When you’re on a mission to turn your big ideas into reality but you’re also an introvert who prefers to listen rather than speak, it can be difficult to navigate how to get your message out. It’s the eternal struggle of bold introverts—quiet ones who have something to say.
The most important thing to understand is that being an introvert does not mean you are broken. You’ve been asked to play a game of checkers when what you have are chess pieces. It’s the same board but a different game. Introverts have unique and powerful strengths. When you use those strengths instead of trying to swap them for someone else’s checker pieces, you set yourself up to succeed on your own terms.
Here are a few strategies to help you get there.
Lean into your strengths
Our culture is governed by an extrovert ideal. Many introverts think that to get ahead, they must become extroverts. This view is not only narrow, but it’s also naive. To do their best work, introverts must leverage their strengths instead of allowing them to atrophy.
Understand that this isn’t about skills. Strengths and skills are not that same things. Curiosity is a strength; building a website is a skill. Leadership is a strength; public speaking is a skill. Look at the parts of yourself that demonstrate the content of your character in action over time.
Begin by cultivating a list. Think of the last thing you did that you were proud of, and mine it for the strengths that underpinned your success. Was it perseverance or social intelligence? Then look at the last big challenge that you overcame and dig up the gold there as well. Did you leverage your creativity or humor? Do this for as long as it takes to notice a pattern of recurring strengths.
Creating this list of strengths gives you a resource to turn to every time you come up against a challenge.
Harness the power of your passion
A photo of a man wearing a shirt that reads “introvert but willing to talk about plants” is popping up on social media. It’s a funny picture but it’s also powerful because every introvert has their own version of this statement. Ironically, mine would read “introvert but willing to talk about introverts.”
In the moments when the pressure is on, focus on what your shirt would say. Ask yourself what excites you about the message you have to deliver. Why does getting your idea out matter? Who will be affected by it? (Bonus points if those affected have less power than you do.) Imagine that you are speaking to one of these people—not to an audience of nameless faces, but to one person who needs to hear what you need to say.
Learn to use your anxiety
Evidence shows that squashing down anxiety is an ineffective way of dealing with it. Instead, working to transform anxiety into excitement can yield extraordinary results. I recommend Adam Grant’s book Originals to all my bold introvert clients. In it, Grant does an excellent job explaining the process of converting anxiety. Our systems go on the fritz when we try to stomp out a powerful emotion. It’s easier and more effective to transform one strong emotion into another. Harnessing the energy of your anxiety allows you to channel it to bring your ideas to life. Step on the gas instead of pumping the breaks.
Ask for help
Yes, I said it. Ask for help.
This can be a struggle for introverts for several reasons. It might be an unwillingness to relinquish your white-knuckle control over the outcome. Impostor syndrome or garden-variety perfectionism may be creeping in. Whatever the case, bring compassion to it. If you don’t have all the answers or enough mental real estate to dedicate to a project on your own, it’s okay. What’s not okay is letting your inner critic start to spout narratives about how you’re not working hard enough.
If you don’t feel like you can tackle the speech, ask someone if they are up for being a copresenter. Better yet, see if you can make it a round table. Introverts love to listen and build off of ideas. Many are also wonderfully gifted at synthesizing information and churning out breakthroughs and paradigm-shifting perspectives. Use your strengths. Play chess, not checkers.
Know that you’re not going to die
Being seen is not going to kill you. Returning to the speech-giving example, what’s the absolute worst-case scenario? You get up and your speech bombs and you somehow manage to offend not only every person in the audience but every person in your field. You have to stop working because no one will hire you and you lose your home and find yourself without a penny to your name and nowhere to turn—alone and teetering on the brink of death.
Now, ask yourself this question: Is it true? Of course not. The fall out of a failure would not even come close to your worst-case scenario. So truly, what do you have to lose? Except for your dreams and maybe a tiny slice of your ego, not much.
Introverts living in an extrovert world represent an untapped wellspring of ideas and innovation. When we learn to champion our ideas, strengths, and value, everyone stands to benefit. Take the time to practice strategies for being seen, and watch what happens. You might just surprise yourself.
Angela Schenk is a success coach for bold introverts, writer, and founder of Quiet Creative, LLC. She is focused on helping bold introverts—the quiet ones who have something to say—get their ideas out of their heads and into the world.