I make my living from communication but sometimes I don’t want to communicate with anyone.
My wife’s used to it. I leave her watching TV and sneak away for 15 minutes, half an hour, maybe an hour.
It took her a while to figure out what was going on. It took me even longer.
My name’s Neil and I’m an introvert.
When I think of my middle-school days, aged nine to 13, some of my happiest memories are of sitting at the base of a tree where the trunk and roots had woven the perfect spot for one.
Sometimes I’d sit there all lunch, just thinking.
Teachers probably looked at the strange kid sat by himself and wondered what was wrong.
Nothing was wrong. I wasn’t shy. If I wasn’t at the tree, I was playing football with the rest of the boys, kicking lumps out of each other’s shins until none of us could walk without grimacing.
But time alone has always been my most productive.
How introverts are misunderstood
Most seem to think introverts are shy; others read it as rudeness. It’s neither.
I love dealing with people. One of the things I miss most in my current job is that I rarely interact with anyone other than my own colleagues.
My career in journalism relied upon dealing with a wide network of contacts. I was regularly on radio and television. I enjoyed it all.
Let’s be clear, being an introvert is not the same as being shy.
I’ll repeat that.
Being an introvert is not the same as being shy.
Here’s a list of 14 other popular misconceptions about introverts.
Those misunderstandings stem from a culture that – at times – feels like it’s yet to recognise a personality type estimated to account for anything up to half of the population.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, argues schools and offices are failing introverts everywhere.
That’s a lot of people being let down.
Cain believes from the first days at school, society has taught us “that somehow being introverted was not the ‘right’ way of being…
“A third to a half of the population are introverts… all of them subject to this bias.”
Watch this TED talk to understand where she’s coming from.
“To see the bias clearly, you need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy – shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. Extroverts really crave stimulation, whereas introverts are at their most alive, switched on and capable when they’re in quieter, low-key environments. Not all the time – these things aren’t absolutes – but a lot of the time. So the key, then, to maximising our talents is for us all to put ourselves into the environment that’s right for us. But here’s where the bias comes in. Our most important environments – our schools and our workplaces – are designed for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation.”
Author Jon Ronson knows she’s right. He says: “I’ve gone through my life with various personality traits that I just assumed were weird little quirks, like feeling a desperate urge to to leave a party after an hour, feeling an urge to just be alone in a quiet little place… and you seem to have spotted that, actually, this is the same for loads of us.”
So maybe the challenge for workplaces is to better recognise the talent in their ranks.
Because I’d guess that plenty don’t fully understand introverts or how to maximise their skills.
Here’s to the introverts and all those kids sitting under trees.