BY SUZANNE YOST
About a month or so ago, I mentioned in one of my classes that I am an introvert. We were talking about “tabling,” which is when you stand outside the cafeteria, give students fliers, and tell them about submitting to our journal. In other words: an introvert’s worst nightmare.
As it was my third semester working with this journal, tabling was something I’d grown accustomed to but never loved. Nor did I ever feel confident doing it. I mentioned in the class how much I disliked the experience of tabling, and that was how the introversion sidebar came up. I explained that it wasn’t in my nature to want to talk to people I didn’t know — and that my aura of general awkwardness didn’t help, either.
My professor, who knows me pretty well, just laughed and said:
“But you’re getting better.”
This was not the only time someone has made a comment like this (for example, the time I was told I was single because I was quiet). I responded in the only way my awkward, non-confrontational self knew how: with nervous laughter.
Was this how I would have liked to have responded? No, not really. I wish I could have explained four things to him:
1. He was trying to comment on my introversion. What he actually commented on was my comfort zone.
My introversion is not what makes me not want to talk to strangers. That’s a comfort zone issue .I get anxious around people I don’t know, but my introversion has nothing to do with that. Introversion describes my temperament, which inherently impacts the way I act, but it does not dictate it. I know plenty of introverts who can strike up a conversation with anyone, no problem, but they limit their socializing simply because they would rather be alone.
Anxiety, on the other hand, can afflict both introverts and extroverts, and it can be lessened through treatment or lifestyle changes. Introversion, however, is not something that will “go away;” research shows that introverts are born that way and will stay introverts for life. Yes, we can grow and stretch as people, but if you’re an introvert, you will probably always have a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments — whether you are anxious or not.
2. Introversion is not a disease to be cured.
Why is this the first thing people jump to? My professor said I was “getting better,” and that’s something you say to someone who is recovering from being sick.
There are so many things I could have said instead of just laughing. I could have explained that introversion is not like a cold: it’s not something I can get rid of. Or that introversion is not like the flu: it’s not something debilitating or contagious.
If introversion is defined as a personality trait that describes how you gain your energy as an individual, then there really is no way for it to “get better.” Besides, why would I want it to go away? My introversion is not a weakness to be overcome.
3. I’m always stretching my comfort zone. But commenting on it only makes me more self-conscious.
I’ve worked in retail. I’ve been a waitress. I was a camp counselor. I moved across the country to go to college. I went on a mission trip with the sole purpose of talking about my faith to people I didn’t know. I push myself. The reasons may vary — necessity, calling, or conviction. But in the moment, when I’m struggling with my comfort zone, calling it out will only make me want to crawl back to safety.
4. Despite society’s best efforts to tell us otherwise, introversion can be a valuable asset.
In her book Quiet, Susan Cain describes how our society is dominated by the “extrovert ideal.”This rings true for me. The idealizing of extroversion is an indoctrination we have been living under, especially in Western culture, for quite some time.
When I’m interviewing for a job (something that, admittedly, makes my knees quake), and they ask me to list strengths and weaknesses, I don’t list my introversion as a weakness. It’s part of who I am, and something I see as a strength. My introversion makes me an expert observer, listener, and gleaner of details. It makes me planned and organized, ambitious and attentive, and sensitive and empathetic to the needs of those around me.
To be clear, I have nothing against my professor. He’s one of the best ones I’ve had, actually. However, his comment, perhaps made out of confusion, jest, or ignorance, stuck with me. I have to disagree with him. Introversion isn’t something that you can turn on and off with a switch. It’s a part of you. No, my introversion is not getting better.
And that’s simply because it’s not something that needs to get better.
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletters to get more stories like this.
This article may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.