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HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL INTROVERT

introvert and extrovert badges

Introvert and extrovert pin badge, by Science Scribbles

As Anna Kendrick joked a few years ago, “Yes of course I got your text. I’m just ignoring it. Don’t make it weird.” There are lots of ways to make introverts happy from cancelling plans at the last minute, not answering the phone when they call you and making an effort not to invite them to your birthday party. That was a joke, lol, but being a successful one can mean living in a way that’s true to you but also learning how to communicate this to others and occasionally pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to make sure you’re not missing out. 

How do I know this? In my inner circle, I am almost exclusively surrounded by introverts. There are many different types of introvert because there are many different types of people — so how do you know if you are one? And if you are one, how can you get on in life and stay true to your nature when an estimated two thirds of the world’s population thinks and behaves differently to the way that you do? 

Well first things first. There’s no such thing as being 100% extroverted or introverted. Most of us are inherently a mix of both.

When I walk onto a stage wearing a foot high headdress covered in birds and declaring my love for small business, it would be easy to assume I am an extrovert through and through and that I have all the confidence in the world — which I most definitely don’t. It terrifies me when the phone rings. Even now as I think about all the places I’ll be visiting on our Campaign Shop Independent tour, I can feel my palms sweating. What if I don’t live up to expectations? What if I don’t know what to do when I get there? What if there’s a big crowd?

The temptation to not go and do these things can sometimes feel overwhelming so God knows what it must be like for fully fledged ‘intros’. 

Feel the fear and do it anyways

‘Feel the fear and do it anyways’ graphic, by Ansley Kane Oberkofler

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung first coined these two personality types back in 1910. Overall, he defined an introvert as being someone who is typically quite reserved, thoughtful or quiet and who likes having the option of spending time alone. It’s how they gain their energy.

It’s a misconception that introverts are all shy though. They’re not. They’re also not likely to be any more sad, moody or negative than anyone else. They might just want to take their time before speaking, take a moment to be by themselves or to not constantly have to share how they’re feeling. 

I recently discovered that many introverts are artists as it suits their nature — in fact, Vincent van Gogh was one — so I wonder if there’s a correlation between that and the small business way of life, as so many of our community talk about the crushing reality of having to… deep breath… talk to people

In Susan Cain’s bestselling book on the power of introverts, she explores the challenges they face in the extrovertist world and celebrates countless examples of famous creativity that has flourished in solitude. Do have a read as it’s full of personal examples and Lynne Truss calls it, “the most important book published for a decade”.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

As this comes up so often, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learned from my nearest and dearest over the years to help navigate the challenges they face and to see how we can ensure people feel included whilst respecting their innate need for space. So, where to start?

Don’t try to be something you’re not

You don’t need to ‘fake it till you make it’ as there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. You just need to be clear about what makes you tick or how you like to be treated. 

If you are finding that something is negatively affecting your own life however — ie. if you physically can’t walk into a room and say hello to people — then it might be worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to do so.

The reason for this is that I don’t think it’s necessarily sustainable or likely to lead to a happy existence if you prefer not to socialise and so therefore, just stop doing it. 

take time to recharge pin badges

Badges, by Liz Harry Designs

There are times when making a connection is a must — and to not feel comfortable doing that might well hold you back in life, in the same way that an extrovert who talks non-stop might equally miss out on what they would have learned if they’d stopped to listen more. 

There are occasions when it’s good to challenge your own behaviour — but overall, trying to emulate others rather than being true to yourself as some introverts feel like they need to, will likely not be the answer you’re looking for. Your uniqueness is 100% your superpower.

Try to avoid overthinking 

A common trait among introverted people is that they can sometimes overthink things until they’re tying themselves up into great big hairy knots. 

As with many challenges in life, the secret to success is communication. If you’re going round in circles on an issue that you literally can’t stop thinking about, talk about it and get it out of your system. It’s the fastest way to either put your fears to bed by gaining reassurance from others or to just deal with it. The problems won’t go away by mulling over them more and more on your own until you feel sick. 

Similarly, one of the best lessons I ever learned is to only ever worry about the things you can control. Anything else is a waste of time.

great minds overthink alike

Great minds overthink alike flag, by Oxford Pennant

Take time to recharge your batteries 

It’s really important that people understand that as an introvert, you need time to squirrel yourself away, recharge and then come back energised. It’s how you do your best work. 

If you see others who are continuously with people and gaining their energy from that, you might feel pressure to try to do the same thing, but having alone time is almost a physical need for the introverts I know. Don’t be afraid to ring fence yours and build this into your day. 

Similarly, if there are moments when you’re happy to poke your head out of your shell, then share that too. The more people know and understand about you, the more likely they’ll be to support you.

Felt duracell battery

Felt batteries, by Sew Your Soul

Play to your strengths 

In my experience, introverts are often great people to talk to because they really listen. People who carefully consider what you say and how you feel about something before giving a response are more likely to give a well thought through answer — and those are the people you really want in your corner. 

As they don’t often react in an overtly emotional way, introverts can also be superb in a crisis, or even just if you need calming down! I often lean on those around me to stay level headed when I’m spiralling about something. Believe me when I say, people will be grateful to you for that, so play to your strengths and celebrate your unique outlook. If you know you are better at dealing with certain situations in a particular way, this can be a real benefit. 

Remember to communicate

Most people aren’t Derren Brown. They won’t automatically know if you feel sick about the idea of having to present in a meeting or to join a big group on a hen-do.

Share with people if you have introverted tendencies to avoid them making assumptions. It’s not that you don’t want to make them happy by joining in on an occasion that clearly means a lot to them. It’s just that the whole thought of it could have you in a blind panic for weeks beforehand and why would anyone who loves you want you to go through that when you could celebrate in other ways together?

'Battery low' badge

‘Battery low’ badge, by Harriet Hadley UK

Similarly, it’s good to share the ways you prefer to work. A friend of mine told me about their creative partner who would often get chastised for not speaking up in brainstorms, as it was wrongly assumed that he was not making an effort. 

He would stay silent, but then afterwards, deliver two or three rock solid ideas that would blow the others out the water. Often the more extroverted people would blurt out lots of half-formed thoughts at the time that when stress-tested, didn’t deliver what was needed. 

If you’re not naturally someone who thinks on the spot, tell people to make sure you get the time to work in a way that works for you. Ask to be sent briefs or an agenda before a meeting, for example, to give yourself chance to digest it first.

Finally, how can other people get the most out of introverts?

Build people up. Respect and support different personality types, not just the majority one. Give people the confidence to be their best selves and remember that if they want to spend time alone, this is no reflection on you. 

Make an effort to understand them and their way of working, and allow for this as it’s the best way to get beneficial results. Don’t baffle introverts with small talk (the enemy of deep thinking!) and most of all, as always, just be kind. It’s a proven fact that the most effective teams are diverse ones. So include and celebrate the introverts you know. Just not with a big, loud party!

Ps. For any introverts out there who are unable to make certain social events and would like to send an especially thoughtful gift instead, here are my collections for birthdays and baby showers plus 10 ways to show friends you love them.

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