When I was a kid, people sometimes called me “shy.” I hated those people…. At least, I hated them for that moment. I’m sure they weren’t trying to be mean, but I feel that I can speak for all introverts when I say that “shy” is always an offensive and unwelcome adjective. It conjures up images of a kid who wets his pants when the teacher calls on him or hides in the coat closet during recess. That’s not me. My bladder control is superb and I’ve always had friends to play with at recess. But I am an introvert. I have come to terms with that now although I used to struggle with it a lot. I still remember people writing things in my yearbook like “You’re an awesome guy! You should talk more.”
What? Seriously? Who uses someone’s yearbook for constructive criticism?
I never understood why I people thought I was quiet. I didn’t feel quiet. It wasn’t like there were things that I wanted to say, but just couldn’t because I was too scared. Honestly, there simply wasn’t a ton of things to say. I never felt the need to come up with something to say just to be heard. I never felt compelled to be the center of attention or to be the person that everyone talked about. Every once in a while I would try to get rid of the “shy and quiet” label and try to mimic other, louder, personalities. But it always felt uncomfortable and strange, like I was living in someone else’s skin. It was exhausting.
At some point in college I grew to understand my own personality much better. It was like I was meeting myself for the first time and, to my surprise, I found that I liked myself very much. I began to be comfortable with the fact that most of my personal growth happened in solitude as I processed my thoughts, experiences and ideas through excessive internal dialogue. So, I started making more space for that kind of thing. I also realized that there was a lot of value in just listening to others instead of trying to think up something to say. But not everything I learned was a positive. For instance, introverts are often very deep thinkers and analyzers. We spend a lot of time, sometimes an unhealthy amount of time, listening and analyzing and often make others feel awkward by our non-participation in group conversations. I found that some people perceived me as arrogant, rude and unfriendly. Which I can understand, since I was often being arrogant, rude and unfriendly. But being of aware of those tendencies helped me to become much better at overcoming them. And I became less likely to avoid some of the situations that made me uncomfortable. Instead I chose to see them as opportunities to grow. I still have a long way to go with this but I find that I am a far more balanced introvert than I used to be.
Maturing happens when you recognize who you are, and then decide to move forward. I have heard a lot of people use their personality as an excuse for immaturity. As if being an introvert gives you a pass to not engage in relationships with new people. Or that being an extrovert means that you’ll never have to read books or spend time alone. Simply knowing your strengths and weaknesses doesn’t make you better. That’s a much more cumbersome task. It involves learning to work within your strengths and stretching yourself to grow through your weaknesses. In the process of growing you will have to come to terms with your personality but you do not need to be limited by it. Your personality may dictate the way that you process the world around you but it doesn’t have to dictate how you will engage that world.
Johnny Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Jonathan Edwards, Michael Jordan… All introverts who had remarkably impressive and very public careers.
Tons of famous artists and musicians in history have been introverts.
Even some of the best public speakers in history have been introverts.
I used to struggle with the idea that extroverts are far better suited for the whole church ministry thing. All of the public speaking. All of the meeting new people. All of the situations that put a big spotlight on you and your life. But the truth is, there are plenty of amazing pastors, leaders, writers and communicators that are self-professed introverts: John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Anne Lamott and Donald Miller just to name a few favorites. And while I can’t speak to the personal habits of these individuals I can assure you that they have disciplined themselves to work within the strengths of, and grow through some of the weaknesses of, being an introvert in order to have the successes that they have had in their lives.
Oh… and just to be fair. I’m sure there are some extroverts that have done some amazing things too… like stand-up comedy or something.
Just kidding. I am married to an amazing extrovert who challenges me and keeps me balanced. She has probably had more to do with my growth in this area than any other person could and I am indebted to her for her patience and love with the stubborn parts of my personality that have yet to mature. And I often return the favor by encouraging her to slow down, find some quiet space and read a book or something. She is a wonderful and balanced woman.
So, in summary… Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Own it. Learn to maximize your strengths and stretch yourself to grow through your weaknesses. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not, but don’t settle for what’s easy.