My job as a field instructor for a wilderness school in the Colorado Rockies was in some ways the perfect job for an introvert: long periods of time in wild places away from the distractions of modern society.
In other ways it was an absolute nightmare: 24 hours, 7 days a week of being “on” facilitating a group of people. It was sheer joy mixed with utter, soul crushing self-doubt.
In retrospect, over fifteen years later, there is so much I wish I could share with my 20-year-old self about that job.
During those years instructing, I wasn’t even aware of the term introvert, nor did I know that I very much was one. All I knew was I felt vastly different from the other staff. While they were cracking jokes, vying to be the one answering questions at staff training, and facilitating fun group games, I was in the corner making lists of how I was not like the majority of my cohort.
I internalized these feelings, and despite all of the positive feedback from peers and supervisors about my teaching skills, technical knowledge, and ability to facilitate a group, I felt a deep sense of “less than.”
I constantly compared myself to my extroverted co-workers. I failed to recognize the unique gifts I brought to the role.
I have since found a greater sense of understanding and peace with my introversion and with what I can contribute in both my personal and professional lives. If I could go back to my younger self, I would offer a compassionate hug and tell her to not be so damn serious about things.
I would remind her that as an introvert, she has so much to offer, like:
Introverts have the ability to connect interpersonally on a rich and deep level.
I excelled at connecting one-on-one with students. This often led to great conversations and a higher level of connection that students valued. One of the most often repeated pieces of feedback I received from student evaluations was: “Amy was a great listener, I really felt seen by her”, or some iteration of that sentiment. There is a strong element of power and healing in the act of feeling seen by another.
The world needs a wide variety of role models in leadership positions.
Not everyone relates to the typical “leader” that we have in our western society (i.e. extroverted, aggressive, directive, fast to speak, etc.). People often relate to and find inspiration in leaders that have similar characteristics to themselves. Since over 30 percent of the population is introverted, it would make sense that we need introverts in leadership roles to serve as role models.
Introverts and highly sensitive people tend to have a keen ability to notice and pick up on the finer nuances in group dynamics.
During staff check-ins, I would often be surprised that my co-workers would miss out on some of the group dynamics bubbling beneath the surface. Since introverts tend to be observers and take in details, I was aware of negative dynamics, and I found healthy ways to address them, before things got problematic.
The world is a loud place and people often value the quiet voice.
Once I found confidence in my voice, I realized that my team appreciated the well-placed and thoughtful additions I added to meetings. I didn’t go for quantity with my comments, but I did go for quality. This became apparent, and I gained respect from my colleagues for my perspective.
We introverts often feel extremely alienated in work settings. It’s easy to internalize this feeling of separateness and lose sight of all we have to offer. Professional settings benefit from a wide range of personality types and perspectives. It’s a matter of finding peace with who we are and finding ways to play to our strengths.
Whether on a dusty trail in the Colorado Rockies or a crisp boardroom in New York City, please remember we “quiet people” are so important, and dare I say, needed.
Never doubt this.
Image credit: Kubra Kactioglu