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What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Finding Success As An Introvert

Ask any of my primary school classmates, and they’ll tell you: I was shy.

Painfully so.

Like, couldn’t-make-eye-contact-with-extended-family kind of shy.

I spent my early life in the safe space of a library. Always reading, always writing, rarely speaking.

But there was a slight problem…

I had big, all-consuming, contradictory goals: I wanted to travel, lead teams and, ultimately, have an AMAZING career. But how exactly? I didn’t have a goddamn clue.

Here’s the thing: Nobody tells you that, as an introvert, you can have a big life.

Nobody says, “Hey, I know that you may not have a lot of confidence, but that means you have so many other awesome traits!” Nobody helps you see that, actually, being introverted comes with MANY perks. (Like creativity, reliability, commitment…I could go on.)

Instead, if you’re introverted, you’re made to feel like the big, exciting parts of life aren’t for you. Sorry, darling. Learn to lean in, they say, or lean the fuck out of the game. Network, they say, or else have a low net worth for life.

And while there’s some truth to those statements — “leaning in” and networking can get you somewhere — I want to shed light on the other side of the coin. My side of the coin (and I’m sure many of yours).

That introvert I mentioned earlier? The one who couldn’t look her own extended family members in the eye without shying away? Well, things have changed a little since then…

I’ve been on panels and spoken in front of rooms filled with people. I’ve networked at 10 Downing Street, traveled the world on business, led talented teams, presented to big shot businesspeople, landed dream jobs. And I have actually ENJOYED myself in the process.

How? By showing up to something. By staying for five minutes. Then ten minutes. Then, eventually, an hour. By making an effort to ask people questions, even when it feels overwhelming. Especially when it feels overwhelming. By realizing that nobody’s looking that closely at my crimson cheeks. By smiling and making eye contact. By viewing things as opportunities rather than obstacles.

By trying. Always trying. 

If you’re introverted, I want you to know that you can be successful because of, not in spite of, your nature. Know that you bring a ton of skills to the table, like the ability to think first and speak second. Know that you are needed and valued, arguably more than ever. Know that researchers have found that having an extroverted personality isn’t necessary for being a high performer, even if others believe it is. Just read this excerpt from the Harvard Business Review when in a study about what makes a successful CEO:

When we compared the qualities that boards respond well to in candidate interviews with those that help leaders perform better, the overlap was vanishingly small. For example, high confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO but provides no advantage in performance on the job. In other words, what makes candidates look good to boards has little connection to what makes them succeed in the role.

Sure, your shyness may never fully go away, but who says you have to change? Who says you need to be defined by your past experiences?

We tell ourselves stories based on our earliest memories. We’ve believed over and over that we’re shy, unconfident, or introverted. But only you can decide whether you’ll allow those stories to keep defining you or not.

I’m still, in many ways, an introvert. I need alone time (and lots of it). I rarely drink, as I hate the lack of control. And honestly? I think a small part of me will forever dread social events. But the point is, I show up anyway, because I love how much it’s benefitted my career. I show up, insecurity and introvertness and all, and I use my voice. 

This confidence thing? It’s like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. 

Bianca is a writer sharing honest musings on careers, creativity, money and more. She has interned at Vogue, consulted some of the biggest names in branding and e-commerce and currently leads the copywriting team at TripAdvisor. Follow her via her blog and on Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

  • HL

    I really appreciate the intent and positivity of this article but can we please, please stop using introversion and shyness interchangeably? They are NOT the same thing. This article is about shy people, not introverts. Introversion is a *preference* for being alone. We feel drained by socializing and need time alone to recharge, but we don’t all have social anxiety. Myself and many introverts I know are perfectly comfortable holding conversations and speaking to strangers, it just takes a lot more energy out of us to be around people. You can also enjoy being around people and be shy.

    Sorry for the rant, but as a lifelong introvert, I think it’s important to know the difference. This was a great pep talk, though!

    • Emily

      I would also add that neither being an introvert nor being shy are necessarily synonymous with lacking confidence.

      • Wolf

        And I’d like to add: not all introverts are the same.
        “being introverted comes with MANY perks. Like creativity” for you, maybe. I also consider myself an introvert person, but I#m absolutely not creative. I’m an engineer, and I enjoy working with stuff that is purely logical and follows rules.

  • Kimberly Redway

    Hi Bianca,

    I have needed this blog post for sometime and I especially needed it today. As someone who is both shy and an introvert it can be difficult as it often feels the world is full of extroverts. My confidence fluctuates but I also have big dreams but I’m not always great at communicating this. People make assumptions based on how much they believe I’ve contributed but I’m a great listener and learn a lot about people. I am currently studying again and it often feels like being in the deep end. Yet, what I am learning is that my greatest strengths, while not what people expect of leaders and decision makers are actually pushing me forward.

    I understand that not every struggles as an introvert. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be alone but it can be difficult to explain this to other people this desire. I just wanted to say thank you.

  • Clytamnestra Dunge

    i’m happy for you that things worked out the way you wanted.

    But i honestly feel little desire to travel the world or lead any teams. And if that hinders my career opportunities then so be it. (since i’m not a moron i choose a job in which you can make decent money without advanced people-skills)

    I wish people would stop claiming that *insert negative characteristic* is a secret superpower: some shy people are jerks, some shy poeple are loyal, some loud people are jerks, some loud people are loyal.

    ceo-hiring-teams are crappy at their job? well duh.
    i subscribe to the idea that ‘western democracy’ as a whole gives cocksure psychopaths waaay to much power.

  • Maddog

    Live big!!!

    https://www.maddogslair.com/blog/live-big

    Bianca is undoubtedly on to something. Many deep introverts are given poor advice about life, jobs, and careers. They are commonly misunderstood by their peers, and family as well. As an example, extroverts frequently perceive their introverted children as if they are extroverts who are shy. They are not. Telling kids that their problem is they do not get out and mingle enough with others is not helpful if the child finds groups of people draining. It would be better to show the child that individual pursuits whether music, art, intellectual or sport might be a better outcome. Psuedo-team sports like swimming are a good bridge offering the child plenty of time in the water alone, but periods of team activity which helps socialize them into team activities.

    One should not mistake introversion and shyness, as they are not synonyms. The primary difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts expend energy when in groups, while extroverts gain energy. Conversely, introverts gain energy when alone or with one or two others, and extroverts lose energy when alone. Introverts also tend to enjoy deep analytical conversations about specific issues, often about things, while extroverts enjoy more shallow but broader conversations which usually wind around relationships or people.

    These personality traits exist on a spectrum. However, it appears that there are 2x or 3x more extroverts compared to introverts.

    One of the best ways to live big as an introvert is to understand that you are likely more analytical than extroverts, and you do exceptionally well when faced with problems which require prolonged periods of solitude. If you want to be the first person to Mars, you really should be an introvert.

    I am an introvert, today a gregarious introvert, although I was not always so gregarious, that was learned. It pays for both introverts and extroverts to expand their ability to exist in the opposite sphere. As far as I can tell, introverts have an easier time of being in groups than extraverts have being alone (extraverts frequently become depressed if alone, while introverts only become tired when forced into group activities). I would suggest expanding your comfort zone but do not think that you as an introvert will become a networking glad-hander, that is unlikely.

    It is difficult to live bigger than by taking a long, solo, wilderness kayak or backpacking expedition or engaging in something similar. This is something introverts excel at, but extroverts do not. Get out, do something, live big.

    https://www.elitereaders.com/man-climbed-mt-everest-alone-goran-kropp/
    In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific

    https://www.amazon.com/Wake-Jomon-Mariners-Voyage-Pacific/dp/007147465X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511305937&sr=8-1&keywords=in+the+wake+of+the+jomon

    I met Göran Kropp in the mid-1990s shortly after he finished his bike/climb expedition, he was a very young man then. I find it difficult to believe he is gone. Jon Turk, John Dowd, and Ed Gillette were a few of my inspirations to become a long distance sea kayaker. Gillette’s story is unbelievable, see below. Adventurers are nearly always introverts. Only they can handle the prolonged solitude and stress. No one lives bigger.

    (“On June 25, 1987, Ed Gillet (3) departed alone from Monterey, California in a production Necky Tofino double laden with 600 pounds of food and gear with the intention of mostly sailing his way to Hawaii. However, it was an El Nino year and the anticipated trade winds and currents failed him. Gillet spent less time using his parafoil sail than actually paddling the ‘Bananafish’.

    He carried desalinization equipment to ensure a fresh water supply. But when he lost his radio on week two, with it went all contact with the outside world for the remaining eight weeks. When Gillet failed to appear by his predicted arrival window his family flew into a frenzy. They unsuccessfully lobbied the Coast Guard to search for him. Sixty-three days after his departure and four days after he ran out of food, suffering from 40 hours of sleep deprivation and subject to winds and currents driving him north, past the islands, Gillet steered in a hallucinatory dawn into Kahului Harbor and landed on Maui Beach.

    Gillet lost a mere 25 pounds. Legend has it he survived at least partially on toothpaste. Gillet calls it;

    “…a life raft experience. It amazes me, when I think back on it, that I didn’t die,” he says. “It doesn’t amaze me that I paddled to Hawaii—that’s more or less a straightforward thing to do. You make the mileage, you paddle your boat, you get there. It’s benign at that time of year: You don’t have hurricanes at the latitudes I was traveling at. But physically, I’m still amazed I was able to withstand that kind of punishment.”

    Despite advances in technology, Gillet’s 2,200-mile Pacific journey remains so epic none have ever tried to match it. A few kayakers have achieved greater mileage, but not on an open-water crossing of the Pacific.”)

    In career, it pays for introverts to find fields which allow them to work in small teams or alone. It will be difficult for the introvert to function at high capacity for 65+ hours per week in large groups while continually networking, and gladhanding. On the other hand, there are many jobs which suit the introvert.

    https://www.personalityclub.com/blog/twenty-high-paying-jobs-for-introverts/

    Perhaps the best thing anyone can do is to understand their personality honestly. While the Briggs-Meyer pretends to do this, it does not. However, Professor Jordan Peterson and his team have created a personality test based on the Big 5 personality traits which can help you assess your essential personality traits. While introversion/extroversion is a critical personality trait, IQ and conscientiousness are likely more vital to understand for work success.

    https://understandmyself.com

    One parting thought, as an introvert it is a good idea to pair match one’s self with a mate who compliments one’s personality by completing it not limiting it. While I am an introvert, my wife is an extrovert. I am more open; she is less. We are both off the chart on consciousness and nearly at zero for neuroticism. As expected she is more agreeable, I less. In the end, this division has left each of us in our sweet spot. We each do the things we most enjoy while the other takes care of the things we like least.

    I hope this complimented the article.

    Mark Sherman

  • Jay0623

    The responses to this are excellent — there is a difference between introversion and shyness, and understanding the limits of what you can expect yourself to do on a daily basis (and where you have the ability to grow) versus what you would just drive yourself into the ground trying to accomplish is a huge thing!

    I’d also add that, in response to the people recommending the Myers-Briggs test, it’s accurate in a lot of cases but often the Enneagram produces more accurate results for introverted folk. Myers-Briggs pegged me as an INTJ, which wasn’t inaccurate, but was also more a result of how my Aspergers traits influence my behaviors than my underlying personality — the Enneagram assigns a base “type” (ie, how you’re wired) and a “wing” expression of that type (ie, how that base personality expresses itself most frequently), which produces a profile with more room for subtlety. Which, ultimately, was more helpful in understanding myself.