poor me’s combined with generalized trying-too-hard disorder.
It’s happened before. While many people in my life have responded positively to the work I do and to my book The Introvert Manifesto, some just don’t understand it. Or, worse, they give it labels like “icky” or “negative.” A few people have even told me that, ironically, in a “thou doth protest too much” type of twist, I inadvertently or even subconsciously admit that something is inherently wrong with me and my fellow introverts by so frequently and vocally arguing that there is not!
It all comes with the territory, I guess. But I hate it. As marketing guru Seth Godin once put it: “Nobody says, ‘Yeah, I’d like to set myself up for some serious criticism!’” I sure don’t. And while I can stand back and admire the many people around me who seem to let criticism roll right off their backs, I’ll be honest: The negative feedback hurts and gets the best of me sometimes, especially since I know my own heart and good intentions — not to mention the truth behind my own sometimes painful experiences as an introvert in a very extraverted world, to say nothing of the painful experiences of other introverts. All of it is real. To me, at least, and to millions of others as well.
And so I will continue to take my chances in the work I do, knowing that my words and my experiences are never the truth but remembering that they are most definitely my truth as well as the shared truth of many other introverts out there.
If you’re an introvert, I encourage you to do the same. You’ll take your hits in speaking out. But remember: There’s nothing wrong with you; you’re just an introvert. And in feeling that and expressing that and embracing that, you’re not whining; you’re simply advocating.