In the chaos of my third-grade class, I often built an imaginary enclosure around my desk. Inside it I could work in a quiet, uninterrupted space, beyond the reach of unruly classmates and a nervous teacher whose scolding fell on deaf ears. On the walk home I had long chats with an imaginary friend, an impish elf who was as sassy and comic as I was quiet and serious.
I was studious, creative, and engaged. By the time I graduated from high school, my classmates voted me the girl “most likely to succeed”. University was a breeze, and afterward I sailed off to France on a Fulbright scholarship. Life was good, and it has just kept getting better, in spite of crashes, slides, and sharp U-turns. I’ve defined success in my own way and am edging toward 65 feeling happy about the crazy journey I’ve been on.
And I’ve done it without trying to change my nature. I figure I earned my introvert license at an early age, and I’ve renewed it on an annual basis. I’m in good company. Some 40% of the population identify themselves as introverts. You’ll find us everywhere. Among our numbers are Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Kennedy, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison, Carl Jung, Elvis Stojko, Mother Theresa, and Katharine Graham.
In a culture that values extroversion and is somewhat suspicious of what we quiet folk are up to, being an introvert isn’t always easy. We tend to go for quality rather than quantity, a few good friends rather than a large social circle. Writing is often easier for us than talking because we need time to gather our thoughts. Small groups and in-depth conversation interest us more than large parties and chat. We enjoy being with people but need a lot of solitary time to recharge our batteries.
The Internet can be a friendly place for us introverts. We can engage on our own terms. We’re not competing for air time so can jump into a conversation when we’re ready. We can do some research before we formulate an opinion. We can enjoy the give-and-take exchanges with people who share an interest even though they don’t share a location.
I give thanks every day for the Internet. It gives me hope that a lot more introverts will have an easier path to making their contributions. The world needs them.
For introverts wanting reassurance and extroverts wanting insight, here is some interesting reading:
- Susan Cain, Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic? New York Times, June 25, 2011
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts (Susan Cain’s blog)
- Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Why Introverts Can Make the Best Leaders, Forbes, November 30, 2009
- Jerry Brito, Top Ten Myths about Introverts
- Jonathan Rauch, Caring for your introvert, Atlantic, March 2003
- Brian Kim, Top 5 Things Every Extrovert Should Know about Introverts