An Ode to the Introvert

Balance in Stillness: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Photography by me.

I was recently surprised to learn that my daily routine of quietly puttering around my home has been defined by health officials as self-isolation or quarantine. To me, being able to stay indoors in the delightful presence of my own company has been a pastime I’ve enjoyed for many years.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we introverts are having a MOMENT. No longer are we required to live in an extrovert’s world — forced socialization, small talk, and the seemingly endless interactions that drain our energy.

Before I continue, I think it’s important to properly explain the difference between introverts and extroverts. The myth is that if you’re shy and quiet, aloof or a loner, you’re automatically an introvert — but it’s not that simple.

Although most people fall somewhere on an introvert-extrovert spectrum, in short, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert lies in where we get our energy. Think of the two groups as rechargeable batteries. Extroverts get energy from being among others — with each moment, their batteries are juiced up, ready to go to the next interaction and the next. When they are alone, their battery loses power. Introverts, on the other hand, use up their energy just to be around others. With each moment of social interaction, their battery power diminishes. They can only recharge when they are alone.

This explains why some of the chattiest, funniest, most social people will describe themselves as introverts. It also explains why some of us would rather sit in the corner at social gatherings — we are simply recharging our batteries. Introverts love community, we love connecting with others. Like extroverts, we need companionship, love, togetherness, friendship. Introverts can be shy, but many of us are not. Introverts can be outspoken, talkative, spend all night dancing, and love being around people — but only until we run out of energy. Then we must revert to our sanctuaries for much-needed alone time.

In the workplace, introverts often do their most creative thinking and their best work alone, reaching out to others if the need arises. It doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the value of collaboration, it’s just that we collaborate differently. By taking time to be introspective about the work ahead of us, we’re making sure that we can listen for that inner guidance that is usually loudest in stillness.

But introverts live in a world that wasn’t designed for us. At work, we’re using our batteries for around eight hours every day — in meetings, problem-solving with others, making small talk while standing in line for lunch or coffee. We relish long elevator rides where no one feels the need to say anything, to just have a few moments of silence before the onslaught of the extrovert army waiting on the other side of those elevator doors.

Introverts have been described as awkward, aloof and loners. But I think it’s because we are largely misunderstood. At the end of the workday, when we decline invitations to get together after work, we’re not being antisocial. We are simply setting healthy boundaries, knowing that we must take care of our minds and recharge our batteries. For some of us, our commute home is the only alone time we’ll get before we arrive at home to take care of our families’ needs.

Introvert’s Bench: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Photography by me.

Now that we are all required to practice social and physical distancing, my fellow introverts are thriving while the extroverts seem to be struggling. How will they charge their batteries? Will they survive the life that we introverts have been prepping for all this time?

The reality is that we are now living through a future history class. And my hope is that we will all use this time to discover things about ourselves now that we have the space and the time to do it. I believe that we all have the capability to be resilient, to adapt to change, and to evolve. It doesn’t mean that we must now all become introverts — it just means that extroverts will have to find creative ways to charge their batteries.

But my other hope in all of this is that we expand the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the workplace to consider the strengths and differences that introverts bring. In researching for this post, I read an article titled, Famous Introverts and What You Can Learn From Them. The article included quite a long list of strengths that introverts bring to the workplace. Many of them ring true for me:

· Decide quickly what needs to be done and adapt to the circumstances

· Focus on the task at hand without distraction

· Handle situations independently and responsibly

· Listen well when others need to talk about something that’s on their mind

· Seem unflappable, calm and in control

· Thrive in one-on-one relationships

· Think and consider the next move before acting or speaking

· Understand the big picture and how elements connect

Dear Extroverts, we welcome you to our world. But please, be quiet about it. Learn to appreciate what we introverts go through every day, having to constantly adapt to a world that was not created for us. Recognize the strengths we bring and encourage us to use them when possible. When all of this is over, we promise we’ll sit quietly and let you have your time of rejoicing. Just please don’t be offended if we decline your invitation to the party.

And to my fellow introverts — unite! Separately, in your own homes, of course.

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Dionne Gray

Dionne Gray

I’m a storyteller who helps organizations communicate with employees. As a resume writer, I help people tell the story of who they are.