3 Ways Why Learning About Introversion Was Life-Changing!


The secret is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Susan Cain

My stomach knotted as I pushed open the heavy wooden doors and entered the reception area of the facility where I worked. A group of about a dozen people stood there, waiting eagerly. My heart sank. I was to be their tour guide for the next two hours. To bolster my courage, I had chosen to wear a red suit… my power suit, I called it. It failed. Instead, a wave of panic crashed over me and I wanted to run and hide.

I dreaded those occasions to my core and they would leave me utterly depleted for hours, if not days.

It had long been clear to me that I was different from other people. For instance, I found working in teams beyond challenging. I couldn’t think when there was a lot of noise or if more than one person spoke at a time; my brain would literally shut down. While it seemed that everyone else was having a great time socializing at parties, I would become agitated and find myself yearning to be somewhere else.  Anywhere. But. Here. Anywhere quiet.

The list of differences stretched on and on.

All of this threw more fuel on the nagging struggle within: Is this just part of my nature or am I profoundly faulty?

Fast forward to my thirties. The inner tussle took a different tack and I theorised that my unsociable behaviour had been learned in my formative years. And it seemed logical to me that my behaviour had been learned, it could be unlearned.

With that conviction, I put myself through an arduous personal program to reform my aloof ways. I was determined to learn how to engage with the world on its outgoing, dynamic terms.

Using visualization, rehearsing, and mimicry, I made good headway. My new persona gradually mastered the art of engaging freely with strangers. I learned to speak before a group or an audience with poise and polish. It took years of constantly pushing myself beyond my limits, but I believed I was now… finally… a gregarious and sociable human being.

Then I imploded.

The mask of sociability fell off and my outgoing persona crashed and burned. I became depressed and withdrawn.

Then, in 2012, Susan Cain delivered her TED talk The Power of Introverts. That presentation would go on to become one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.

That same year, Cain released her mega-bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Those two events affected me in profound ways.

I was thrilled to learn that those whose genetics (yes, genes are involved!) predispose them to prefer a quieter existence are not flawed. They’re called introverts and they are completely normal. And not just normal, but actually endowed with a constellation of wonderful qualities.

Cain’s research spotlighted that, in general, introverts have qualities such as empathy, conscience, and a deep sense of justice. They notice subtleties and sense changes in mood. They tend to listen well. Introverts think deeply and can sustain long periods of concentration. They also tend to feel deeply and are often reflective and creative.

Extroverts also have a wonderful array of qualities, so it’s not a case of one being superior to the other. Nor do certain qualities belong exclusively to either introverts or extroverts. Human personality is far more complex than that. We all shine, just not all in the same settings.

Solitude matters and for some people it’s the air they breathe. Susan Cain

Just a side note here on the terms introversion and extroversion (or extraversion). There are varying definitions of both words; no single definition is accepted by everyone. According to Wikipedia, “Extraversion tends to be manifested in outgoing, talkative, energetic behaviour, whereas introversion is manifested in more reflective and reserved behaviour.” It adds that introversion and extroversion are generally accepted as existing on a continuum, “so to be high in one necessitates being low in the other.”

Some people fall around the middle of that continuum; they are called ambiverts. I have the very good fortune to be married to an ambivert, who is as comfortable mixing with an energetic crowd as he is curled up quietly on the couch with a book.

An important difference between introverts and extroverts is where their energy comes from. Extroverts in general are recharged by lively social interaction and stimulating environments. On the other hand, those same activities will suck an introvert dry. To revitalize, introverts need quiet and solitude.

This was a pivotal revelation for me. I wish I had known it much sooner. Then I would have understood that forcing myself to behave contrary to my nature for so long would cost me dearly. I would not have crashed and burned.

If you are interested in learning whether you are an introvert, ambivert, or extrovert, why it matters, and how it affects your choices and relationships, one of my favourite sites is 16Personalities. It’s a goldmine of information.

Three ways my life changed

1. The lamplit desk

I know now that I will never be a great tour guide or an avid partygoer. I am at peace with that. I recognize where I belong. I thrive on reading, study, and learning, vis-à-vis discussion on weighty matters, and meaningful connection. Understanding that, I became qualified in a field that I adore: counselling.

Knowing the pleasures of the ‘lamplit desk’, many introverts prefer the medium of written communication, and I’m no exception. I love the process of composing prose from thoughts…rearranging, pruning, and polishing. It is where I most readily experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. It is what fuels the passion and the courage to continue this new venture of writing a newsletter.

2. I can do both

Despite my failed attempt to become an extrovert, I did retain those hard-won skills. When conditions call for it, I can and do summon my extrovert persona. Cain calls this ability “pseudo-extroversion”. She recommends that introverts learn how to do it, especially when it’s in the service of projects that carry great personal meaning or importance.

Does pseudo-extroverting sound ingenuine? Does it seem like putting on a front, a mask, a pretence? I don’t think so. I believe that acting out of character in order to further something I truly care about is not misleading. Rather, it underscores the significance I assign to that cause, the personal sacrifice I am willing to make in the service of something worthwhile.

Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly. Susan Cain

In the end, though, to flourish introverts must be true to their nature. When I’m done with all that laudable public exertion, I need to retire to my quiet, cerebral world and replenish. No apologies. No guilt.

3. “Restorative niches”*

There are times when we introverts can’t completely withdraw and restore. The demands of life, work, and family can’t be orchestrated to always suit our individual needs and preferences. Nor should we want it that way; there is potential for growth when we expand ourselves beyond our natural boundaries.

However, an introvert acting out of character too much or for too long runs the very real risk of burning out. I learned the truth of that firsthand.

Here’s where restorative niches come in. A restorative niche is a pocket of space or time that offers the chance to recharge. A restorative niche might be a few quiet minutes spent in a restroom. Or sending an email or text message instead of making a phone call. (Many introverts hate talking on the phone, even to people they know and love; it’s second only to their aversion to small talk.) My go-to is snatching a few minutes alone outdoors if I can.

What restorative niches have you used, or could you build into your day?

And finally…

It is estimated that around one-third to one-half of the population is introverted. Therefore, most people will have someone in their life who falls on the introverted side of the continuum. You might be surprised at who they are; often they are incognito – pseudo-extroverting.

Learning about introversion benefits everyone; it normalizes behaviour that is mistakenly labelled ‘anti-social’ or described in other negative and hurtful terms. But more than that, it allows introverts to flourish, to recognize and use their real gifts… and everyone stands to gain from that.


* This term was coined by Professor Brian Little, an introvert who was also a passionate and animated university lecturer.

Photo by Toni Reed on Unsplash



The FREE Simplification Starter Kit

Learn about 3 things you can ditch today for a lighter tomorrow (downloadable pdf).

Enjoy the Read?

Would someone you know benefit from this post? 

Do them (and me) a favour and share it with them – I deeply appreciate your help with bringing my work to a wider audience. Thank you!


Your FREE Guide to Beating Clutter

Filled with practical tips, mindset shifts, pitfalls to avoid, and a checklist to get you started.

A clutter-free life is waiting for you;

What are you waiting for?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send a message...