Finding the words to call myself something other than “the person who doesn’t talk” or who “isn’t participating” means I open up more room for self-love.
When I first heard the word “introvert,” I was in a high school physics class. The teacher was discussing how he would grade our participation — and, per usual, whenever “participation” was mentioned in a class, I felt like crawling under my desk. My version of participation — reading, writing, actually doing the classwork — meant something different from that of my extroverted classmates, and I was still hoping that, maybe one day, I’d learn how to speak up just like them.
But this class was different.
“I can’t grade you on how much you talk in class,” the teacher explained, “because some students are extroverts and some students are introverts, and that’s not fair to the introverts — they have all the right answers in their heads, but the extroverts are the ones who talk.”
I felt my jaw drop open. In that moment, that teacher literally changed my life. I was exactly the type of student he described: I knew all the answers, but for some inexplicable reason, I could never shout them out. And here was a teacher, understanding me for being my thoughtful, quiet self.
Figuring out what an introvert was — and finally understanding that I fit in, and even belonged — was the first step in a journey of not wanting to grow out of being my wonderfully quiet, introverted self. Here’s how.
4 Ways to Stop Wanting to ‘Grow Out’ of Being an Introvert
1. Realize that words matter when it comes to the way people talk about introverts.
Did you know that introverts make incredible leaders? And teachers? And artists? People like Georgia O’Keeffe, Angela Merkel, and Stacey Abrams are all introverts! That’s pretty impressive, right?! But it shouldn’t be too surprising — introverts have amazing strengths. And to someone who can’t see inside my head, it might not look like I’m doing that much, but I promise: My thoughts are incredible. Figuring out that we are amazing in our own right gave me the permission I needed to embrace my introvert self.
I can create stories, process the world, learn new things, and make art, all without ever leaving the safe, beautiful space that is my brain. Why would I ever want to change that about myself? What’s more, the world is becoming more introvert-aware and introvert-friendly each day (just check out the Introvert, Dear blog!). More and more people are becoming like my high school physics teacher and understanding the introverts. Today, teachers are even noticing their introverted students excel in online learning. Score for the introverts!
Yet when I was a kid, the words to describe people like me were “shy,” “quiet,” “doesn’t talk very much,” and “isn’t participating.” Ouch.
When we only talk about introverts in this misconstrued, negative light, of course we want to grow out of being introverted. It feels like it’s a bad thing. Conflating and defining introversion with negative qualities hurts us.
But the magic thing is, the more that mainstream knowledge about introversion emerges, the more accepted we can feel. And as introverts know, it’s so reassuring to find that there are other people like you, who need time and quiet to recharge. The words we use to describe introverts matter: perceptive, thoughtful, good listeners… there are so many amazing ways to describe our talents. Using words that are kind and accepting to talk about the strengths of us “quiet ones” is a beautiful revolution.
Finding the words to call myself something other than “the person who doesn’t talk,” or who “isn’t participating” means that I open up so much more room for self-love, rather than trying to grow out of being who I am.
2. Learn to let go of the perception of others.
I used to think that when I became more outgoing, life would get easier. I’d never get strange glances for sitting alone, miss out on a concert I wanted to see because no one would go with me, or feel lonely in a crowded room. I find that one of the hardest things about spending time with myself is that I worry about others’ perceptions of me. What if I look strange, sitting here by myself? What if I just appear to be a loner or a loser, in need of friends? What will other people think?
But what if what I really need to do is let go of my concerns of what others are thinking? They’re going to say and feel and do exactly whatever they’re going to say and feel and do, but it’s up to me to remember that I’m amazing even if I don’t fit in with all the loud people around me. No, I have no desire to spend a day in a crowded mall with a group of people I barely know, or eat at noisy restaurants with people talking so loudly I can barely hear them. But yes, I do, in fact, want to barricade myself in a library and read books alone all day. No, I’m not weird or abnormal or a loser for doing that. And I’m not going to change.
This is one place where some of the COVID-19 lockdown measures really gave introverts an advantage: I’m able to live my life exactly as I please without being in a societal fishbowl. If I want to read without talking to anyone for a whole day straight, who’s going to be around to tell me otherwise? Or suggest that spending time alone just isn’t quite right? Absolutely no one.
It took a while to give myself permission to do things alone — I was so nervous about looking like an outcast when I went to that concert by myself! But during the pandemic, being less connected to others and their ideas of what a social life is “supposed to” look like has made me more comfortable with myself, and less prone to change my behavior based on someone else’s expectations.
Introverts are here to stay, and no, we won’t be growing out of ourselves and our introverted habits anytime soon!
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3. Create different expectations for friendships.
Finding friends who “get” me and my unique quirks — but also won’t drag me to awful parties (or any parties!) — is amazing. Friendship for us introverts is incredible and daunting and complicated. Sometimes it seemed like friends were things that happened to other people, and once I had learned how to be extroverted, maybe friendships would rain down on me, too.
But, gradually, I started to realize that having hundreds and hundreds of shallow, surface-level acquaintanceships wasn’t actually something I even wanted. Even more so, learning that I could actually adjust my expectations of friendship to fit my own needs affirmed that there was nothing “wrong” with me. What if — rather than waiting for some elusive magic moment when friendships would just fall into place and I’d become the happy, people-loving life of the party (pffft, that’s not happening) — I can alter my expectations as to what friendships are really all about?
I can’t change myself, and trying to put on an extroverted front means I’m just faking my way through friendships. That’s not really fair — to me or anyone else. But I can figure out what I want in a friendship, and what I can reasonably expect from myself to be able to put into it. For example, learning that introverts tend to value quality over quantity means I can put my energy into fostering deep and meaningful friendships, not just trying to connect with millions of people I don’t actually want to talk to, just because it seems like the right thing to do.
Similarly, do I actually want to talk on the phone with friends every day? No. Please no. Please never call me on the phone. But finding a friend who is happy to send the occasional text and then get coffee with me, while discussing the latest novels we’ve read? Yes. Yes, please. Please discuss books with me. While I had once hoped to be able to talk with everyone and not feel exhausted, I’m now realizing that saving my energy for truly special connections — not trying to turn every single acquaintanceship into a deep and lasting friendship — helps me respect myself and my friendships more.
4. Discover your introvert love(s).
I love reading. I once dated a person who didn’t, and I tried to change myself for him. I started reading less (big mistake). Needless to say, that relationship went nowhere — fast. Yet somehow I kept clinging to the idea that maybe if I could change some “wrong,” socially unacceptable aspect of myself, I’d fit in better with the world. I’d be louder, more popular, better connected, happier. Right?
But there’s nothing wrong with loving to read. Most people would actually say it’s a good thing. So why would I ever want to change that?
I hope I’ll never grow out of loving books. I hope I’ll never become a person who has changed myself so much that I’ve forgotten who I am under all those false layers put on merely to please a society that never bothered to understand me… or the rich inner world in my introvert mind… in the first place.
Find what you love about being an introvert, be it reading or gaming or crafting or daydreaming or thinking those deep, beautiful thoughts. Discover what works best for you when it comes time to recharge and what you would choose to do when given an entire blissful and uninterrupted day to yourself. And then go do it.
The world is a difficult enough place without trying to change yourself.
Find that spark, that unique spark of amazing introversion within you, and run with it. Instead of trying to change who you are, know that quiet is power. That thinking is a superpower. That you need never change for a world that isn’t yet ready for the introvert revolution, because instead, we need to be changing (and quieting down) that very same world.
Stay quiet. And never grow out of being an introvert.