Thrust into the spotlight due to her husband’s career, Jill Biden is an introvert who says being a political spouse did not come naturally.
When I worked for the government, I once represented my program at a White House meeting (well, technically, it took place in the Old Executive Office Building adjoining the White House). I went through the process of going through the security gate, leaving my phone outside the room, and participating in the meeting led by White House staff. Then, like a total newbie, I asked one of the guards if it was OK if I walked around.
He said I could. Filled with touristic excitement, I peered down the walkway that led to the White House proper. I tread through the halls as if I were going somewhere with a purpose and read the name labels outside the Obama administration offices. Upstairs, outside a corner office, I saw her name: “Dr. Jill Biden.”
I didn’t get to see Dr. Biden that day or become a regular at White House meetings, but I knew a little about her. In addition to being married to then-Vice President Joe Biden, she was dedicated to community colleges and an education expert.
Now, since the most recent election when Joe Biden was projected to become President, all of America knows who Jill Biden is even more than we did then, but what I never knew is that she is also an introvert. So does she recharge after alone time and prefer small groups of people to crowds like I do? And how does she manage being in the limelight, especially when she will become First Lady?
A Reserved Introvert Drawn Into Public Life and Family Love
Last year, Dr. Biden published a memoir called Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself. In an interview with CNN following the release of the book, Dr. Biden expanded upon being “a reserved introvert who admits being a political spouse has not come naturally.” However, she’s among many famous women who will make you proud to be an introvert (including Oprah!).
“Dr. B,” as her community college students call her in English classes, says she has come out of her shell since making the considered decision to marry widowed Biden and become mother to sons Beau and Hunter.
Having been married before, she thought carefully about the ramifications of entering public life and was determined not to disappoint or hurt then-senator Biden’s young boys. They even encouraged their dad to marry her. She told CNN she believed they wanted “the family to be whole again,” though she always encouraged them to remember their mother and gratefully acknowledged first wife Neilia’s role in her family’s love story.
After Biden had asked her five times, knowing it would mean big changes for someone with her reserved nature, Dr. Biden married the senator in 1977. She became the boys’ mother and is still healing from the loss of son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.
Their Differences as a Couple
Joe Biden has been described as “gregarious,” “engaging,” and “boisterous.” In her book, Dr. Biden wrote that her husband “can do a rally with thousands of people and leave feeling energized and ready to take on the world.” By contrast, she says, “As an introvert, I preferred to stay in the background.”
She wrote, “In many ways, Joe’s temperament and mine complement each other. He tends to pull me out of my shell, and I help keep him grounded. He’s affectionate enough for both of us.” And it seems to work: The two have been married for more than 40 years and still express their love for each other in heartfelt and extravagant ways. He wrote her poems as a Christmas gift and she plans special expressions of affection for him on Valentine’s Day.
If you’re an introvert with an extrovert partner, the way the Bidens relate to each other may sound familiar.
How Jill Biden Kept Her Identity
Lest we think, however, that Dr. Biden lost herself in her high-profile marriage and new family, she wrote that she realized “from day one that I wouldn’t be able to just live his life.” Being introverted does not mean having a weak sense of self or lacking boundaries — it often means just the opposite.
A big part of the way Dr. Biden held onto her own sense of self while married to a senator, vice president, and now President-elect has been her career. Earlier this year, she tweeted, “Teaching is not what I do. It’s who I am.”
Proving that introverts can be the best teachers, Jill Biden taught high school for 13 years beginning in the 1980s, and community college from two years after her daughter was born through being the Second Lady. She got two Master’s degrees and a Doctorate and plans to be the first First Lady to continue teaching, working at an outside job, while in the White House.
I spent a few years as an introverted teacher also and found it challenging, yet rewarding. Imagining Dr. Biden as a teacher and introvert, she’s probably particularly observant of her students’ strengths and needs, as well as a good listener who provides space for them to share.
It seems that in teaching, Dr. Biden found a way to give to others through her strengths and be her best self. I think she is a great example of how introverts can be the best at finding their life purpose.
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The Challenges of Adapting to Public Life as an Introvert
In her book, Dr. Biden describes her journey of growing in confidence while adapting to the necessities of very public life. After all, you can be an introvert and still have a lot to say. Like many introverts, but even more so because of her prominent role, Dr. Biden has learned to grow certain extroverted habits and traits.
“I was much quieter and more reticent to engage, so when strangers approached me at events, I had a hard time leaving my reserved self behind. This is a dilemma faced by any introvert married to an extrovert, but here it was magnified because of Joe’s position,” she wrote.
Whether our partner is an extrovert or our career demands it, we introverts may also find ways to adapt. Dr. Biden realized that initiating conversations and public speaking were part of her role as her husband’s partner. She told CNN, “I forced myself to do it.”
In her book, Dr. Biden shares how she worked with a public speaking coach, practiced public speaking, and strove to channel an easy-going, personable demeanor. She told CNN she also sought Michelle Obama’s advice.
And due to their deep listening skills and empathetic natures, introverts often make some of the best leaders, which will make Dr. Biden well-equipped to be First Lady, I think. Several other politicians and presidents have been introverts, too, including Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln.
Working for a Cause She Believes In
Introverts are often motivated by things that truly make us feel inspired. Adapting as she did to being a well-known political spouse may have been thrust upon her, but it also allows Dr. Biden to work for causes she believes in, something many introverts value.
Dr. Biden seems to be a sincere, heartfelt, and humorous person. With her platform, she has been — and will likely continue to be — an advocate for educators, community colleges, and military families, in line with her areas of expertise and personal experience.
Adapting to succeed in public life has also given her opportunities to further partner with her husband, not only out of love for him and their family, but also support for, and belief in, his political career and life goals. In her book, she shares that her opinion was always part of the decision-making process about his running for office.
As we look towards Joe Biden’s projected inauguration as president in January, we can see some introvert strengths reflected in the incoming First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. Most of us do not share Dr. Biden’s daily reality of going everywhere with the Secret Service and having an office in the busy White House. I think, though, we can learn from how self-described introvert “Dr. B” has lived into her purpose and the best version of herself, while not being afraid to adapt when there is good reason.
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