Introvert in an extrovert world

We are living in an extrovert world. (I can’t help but Madonna singing ‘material girl’).  It’s how we get attention.  We’ve taught our kids to speak up, not to be shy, and be bold.  Media tells us that the person willing to be the loudest will win the reality show, get the recording contract, get hits on YouTube, etc…In grad school, we were encouraged to find our voice, choose a research area, and set the framework for a lifetime (**gulp**) of work.

All through my high school years and early college days, I was an extrovert.  Meyers-Briggs confirmed it time and time again….But something happened.  I became an introvert.  I didn’t become one overnight.  I had always been shy as a child.  So shy, I wouldn’t even say hello to the bus driver who drove me to and from school for a decade.  Incidentally, he was also my neighbor, living up the road from me. Now, if you’re reading this and you’ve only known me during college (undergrad/grad school) you may be thinking “no way! she says whatever she wants.”  You’re right–because I’m comfortable with you.  If you judge me at this point, that’s officially your problem, not mine.  I do say what I think, I do have strong opinions, and I usually have no problem sharing them with folks.

Where did the introvert come back?  Awkward situations? No. New people? No. It came back everywhere.  Was it age?  Perhaps.  But after I realized that my introverted nature was returning, I visited the Meyers-Briggs again to confirm, my “E” had shifted to an “I” somewhere along the way.

Sure, everyone is a little awkward, and new people are always more conservative until they feel someone out for a good/bad vibe, but maybe it was grad school.  My job was to observe people for non-verbal behaviors.  It was NOT to speak to them, but merely observe them in their ‘natural habitat’ (picture an episode of Nature and the narrator saying, “when you look at the lion perched and looking for prey….”).

Forbes shared a piece on introverts that I really liked reading.  Maybe we have been ‘over media-ed’ to death and are used to seeing the bubbly, shining, outgoing people on the tv and the computer, giving no recognition to the folks that help get them there.  It might be time in our society and culture to start celebrating the quiet, the respectful, the character of introverts.  Society is doing something wrong, so is it that we’re forcing everyone to be an extrovert and seek all of the attention?

Academia can be the same way.  The squeaky wheel often gets the grease.  There is something to be said for academia and the introvert though.  The best ideas don’t come at work, they come at the gym, getting groceries, observing others interacting, or a host of other situations.  Academia, in some ways, was made for introverts.  We go home to our families, pets, and life each day and it gives us time to do something else.  We lock ourselves away to write, meet submission deadlines, and put ourselves up for judgment when we teach, face colleagues, or tenure.  Academia helps the introvert by letting us ‘go away’ and technology exasperates the issue because we don’t have to see people unless we need too.

Do we all have to put on our extrovert face from time-to-time?  Of course.  But, if you’re like me, you’re counting down the hours until you can go back to being an introvert again.  Some people have coined us as ‘loners’ or ‘stand off’ or ‘rude’ or ‘unfriendly’ but you know what–we like being quiet.  We like being alone.  We’re not going to chase you down for some admiration and attention.  We’re going to keep on going.

Perhaps that’s why we love the weekends so much, not just introverts, but everyone–we get to be ourselves.  There’s a country song that sings, “I don’t have to be me until Monday” and maybe that’s the secret.  From M-F, we have to be more extroverted, be more assertive, and pretty much everything else.  Job interviews are the ultimate in NOT channeling yourself (for another post), but on Saturday and Sunday (and part of Friday if you’re lucky), you get to be who you really are….that’s why “everybody’s workin’ for the weekend….” even the academics!

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4 thoughts on “Introvert in an extrovert world

  1. David S says:

    I followed that Forbes news article and found a nice academic article about how introvert leaders are more effective than extrovert leaders when employees are proactive (and the opposite when they’re passive). http://www.management.wharton.upenn.edu/grant/GrantGinoHofmann_AMJ2011.pdf

    I guess that that may affect the types of grad students that an academic works best with.

  2. […] loudest mouth gets the crumbs and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when will being a polite or introverted person come back in style?  I, for one, can’t wait and it can’t come soon […]

  3. […] am, will be, and promise to always remain an introvert. I just can’t help it. I can be extroverted at times, but I’ve claimed my spot as an […]

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