Introverts may feel like tourists on this planet, visiting a place they don’t truly belong — but the world needs what they have to offer.
A few years ago, I resolved to be a tourist in my hometown. I heard about an event at my favorite tea shop and signed up with all the foolishness and exuberance of January.
Then the day arrived. “It won’t be that bad,” I told myself. Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Walking in the door, a woman with a name tag and clipboard greeted me: “Um, welcome?” This wasn’t some easygoing social event open to the public. Somehow I’d crashed an event for an existing entrepreneur group, where people were shaking hands and saying to one another, “Good to see you again,” and “How’s that project coming?”
Another flustered woman arrived. Ah, a kindred spirit. Making eye contact with me, she admitted, “I’ve never been here.” Relieved, I let it all come flooding out. “Me neither. I don’t know anyone. I feel totally awkward.” Seconds later, she was chatting with several people. She meant she’d never visited the tea shop before.
I invited a friend, but she was running late, so by the time she arrived, I was hiding in the bathroom; it took persuading for me to come out. We found a quiet table in a corner, and my friend said, “This local tourist thing will lead to a lot of uncomfortable moments in your life.” So I raised my tea cup in a toast to awkwardness.
We Need Your Introvert Strengths
The reality is, as an introvert, I’ve felt like a tourist on this planet my whole life — as if I’m visiting a place I don’t quite belong. For a long time, I acted as I did at the tea shop event. I hid who I was, held back what I had to offer, or just tried to blend in.
But doing so left me lonely and dissatisfied. When I encounter introverts who feel isolated, they often share the same root causes: hiding who they are or pretending to be extroverts. Yes, acting like an extrovert means putting yourself out there more, spending an increased amount of time with people, even making small talk. But it’s lonely to feel you can’t be yourself, no matter how many people are in the room.
Author and researcher Brené Brown points to belonging as an innate human desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves — and yes, even us solitude-loving introverts have it. In her book, Daring Greatly, she writes, says, “Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
This is the mistake I made: I told myself that because I was different than everyone else in the room (or at least felt like I was), then I must have nothing to offer. Now I realize being in a room, family, office, church, community, world where you are different means you are needed.
I spent twelve months being a local tourist, and I’ve now spent years as a bestselling author, life coach, and counselor studying introversion. I’ve come to believe, and research shows, that introverts have powerful strengths our noisy, chaotic world desperately needs. Here are six of them.
6 Reasons the World Needs Introverts
1. We can show others how to be alone in a healthy way.
Our world, as a whole, doesn’t know how to do alone time well. Yet solitude is powerful. Psychotherapist and author Amy Morin studied the scientifically backed benefits of solitude. She explains how alone time boosts productivity, sparks creativity, builds mental strength, gives you an opportunity to plan your life, helps you know yourself, and increases empathy.
We, as introverts, already understand these benefits. Instead of feeling apologetic for the time alone we take, we can model it as a healthy rhythm all of humanity needs.
2. We understand true connection.
When I started writing my book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts, I sent a survey to my blog subscribers asking two questions, “Are you an introvert or extrovert? What’s your biggest challenge as an introvert or extrovert?” I received over two thousand responses in one week.
Seventy-three percent of my readers are introverts, the rest extroverts. The biggest challenge for extroverts was one I didn’t expect: loneliness. They had wide circles of acquaintances but longed for deeper bonds. Research backs this up, showing someone with one close friend can be less lonely than someone with many casual ones. Perhaps that’s because what we long for is not to know lots of people but to be truly known, to share the ups and downs of life with someone — which goes far beyond just saying hello or making small talk.
Society tells us to pursue quantity in relationships — likes, follows, fans — but introverts understand what’s socially satisfying is quality.
3. We are quiet champions of causes we care about.
Our culture confuses visibility with value. But getting attention isn’t the same as making an impact. A YouTube star may get views with crazy, death-defying stunts but that doesn’t automatically mean when the camera is off, they’re creating meaning with their lives or leaving a legacy. Think of the most influential people in your life. A parent, teacher, coach, or mentor likely came to mind. The people who transform our lives aren’t the ones who are most visibly successful — they are the ones who make us the most successful.
Introverts are brilliant at leading from behind, empowering others, quietly championing causes, and contributing creatively. As author, professor, and leadership strategist Jeff Hyman says, “Quiet people often produce the loudest performance.”
4. Introverts who are spiritual can model the inner journey.
A recent survey by Gallup found 87% of people believe in God. Yet as a person to whom faith is important, I spent years feeling out of place at church. I, like many introverts, didn’t enjoy the loud music, emphasis on group activities, or pressure to join one more study.
I finally listened to the deeper part of me whispering that there isn’t one right way to connect with God. If he made us unique, wouldn’t he want us to reflect that in our spiritual lives?
Not all introverts have a spiritual practice, and that’s okay. Yet I know introverts who feel close to God through nature, creating art, serving the homeless, or while having coffee on the porch every morning. Introverts can remind all of us that spirituality is about our inner, most sacred selves rather than outward, one-size-fits-all behavior.
5. We can empower others to face their struggles.
While introverts have many strengths, our wiring also comes with certain vulnerabilities. For example, introverts are more likely than extroverts to struggle with anxiety and depression.
I’ve personally dealt with both, and I don’t feel any shame. Those are my battles, and needing to fight them simply means I am a warrior. They are also connected to my strengths. The same introverted nervous system that means I sometimes experience anxiety also means I have deep empathy.
When we, as introverts, face our struggles with honesty and courage, we empower others to do the same.
6. We know true well-being comes from within.
British researcher Marcus Buckingham did a study with thousands of people to see what actually made them thrive, which he described in his book Find Your Strongest Life. He didn’t find a secret to happiness in external factors like relationship status, demographics, or income levels.
Instead, Buckingham found people who are happiest have learned to build their lives around who they truly are, not who someone else expects them to be. When we do so, we have more of what he calls “strong moments.” These are times when we are most fully our true selves rather than imposter moments that drain us of joy. We feel both challenged and at our best. Examples might include a writer creating a character in her novel, an athlete in the heat of an important game, an accountant mesmerized by the numbers in a spreadsheet, or a teacher empowering a student to have an “aha!” moment.
Although introverts can struggle to find happiness just like anyone else, our alone time shows us that true well-being isn’t found somewhere “out there” — it comes when we embrace who we are and what we have right here, right now.
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Let’s Show Up and Offer Our Strengths
We now live in the age of Covid-19 and face masks. My year of local tourism seems like a quaint, old-fashioned dream. But what I learned through that time is staying with me.
I discovered the hardest part of almost any endeavor is just showing up as we are. It’s daring to experience awkward moments for the sake of connection. It’s believing our imperfections don’t disqualify us from belonging. It’s looking at our differences as ways we can contribute, not reasons to hide in the bathroom (although I still may do that sometimes — ha!).
Bronnie Ware, a nurse in Australia who cares for people at the end of their lives, said the most common regret she hears is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
We’re not just tourists on this planet — we belong. So how can we each make the most of the time we’ve been given?
One small step you can take is writing down all the activities you do today. Put a “+” by each one that makes you feel energized or empowered, and a “-” by those that demotivate or drain you (if you’re unsure, put a “?”). For the + moments, ask yourself, “What strength(s) was I using in this situation?” Our strengths often come so naturally to us that we overlook or underestimate them. Having greater clarity about when we’re at our best helps empower us to wisely choose how we want to spend our lives.
Introverts, let’s show up.
Let’s live with courage.
Let’s share the strengths our world needs more than ever before.
My new book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You, is available for pre-order now. Bestselling author Ann Voskamp described it as, “Practical, researched, and profoundly helpful.” For a limited time, you’ll get over $75 of free bonuses when you pre-order the book and fill out the bonus form.
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