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