Taking on an extroverted persona can be severely draining for introverts, not to mention unnatural.
I recall attending my first networking event a year ago, nervously clutching my resume and stepping tentatively into a crowded convention hall. My chipper friend was doing much better than I was, excitedly talking about all the industry research he’d done and the people he was hoping to meet. Before parting ways, he looked at me, winked, and said:
“Remember, bro — ‘fake it ‘till you make it!’”
This idea has been with most of us our whole lives. By imitating confidence, capability, and optimism, the idea is that a person can magically achieve the results they seek. While this seems to come easily for extroverts — with their naturally outgoing personalities and comfort around strangers — we introverts struggle a lot more when put into unfamiliar social contexts. In a world where people constantly expect you to bring your “A” game, taking on an extroverted persona can be severely draining for us.
3 Reasons Why ‘Fake It ‘Till You Make It’ Is Terrible Advice for Introverts
1. “Faking it” comes from societal pressure to conform.
Let’s face it: Society values extroverted traits — people who are outgoing, lively, and sociable tend to do better in the workplace, have a wider circle of friends, and receive more access to more opportunities. (Or so it seems.) Given this, it is only natural that some introverts feel a need to compensate by acting extroverted. We have been conditioned to constantly “put ourselves out there” and made to feel as though spending time alone with our thoughts and hobbies is something to be frowned upon instead of relished.
At a coworker’s recent party, for example, I was sitting in a lawn chair by myself, drinking a mocktail. I would have probably continued doing that for the rest of the night — had it not been for the pointed stares and raised eyebrows being directed at me. You’re at a party, the other guests seemed to be thinking. Why are you not meeting people and having a good time?
The weight of those social cues was profound, and I immediately felt pressure to conform. (I’m sure my fellow introverts can relate.) Getting off the chair, I plastered a smile to my face and started mingling, feeling uncomfortable all the while. It would have been disrespectful to leave early, I thought, so I really had no choice. When I finally drove home, I replayed the interactions in my head, internally cringing at myself.
Whether you are at a party, your workplace, or even standing in line at a McDonald’s, the natural expectation is to strike up a conversation. Humans are hardwired for social contact, but many people don’t understand that introverts get their dose of connection from a few intimate friends. Having to fake extroversion weighs on us heavily, because we feel obliged to meet someone else’s expectation of how we should be acting — and this only serves to further alienate us from our true introverted personality.
2. Your natural self-awareness makes “faking it” impossible.
Introverts are very self-aware, and given how much time we spend thinking, reflecting, and contemplating our lives, it is only natural that we subconsciously end up learning a lot about ourselves. Although often exhausting, it is undeniable that this personality type can be useful in helping us navigate a host of life decisions, from X to Y.
Unfortunately, this self-awareness also makes us very sensitive to what we are not. Being thrust into a public situation where we have to contend with a host of unfamiliar people is uncomfortable, and faking enthusiasm and engagement doesn’t come naturally to us. I liken it to having two voices going simultaneously in my head — one telling me to act bubbly around people I’ve never met, and the other screaming at me to find privacy as soon as possible. Faced with this internal dilemma, we can only maintain our plastic smiles for so long, before we become weary and look for the closest escape.
No matter how much I talked, laughed, and tried to engage with the whirlwind of different faces at that networking event, for instance, I lasted only 45 minutes before I started feeling overwhelmed. Suffice it to say, I made my exit as quickly as I could.
At some point, each of us has “faked it” to either get something we wanted, or to avoid something we didn’t. But the moment that this becomes a way of life for introverts, we risk triggering an internal conflict between who we are — and who the world wants us to be — confusing our sense of identity even more.
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3. “Faking it” rarely leads introverts to results they truly want.
It’s easy to do something you don’t like so long as you can keep your eye on the prize. Working a job you hate? Treat it as a stepping stone to better things. Don’t enjoy what you’re studying? Your future job prospects make the struggle worth it. Extroverts can take this mentality to heart, and may be able to “fake it” more easily in order to get an outcome they really want, which is often a sense of social approval.
But what if the prize isn’t really something you value? Introverts don’t care about social recognition as much — we’d rather focus on doing meaningful work — which is why they are entirely comfortable being alone in the first place. So what benefit does faking an outgoing personality give us, then?
My extrovert friends are incentivized to project confident and outgoing personalities because it secures them social connections, which they continue building and use to accumulate more and more friends. They are constantly rewarded for putting themselves out there, because they keep receiving an outcome that positively reinforces them — more social connection!
But introverts don’t stand to gain anything by faking an outgoing personality, because most of us are content with the social circle and contacts that we already have. So we’re rewarded, too, just in a different way. Well-meaning friends and peers often drag us out to clubs, conventions, and parties in an effort to “get us out there,” but they seldom realize that it doesn’t do us much good. We’re really fine not “getting out there.”
I’m often happiest when sitting at home alone, reading a book or watching a thrilling movie with a bowl of popcorn. Occasionally, I’ll have some friends over. I never have to make-believe any aspect of my personality to be content, and any advice that tells introverts to “fake it” — in order to get something that they want — doesn’t take into account what most introverts truly want! It is advice like this that perpetuates the belief that our characteristics and desires are “abnormal” and something that needs to be changed. Unfortunately, it seems to take a toll on some of us, given how much more prevalent mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, are for introverts.
Living a Life We’re Proud Of
I want to clarify that I believe in the importance of taking risks, and doing things that are outside our comfort zones — like my attending that networking event. For introverts who thrive in comfortable, familiar situations, which is common for us, it is all too easy for us to become stagnant in our daily routines, often going months without making any significant change.
However, I also advocate for finding a balance between doing things that scare us, and staying true to ourselves. Those who tell us to “fake it” until we “make it” don’t realize that most introverts possess a very genuine disposition, and constantly pretending to be something that we are not can cause us to view our introversion in a negative light instead of the positive one it is.