I have always been an introvert. Ever since I was a child, I preferred my alone time. Other people called me quiet and shy, but I never actually heard the word “introvert” until I was much older. I learned at an early age, though that being quiet and shy was not acceptable. Teachers insisted that I was in a shell and needed to come out, and people constantly asked me why I was so quiet.
As an adult, I am exactly the same way except for one point: I have learned to embrace my introverted side. I also discovered that introverts are not necessarily shy, and being quiet isn’t a bad thing.
Many years ago, when I was climbing my way up the corporate ladder, I started working at an investment firm. As a full-time accountant, I was surrounded by other introverts, but my department actually had more extroverts than any place I’ve ever worked. I didn’t want to keep up with them, but sometimes I felt like I had no choice.
Because I belonged to different professional organizations and found myself at social events, I realized that I could be extroverted when I needed to be. I could definitely be a leader when I needed to be, even if it made me uncomfortable. This was just the way things were for me.
Everything changed in 2013 when I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. She says, “I dream big and have audacious goals, and I see no contradiction between this and my quiet nature.” She speaks all over the world about the power of introverts. Susan Cain’s ideas about introversion helped shape my own personal journey.
There are three things I focused on to appreciate my quiet personality. It took time to retrain my thinking and embrace the introvert in me.
Refresh my mind
As an accountant, I used to have to stand in front of senior staff and talk. (Yes, accountants do talk!) Sometimes I talked a lot. I answered questions and guided non-accounting people through complex financials. I attended meetings sometimes daily. This was all part of the job.
However, towards the end of each month my workload would pile high. I agreed to serve on too many committees at work, and I started teaching college classes at night on the side. I noticed the impact on my mood and health right away. I would leave work each day with a headache, only to walk right into another one once I arrived at school. After keeping up this routine for a while, something had to give.
This is when I started to close my door — at work and at school. I know it seems like a simple solution, but I had never practiced it before. Even if I only had ten minutes of alone time before the next meeting or class, I closed my door to refresh without interruptions. This simple act worked wonders.
Capitalize on my strengths
After reading Susan Cain’s book, my whole mindset changed. I started to think about all of my positive qualities. For me, this included my listening skills, my calm demeanor, my attention to detail, and my ability to be efficient. Once I began to embrace these qualities, I chose activities, committees, and even social events that played to my strengths. I stopped putting myself in uncomfortable situations and wasting my energy on things I really didn’t want to do. I know when I am at my best, and I choose to focus on those areas.
Retrain my thoughts
The idea that being an extrovert is better than other personality types is not a fact. It is something we are taught and many of us grow up believing. However, if we can change the way we think about our personalities, our lives can also change.
For example, for much of my professional career, I didn’t really consider myself a leader, even though I was acting as one. In my eyes, leaders had louder, bigger personalities. They were confident and naturally charismatic. Then I started to pay attention to other types of leaders in my workplace and those I would meet socially. Not everyone had a big personality. Actually, the most effective leaders I observed led in different ways. When I embraced my strengths as an introvert, I had no problem seeing myself as a leader.
It is not easy to change negative self-talk. In my case, I had trained myself to think being an introvert was less interesting and less effective. It took self-work to think differently. In those moments when I feel the need to be alone and refresh, I listen and make sure to take care of my needs. Taking care of myself is beneficial to my family, my students, and my writing life. It all stems from knowing who I am and embracing that.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.