Confessions of an introvert

For many years I considered myself an extrovert. I tried to be “friends with everyone.” I won good citizen awards. I stayed on the lookout for people to please.

Home, school and church reinforced these behaviors. The more friendly, the more mature; the more mature, the more Christian. The more outgoing, the more destined for influence and success. Shyness was a pathology to overcome, not a signal to some inner strength.

Culture had laid the groundwork. If nineteenth century America was a culture of character,  twentieth century America, with the rise of movie stars and salesmanship programs, became a culture of personality. This according to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.”

Cain cites several studies that have found a third to a half of the U.S. population is introverted. By introvert, we don’t mean hermit. We don’t mean black trench coats or multiple personalities. We don’t mean anti-social.

We do mean people who get more energy from being alone or in a small group than from being in a crowd. We do mean people who think first and talk second. People who dive into a problem like a pelican toward a fish. Who prefer to write out a response than extemporaneously speak. Prefer uninterrupted concentration to multi-tasking. Working alone to working in groups.

Our “culture of personality” has left little room for the introvert’s natural habitat. Starting in kindergarten, desks are grouped into pods. High school and college students are instructed into study groups. Professional workplaces have open-aired cubicles and open door policies. The idea: the more stimulation, the better.

Not so, says Cain who claims creativity is actually stifled in group settings where the biggest egos or the most eloquent communicators lead the mass into “groupthink.” It’s no footnote, she says, that history’s two biggest technology empires were largely born of the solitary study by their introverted co-founders: Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Wozniak of Apple.

Yet business schools champion leaders who “light up the room” with larger than life personas. Students are expected to think out loud all day and mingle in social settings well into the night. A quiet evening of reflection is viewed as falling behind.

Ironically, it was in my own MBA program that I first discovered my introversion. Previously, I diagnosed my desire to work alone, my fatigue from “working a room,” my bent toward the contemplative life, as burnout or even depression.

I would self-talk myself back into a social mood with contemporary wisdom about the importance of networking. “It’s not what you know, but who you know…”

But in that graduate school class I finally allowed myself to answer a personality test relatively honestly. I didn’t try to game it into a type I believed a promising young executive should exhibit.

The result: I was one of two introverts in the 30-person class. My terror was only mitigated by the fact that the other introvert was a suave salesman of business intelligence software and arguably the coolest guy in the class.

Today, I trust my deeper desires more. I still love working with people but remember my renewal comes from being alone. I try not to forget that saying “no” to a world that can’t stop talking can mean saying “yes” to so much more.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

5 Responses to “Confessions of an introvert”


  1. 1 Derek Thurman February 24, 2013 at 23:59

    Kevin, I have been reading Cain’s book too. It was no surprise that I am an introvert but this book gives me hope that some of my best work will come in moments of silence. Thanks for sharing. Derek

  2. 2 mrdonnigeria February 25, 2013 at 02:57

    Fantastic. Don’t forget our Skypt appointment Love you Dad

    _____

  3. 3 Matt Price February 25, 2013 at 09:10

    Nice! I’m sure if we were all as honest as you many more would score on the introvert side. But, he definitely was the coolest – although I look up to you both equally. Thanks for the perspective

  4. 4 Susan Allen February 25, 2013 at 09:41

    Good yet again as always.

    Susan (Susie) Allen

    Texas Heritage Bank

    1208 S. Main

    Boerne, Texas 78006

    830-815-1043 (metro)

    830-249-3955

    830-249-3988 (fax)

    Offices in Cross Plains, Boerne and Leon Springs to serve you!!!

  5. 5 jdnetter February 26, 2013 at 11:26

    I love this. Thanks for speaking for us.


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