Let’s face it: it’s not easy being an introvert. You may have been told you’re “too quiet” or “too shy.” You should “just get over it” and be more social like everyone else. You end up thinking there’s something wrong with you.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to keep feeling like you’re doomed to live a second-rate existence. You can put your critics behind you and do what actually works for you—regardless of the pressure you feel from other people and society.
The answer isn’t to fight against your introversion and pretend to be someone you’re not. Anyone who says you should just “put yourself out there more” doesn’t understand what it means to be an introvert. Of course, we all should do things from time to time that force us out of our comfort zone—that’s the only way to really grow as a person. What I’m talking about is working with your temperament instead of against it.
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Ask yourself if it’s time to start owning your introversion and honoring your nature. Here are 12 ways to do just that:
1. Don’t settle for relationships that don’t do something for you. We’ve all been there. Suddenly you find yourself in a one-sided friendship or romance. The other person does all the talking and you do all the listening. Or the other person always gets their way. Because you always give them what they want, they end up liking you more than you like them. Unfortunately this happens all the time to introverts. Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, explains why:
“Because introverts are typically good listeners and, at least, have the appearance of calmness, we are attractive to emotionally needy people. Introverts, gratified that other people are initiating with them, can easily get caught in these exhausting and unsatisfying relationships.”
As an introvert, you crave meaningful interactions—not just small talk. You want to share your inner experiences with another person and delve into their inner world too. If you’re not getting some level of meaning out of your relationships, you’re not getting your needs met. Don’t settle.
2. Don’t fake being more exuberant than you feel. Introverts tend to react internally, not externally. People say things to us like, “You should smile more!” or “Are you okay?”—when we’re perfectly fine. Remember that it’s okay to play it cool. In fact, you may sound inauthentic—which will put people off—if you’re bubbling over with gregariousness that you don’t actually feel.
3. Give yourself permission not to go. The big party? If you don’t think you’ll have fun, skip it. Don’t give in to the fear of missing out. It’s not worth it if you’re going to end up drained and exhausted. And everyone else? They’ll get over it.
4. Leave when you want to. If you do go to the party, leave when you’re “peopled” out. Not an hour after you’ve hit your “people” maximum—right now. The longer you stay past your burnout point, the harder it will be to recover your energy later. Quit while you’re ahead.
5. Reach out to people who you feel good being around. Introverts often wait for others to pursue them. We let other people send the text message and set up the plans. But this means we end up being at the whim of everyone else. Instead, think of some people who you don’t usually hang out with, but you find them interesting. These people have the magical effect of energizing you, not draining you. Reach out to them and ask if they want to hang out one-on-one. If you do this enough, eventually you’ll have the kind of relationships you crave.
6. Skip the small talk. Don’t be afraid to bring up something deeper, like: “what do you think about this idea/issue…” or “what’s something you’ve learned lately?” Most people—introvert or extrovert—appreciate having a meaningful conversation, because it happens so rarely.
7. Get out of any environment that consistently leaves you feeling bad about who you are. This advice comes from Laurie Helgoe’s book Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. She writes, “Have the courage to, as I tenderly phrase it, ‘admit what sucks.'” If your job exhausts you and leaves you in mental fog every day, it might be time to make an exit plan. You have the right to change your mind. This advice applies to romantic relationships as well.
8. Keep trying out your ideas. As an introvert, you spend a lot of time in your head. You’re constantly reflecting on life and coming up with creative ideas or ways to improve things. Some people call this “overthinking”—but those are the people who are comfortable with the status quo and don’t put much thought into what they do. Not every idea of yours is brilliant, but let’s face it, a lot of your ideas are good.
As an introvert, you tend to keep your ideas to yourself. You mull them over for days (or even years) until you think they’re just right. Sometimes they never get off the drawing board. But maybe coming up with revolutionary ideas is what introverts are made to do: think about successful introverts like J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein. So draw that comic, start that blog, or design that game. Send an email to your boss explaining your idea for improving the company. Speak up during the committee meeting with your idea for change—even if your voice trembles.
9. Do nothing sometimes. Seriously. Research shows reflection and “doing nothing” are critical for optimal brain functioning. So don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about taking downtime for yourself.
10. Stop holding yourself to impossible standards. Many introverts are perfectionists. We want to be sure we’re making the absolute best decision possible. Or we work on something until it’s “perfect”—like reading an email six times before sending it. Sure, perfectionism can make us shoot for the stars, but it comes at a cost: perfectionism is tied to anxiety, depression, and workaholism. Plus, it’s harder for perfectionists to have close relationships, because they struggle to be exposed and vulnerable. They don’t want others to see them for who they truly are, out of fear they’ll be negatively judged. Life is hard enough. Why make it any harder by holding yourself to impossible standards.
11. Start an online project. Introverts are great at focusing for long periods of time and working independently. Plus we tend to feel fulfilled when we have our own solo projects to work on. If you feel like your life lacks purpose—like there’s nothing that gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning—try starting an online project of your own. Begin a blog, create art and post it online, or start a Facebook group to support a cause you believe in. The wonderful thing about the Internet is you don’t have to speak directly to other people. I started Introvert, Dear as my anonymous personal blog three years ago. I had no idea it would become what it is today. I’m so grateful that it has connected me to thousands of other introverts, and I didn’t have to hang out at bars or parties to find them. Plus, managing this blog gives me a reason to keep sharpening my writing skills and exploring new ideas. So you never know where your “fun” project will take you.
12. Realize that you’re in control of your life. I’m guilty of being passive. Sometimes life feels like something that just happens to me. As an introvert, I’d rather observe and reflect than actively jump in. I have to remind myself of this simple truth: I can control—to some extent—what happens to me. If I don’t like something, I can change it. It will take time—nobody gets a better job, relationships, health, or friends overnight. But little by little, I can create the life I want.
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. —Dalai Lama
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