My name is Rachael and I am an introvert. There, I said it.
The point is not that you can probably tell. It is that some people don’t get what the big deal is. Not yet, at least.
Until recently, introverts were frequently associated with words like shy, quiet, antisocial and awkward. They were also described as being uptight, weird, moody and lacking authority or confidence.
And believe me, I’ve had many such terms labelled on me growing up that it drove me up the wall. The thing is, I didn’t consider myself frightened of people or had a problem voicing out my thoughts if I wanted to. I didn’t think I was particularly shy; people just told me I was. Which was why as a child it used to confuse me about what was, for want of a better word, ‘wrong’ with me.
Picture this: your report card is filled with remarks about how you did well in class but you were ‘quiet’ or ‘shy’. As if it was something to ‘fix’. Many remedy this by pretending to be extroverts because that was expected of them. After all, introverts only make up an estimated 25% of the world’s population. It didn’t help that for years the World Health Organisation and American Psychiatric Association classified introversion as a mental health disorder.
By definition, introversion is a preference for environments that are not too stimulating and a tendency to focus one’s energy internally. This of course exists on a sliding scale, so there are different degrees of introversion. Some verge on the extreme; others have no trouble being chatty but their social battery runs out faster than their outspoken counterparts and they take more time to recharge.
Thankfully with research today, perceptions have changed. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote Caring For Your Introverts, an article debunking myths surrounding introversion. However, particularly in schools and the workplace, there is still the incorrect assumption that extroverts make well-adjusted individuals and better employees or leaders, even though this trait is no indication of quality of work or competence. If anything, people with more introverted qualities tend to think before they act, face situations calmly and are good listeners. Barack Obama, Warren Buffett and Albert Einstein would agree with me.
I’m not saying that introverts are being oppressed or that either of these traits is better than the other. The point is that we are being amalgamated in a world where it is okay to be different (well, hopefully). So it shouldn’t matter if someone is an extrovert or an introvert – both have strengths we should embrace.