How to Own Who You Are as an Introvert

I no longer define myself by what is wrong with me, nor do I limit myself based on how others perceive me.

“Lorraine, you’re too quiet in class — you need to speak up.”

“Lorraine, you shouldn’t apply for that job as a team leader — you won’t like being around people that much.” 

“Lorraine, you’re not the kind of leader this company values. We have more of a sales culture.”

“Lorraine, if you’re an introvert, how do you get clients? Don’t you have to talk to people and go to networking events?”

At many times throughout my life, I have felt trapped inside the stereotype of an introvert. I have often wanted to be someone else: someone who was fun and outgoing, the life of the party who could tell jokes at the right time, and someone who wouldn’t freeze when put on the spot. The more I tried to be someone else, however, the unhappier I became — and the more my actions reinforced the introvert stereotype of shy, timid, uncomfortable, awkward around people, and not a good leader.  

When I decided to start my own business as an executive coach, I knew I needed to start owning who I am. How could I help others be authentic when I struggled with what that looked like for me? I ended up asking myself these three questions:

  1. What is right with me?
  2. How do I describe myself?
  3. How do I shatter the stereotype?

Have you ever felt like I did, where you got stuck in the negative stereotype of an introvert and lost sight of who you are? Taking the time to reflect on these questions may help you as well.

What Is Right With Me?

Have you ever been told five great things about yourself, offset by one little piece of criticism? Which do you remember? According to researchers, we are wired to not only accept the negative more quickly, but also dwell longer on the negative feedback, something known as negativity bias.

Over the course of my 30-year career, I had taken many personality and leadership assessments and walked away feeling pretty awful about myself. The assessments seemed to be designed to identify everything that was wrong with me.

One assessment, though, was different: Gallup’s CliftonStrengths.® This assessment was created by Don Clifton and his researchers, who began by asking the question, “What happens when we focus on what is right with people, rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?”

I made the investment to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and began to look at myself and others, not through the lens of personality or other stereotypes, but through the lens of strengths. What do I bring to the table that is different than what anyone else does? How do I think differently, do things differently, build relationships differently, and influence people differently?  How can I do more of those things? What is right with me?

There are many things right with me. I learned that I was a fierce advocate for others, very dependable, trustworthy, and loyal. I see strengths in others and like to take great things and make them even better. I am adept at finding root causes, and I use my mind like it is a muscle. I am much more than just the stereotype of an introvert — but how do I convey that to others?

Do you know what is right with you? Do you have a loved one or friend who knows you really well that you can ask? If not, I would encourage you to take Gallup’s CliftonStrengths® assessment and find a coach who can help you not only read the results, but learn how to intentionally use your strengths in your personal and professional life.

How Do I Describe Myself?

After I had a clearer picture of what was right with me, I began to think about the words I use to describe myself. Perhaps I was reinforcing the stereotype because of the stories I was telling myself — my internal narrative. When I thought about myself, was I just envisioning the times that I had failed to speak up or the time I hid in the bathroom at a networking event? What if I focused on the times when I did say what needed to be said or had my first paid speaking engagement?  

One of the hardest things to do when you start your own business is to come up with a name. Since I would be working with quiet professionals, I wanted “quiet” or a similar word in the title. I was walking our German Shepherd one day around this time, mentally scrolling through potential names for my business. What combination of letters or words could describe both me and my business?

I remember where we were at the park when “boldly quiet” popped into my head. It was perfect! It described how I felt about myself — quiet on the outside but loud on the inside. It described how I wanted to help my clients be authentic and courageous.

How do you describe yourself? Try to come up with 3-5 words that capture the essence of who you are — not just your personality, but also what you’re good at, what motivates you, or when you feel like you are your most authentic. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while. Let your list evolve and mature over time until it feels like you. 

How Do I Shatter the Stereotype?

The easiest path through life is living by default, just responding to whatever comes your way. If I want others to see me as boldly quiet, I need to be very intentional with my mindset throughout the day, overcoming the default mode defined by my negative bias. What do I need to think about during the day to make sure I intentionally position myself as boldly quiet? How do I need to show up so that others see me as a boldly quiet leader, not as the victim of a stereotype?

My answer to these questions became my Boldly Quiet Manifesto. Each point is a stake I have pounded into the ground to declare to myself and to others that I am more than the stereotype of an introvert. See if any of these points resonate with you:

1. I will embrace who I am.

I don’t have to be ashamed that I am wired differently from more stereotypical leaders. I am unique and bring talents, skills, and perspectives to the table that are valuable and worthy of consideration. I cheapen my value to myself and to others when I pretend to be someone else.

2. I will embrace others.

While my energy may come from within, my sense of purpose as a leader is built upon equipping others to be successful. I will draw others out by asking insightful questions and really listening to their responses, helping them draw connections and conclusions that spur their personal and professional growth.

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3. I will be heard.

I will prioritize “pre-thinking” so I can speak early in a meeting about a planned topic. I will give myself permission to talk before my thoughts are fully formulated. I will not assume that others who talk more than I do know more than I do and will professionally insert my own thoughts and questions into the dialogue. I will not wait for others to create a safe space; neither will I wait to be invited to speak.

4. I will be visible.

In professional settings, I will wear splashes of bright color that will help me stand out in the sea of gray, navy, and black. I will arrive early, sit in front, and smile and make eye contact with others. I will be the first to reach out to newcomers and others standing by themselves.

5. I will breathe.

Whether I am by myself or in a crowd of people, I will periodically close my eyes and take deep, cleansing breaths to re-center my thoughts and renew my energy for the task at hand. Better yet, I will take a walk, allowing my thoughts to wander and my mind to recharge.

6. I will surprise.

I will strategically and with intention sing, dance, belly-laugh, yell, or pound my fists to make people reassess their perceptions of me. I will passionately express my thoughts when I speak in front of groups, small or large, and will show my vulnerability by being able to laugh at myself. 

7. I will grow.

I will surround myself with diversity so I can understand different perspectives and make better decisions. I will celebrate failures, seeing in them an opportunity to learn, and will surround myself with people who challenge me by being better than I am in areas and who will provide me with authentic feedback. I will intentionally expose myself to new ideas.

Are you interested in writing your own manifesto? One place to start is by taking your answers to “What is right with me?” and “How do I describe myself?” and asking yourself what actions you need to take to become those things in the eyes of others. You may find that some of your manifesto points are easier to act on than others. The ones that are hard may require boldness and courage. That’s okay. As long as you are being authentic, you can do it.

I own who I am. I will no longer define myself by what is wrong with me. Nor will I limit myself based on how I think others perceive me. Because I own who I am, I am responsible for intentionally and strategically showing up as the strong and unique individual that I am — and, oh, so much more than the stereotype of an introvert.

Visit boldlyquiet.com for a free download of the Boldly Quiet Manifesto and to learn more about Lorraine’s journey, offerings, and thought leadership.

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My name is Lorraine McCamley and I am the owner of Boldly Quiet Consulting and also a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. I am the author of the Amazon best-seller Boldly Quiet: The Introvert's Guide to Developing the Mindset of a Successful Leader and hold a Master's Degree in Organizational Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania. My offerings include strengths-based leadership coaching for executives and emerging leaders, group coaching, team workshops, and keynote speaking. Visit my website to learn more! I live in Skippack, Pennsylvania with my husband, our teenaged son and probably too many pets!