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How to be a happy introvert in a world that rewards extroverts

The key is learning to embrace your differences.

How to be a happy introvert in a world that rewards extroverts
[Photo: Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash]

Most people think I’m an extrovert, and while they’re incorrect, their misjudgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the world seems to reward extroverts. There is a narrative that talkative people are often the life of the party and that successful people are opinionated and expressive.

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Being an introvert in an extroverted world can feel like swimming against the current. Yet, we introverts need to survive and thrive in a world where others are less likely to be like us. Introversion, of course, is about where you get your energy. It’s not about how loudly you laugh or how many friends you have. These characteristics may be related to an overall set of personality traits, but introversion and extroversion are fundamentally about what you turn for rejuvenation. Do you recharge by being on your own, or do you need to spend time with others?

The world frequently wants to make introverts into extroverts. From the youngest ages, parents socialize their children in playgroups or appreciate preschool for the ways their children learn to relate to others. Of course, social skills are critical to both introversion and extroversion. Empathy and cooperation, for example, are essential no matter who you are.

What to appreciate about introverts

There are plenty of ways that introverts excel. For starters, we tend to be very good at reflection. In his book Deep Work, computer science professor Cal Newport recommends focusing and concentrating without distraction. If this is your skill, it is a gift to be nurtured. Empathy, problem-solving, and innovation require thinking that that goes beyond the superficial. Many introverts are also able to tap into their creativity and also think independently. Sometimes creativity comes out in brainstorming sessions with large groups of people, but other times, it comes out in solitude and consideration. Marinating on an idea can be the key to the eureka moment from which innovations flow. Lastly, introverts are an empathetic bunch. Expressing appreciation and empathy to team members is critical for groups to work together effectively.

Of course, not all introverts will possess these characteristics. It’s worth noting that personality exists in nuances and that most people have a combination of introverted and extroverted traits. There are plenty of introverts who don’t have these characteristics and lots of extroverts who do. The differences between individuals are so much more meaningful than the similarities we ascribe to groups.

The importance of being yourself—no matter who you are

Ultimately, being able to thrive comes down to appreciating whatever it is that makes you unique—especially if it’s a characteristic that doesn’t match the masses. Here’s how to live well with yourself no matter how you’re exceptional:

  1. Know yourself. This maxim from the Oracle at Delphi—ancient Greece—is still apt. Be self-aware, appreciate your gifts, and know your limits to set personal boundaries. Find work that is a great fit and to which you’re able to bring your best.
  2. Be confident. Affirm yourself and visualize success. Find work that is the best fit for your unique skills. Worry less about what others think, and do what makes you happiest and which serves others.
  3. Stretch. Rather than using your difference as a crutch or an excuse, use it as a starting point for stretching, adapting, and engaging wit new things. A recent study by the University of California Riverside investigated whether acting like an extrovert would produce more positive feelings than acting like an introvert. It did. This research shows that stretching outside your comfort zone can be a good thing. Don’t compromise who you are, but do expand your talents by appropriately pushing yourself.
  4. Embrace mistakes. Stretching yourself may result in a misstep here or there, so don’t strive for perfection. Instead, focus on your own learning. If you stumble, pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Reflect on your actions so you can be more effective next time.
  5. Appreciate others. In the process of appreciating your own gifts and talents, recognize the unique contributions of others. Happiness is linked with the gratitude and connections you have with colleagues. So, no matter what your style, appreciate both yourself and others.

Whether you’re an introvert or not, appreciate the gifts introverts contribute—from deep thinking, creativity, and innovation to empathy. But most of all, bring the best of yourself. Know yourself, be confident, stretch—even if you make mistakes—and connect with others. These are great contributors to happiness and effectiveness, no matter what your personality trait may be.

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Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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