An Introvert's Confessional

I am an introvert.

Which, I guess, qualifies as an introvert’s confession -- a metaphorical “coming out of the closet.” But if you were an introvert, you would know that’s the last thing you really want to do. The closet is such a non-threatening place to be.

A few columns ago I wrote about personality tests and said that, according to the Myers Briggs Personality Test, I’m usually tagged as an “INFJ” – which, according to the labels applied, means I’m an Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Judging person.  Apparently that’s one of the rarest of the 16 personality types. Only 1% to 3% of the population are “INFJ”s. Depending on when I’ve taken the test, the last two letters have wavered a bit, but never that first “I.” I am, was and always will be an introvert.

I write this from TEDActive – which may just be the definition of introvert’s hell. It’s a gathering of some 600 well-meaning, gregarious TEDsters in the desert east of LAS (Palm Springs) who are prodded at every juncture to “interact” and “connect.” A good question would be, “Why the hell would you subject yourself to that?” A better question might be, “Tell me why this is this your third TEDActive.”

This year, much to my delight, one of the speakers of the first day of TED was a fellow introvert, Susan Cain, who spoke (much to her discomfort) on the TED stage about the importance of introversion. Internally I cheered, because that’s what we introverts do. Externally I stayed calm and expressionless, because that, too, is what we introverts do.

Let me tell you how an introvert negotiates the social minefield that is TEDActive. Tonight (being the night I’m writing this column) is “Free Night,” which means you’re supposed to somehow connect with a group of five to eight total strangers and invite yourself out to dinner with them at a local restaurant.

Yeah, right.

I, to the contrary, bailed out of the last session early (which was not that big a sacrifice, frankly) and snuck away to a local diner to grab a quick bite, by myself. By the time the rest of the TEDActive crowd was heading out to dinner with their new friends, to be followed, I assume, by poolside partying and midnight karaoke, I was already back, safely ensconced in my hotel room, writing this column.

If you were judging me through an extrovert’s eye, you would probably be using words like “antisocial” (you do know what “introvert” means, don’t you?) and “pathetic.” What you don’t know is the profound pleasure an introvert can get from observing life and thinking about how it all fits into the bigger picture. As I sat in that diner, I watched a four-generation family reunion unfold before my eyes. I watched a mom take her 3-year-old daughter for a walk around the restaurant so she could be the center of attention as her new shoes sparkled and lit up with each step. And I asked myself why most of us adults don’t feel the need to wear shoes that light up when we walk through a restaurant. What happens along the way that steals that wonder from us?  If I were there with a group of others that I felt compelled to socialize with, I would have never seen that sight. That’s an introvert’s modus operandi: we observe, we think and we wonder. There are worse ways to spend your life.

Now, to be clear, I don’t skulk my way through the entire TED program avoiding eye contact and sneaking back into my hotel room. I had a very enjoyable conversation at lunch about space travel, the global rebalancing of wealth, the ethical dilemma of artificial intelligence and how our sense of entitlement may kill North America. That’s why I have come back to TEDActive for three straight years. But by 6 p.m., the tank was full. I needed some solitary time to digest.

My career has forced me to take on some extroverted characteristics. I’ve had to learn to speak in public. And owning your own business dictates that you become a salesperson. But I can’t live on a steady diet of that. At the many search conferences I attend, I usually stay at a different hotel than the “official venue.” It just makes life easier. And my longtime industry friends can tell you that I’m much more comfortable with a quiet dinner and engaging conversation than the more gregarious gatherings around the hotel bar.  That’s just how I roll.

As an introvert, you get used to living in a world that’s largely defined and judged by extroverts. As Susan Cain pointed out today in her talk, somewhere in the 20th century, the value of character somehow slipped and gave way to the cult of personality. We introverts are constantly made to feel that we should be more “outgoing.” Perhaps, though, the rest of the world should become more “thoughtful.” Would that be such a bad thing?

All of this has little to do with search engines or digital marketing. But I do think that our newfound digital connections may actually turn the tables on the imbalance between the introverts and extroverts of the world.  It seems to be less of a social stigma to spend time by yourself. And thanks to online connections, we can now connect on an “as required” basis.  Perhaps, as a society, we’re beginning to put more importance on the value of individual contribution.

Maybe, just maybe, the introvert’s time has come.

 

 

 

 

Tags: search
Recommend (15) Print RSS
8 comments about "An Introvert's Confessional".
  1. Christine M. from Sales Support , March 1, 2012 at 12:05 p.m.
    Brilliant column, very well-articulated. I hope you’re right about putting more value on the individual contribution. I, too, am an introvert (INTJ), and recently posted my own introvert confessional on my Facebook page, describing how my internal battery gets drained earlier and earlier throughout the workday. It’s a challenge trying to explain to co-workers why I need a re-charge during the day; I finally gave up.
  2. Judy Anderson from Community Consultants , March 1, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.
    That made me smile. I am married to an "introvert", with a mother and brother as well--who are all the same Myers Briggs Test sort of folks (INFP). But, for me, I found it interesting that Introvert is not necessary what the public thinks. How one gains energy is how it was framed to me, and I am a shy E--meaning, that I feel like and introvert, but I gain energy by being with people (though, in chunks of time and in smaller settings).
  3. Mandy Buhler from HC&B Healthcare Communication , March 1, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this column as well as all the recent press on introverts, which I'm sure is largely due to Susan Cain's new book. I, too am an INFJ, but I've adopted a few extroverted qualities after many years working in advertising. I have found your article, the recent coverage by Time magazine, and of course Susan's book to be very liberating -- thank you illustrating the many wonderful qualities of introverts.
  4. Juliet Goldsand from 33Across , March 1, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
    Thanks Gord! I've always tested as an INFJ as well and your column definitely struck a chord (so thanks! it's not too often that anyone writes anything for the 1-3% of us out there). I too have learned to effectively 'pass' and maybe even excel as an extrovert during my 15+ years in ad sales! In that time, I've also developed and enjoyed many deep and very long-lasting relationships with clients and colleagues that have helped me in my career. Over time I've come to realize that while I may not be the zaniest, funniest or life-of-the-party kind of rep, clients and colleagues appreciate the one-on-one conversations and time I take to really get to know them and listen to, and truly hear, what they're saying (and also read between the lines and hear what they're not saying). Listening and observing are often over-looked attributes in sales but have helped me immensely time and time again deliver the best and most appreciated solutions and service to clients and co-workers.
  5. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , March 1, 2012 at 5:49 p.m.
    Great column. And I am very sympathetic. TED is mostly the domain of extroverted story tellers (which is my complaint about it-even though some have some exceptional things to say). My challenge is I'm on the cusp - introverted at times and extroverted at others. Confuses the h..l out of people around me sometimes.
  6. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting , March 1, 2012 at 6:30 p.m.
    It's funny. Once I released myself from the WWIM (Wondering What I'm Missing) paranoia of TEDActive, I found a new sense of peace. Makes my wonder what an Introverted version of TED might me: 1. Listen to the talks. 2. Go away and think about them (alone) for awhile. 3. Find other introverts (no more than 4 at a time) and discuss over a few glasses of wine. 4. Go away and think some more. 5. Compile your thoughts into an internal manifesto that you may or may not choose to share 6. Go to bed early. 7. Get a workout in in the morning and do it all over again
  7. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , March 1, 2012 at 7:34 p.m.
    I too am an introvert, in person. But behind the keyboard, many of us get to be extroverts. That's kind of scary!
  8. Mariea Hoy from University of Tennessee , March 5, 2012 at 8:02 p.m.
    I don't think I've every come across so many INFJs in one spot. For the first time I'm seeing myself in others' postings. Instead of sales presentations, I give lectures. Instead of clients, I have students. Although I enjoy being in front of the classroom, my greatest joy is working with small student groups or those one-on-one conversations. Gord - your suggestion for an introverted TEDActive is spot on. I sent this column to my family so they'd know this is what I do when I'm away at a conference (although you neglected to mention at least one museum and/or shopping outing alone).