– by Wes Colton, Introvert Unbound
I’ve always been an extreme introvert, preferring to spend much of my time completely alone or in very small groups. It’s not that I hate people, it’s simply that—as with all introverts—socializing drains my energy, so I tend to enjoy solitary activities the most.
Over the years, though, I started to accept the fact that my aversion to socializing might be keeping me from living the life I wanted.
After graduating from college, I found it difficult to make new friends, as that required putting myself into new situations and introducing myself to people. Since I worked from home, my professional life was mostly fine, but I knew I was limiting my prospects because I never wanted to network in person with colleagues who could’ve expanded my horizons. And, needless to say, my social isolation made it so my dating life was pretty dismal.
Finally, it got to the point where my misery was greater than my dislike of socializing and I decided to just launch myself out there into the world. And the discovery I made changed my life: I had been using my introversion as a crutch.
Before going any further, I want to be absolutely clear: there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Just because our brains work differently than extroverts doesn’t make us inferior. In fact, deep-thinking introverts make some very unique and essential contributions to the world.
That being said, there’s no denying that introverts are often at a disadvantage in life, as many successes come from the ability to socialize well with others. It’s delusional to pretend that introverts don’t have a tougher time dating, getting that promotion or raise, or finding a group of friends. And often times—too often—our great ideas are never heard because we haven’t developed the skills to put them out there.
A lot of well-meaning advice geared towards introverts is about accepting and loving yourself for who you are. That’s really important, as there is no way to change the fact that you’re an introvert and there’s a lot that’s great about it.
What bugs me is when this advice discourages introverts from looking at aspects of themselves that they might improve upon, namely, how they socialize.
If you’re the kind of introvert who doesn’t believe you can change any part of yourself for the better, then you should probably stop reading right now before you’re triggered and accuse me of anti-introvert hate speech.
Here, let me give you a second to close the browser tab and go back to one of those inspirational quotes telling you you’re already perfect in every way.
OK…those of you who are still reading likely suspect that once in a while you might be
coddling yourself, because change can be hard and painful. That maybe—just maybe—you’re choosing comfortable misery over uncomfortable self-improvement.
Don’t worry, this isn’t about developing some fake personality. You’re never going to change who you are fundamentally and that’s a good thing. But, just like you lift weights to pump up a weak bicep, so too can you strengthen your social muscles.
I’m really no different these days where I socialize four to five nights a week than several years ago when I could barely handle two nights. But I have improved aspects of who I am.
So let me share with you the single most important secret for prolonging your social battery.
Say you want to make some money. Do you sit around hoping someone will deliver you a paycheck, or do you take courses, apply for internships, network, etc? Everyone knows you’ve got to do the latter, namely: you’ve got to spend money to make money.
The same applies to social energy. You might think the best way to preserve your stamina at a party is to hide in the corner, peevishly parceling out a few words here and there, and only talking if someone brings you into a conversation. It’s logical to think that clinging tightly to your meager supply of energy is the best way to keep it from disappearing.
I’m here to tell you that the solution is exactly the opposite. Although it might seem counterintuitive, acting like a wallflower—not a social butterfly—is what’s bleeding you dry.
First of all, an introvert in a social situation is like a car that’s been sitting out in the cold. It takes a little while for the engine to get going. If it never warms up, it’s not going to run well.
When you stand there listening to some babbling extrovert, you’re not really engaged in the conversation and you’re probably even a little bit resentful of having to be subjected to the blather. That’s a recipe for rapid energy drain.
Instead, try walking confidently around the room, introducing yourself to people, speaking loudly and assertively and looking them in the eye, adding your unique viewpoint to the conversation and steering it in the direction you’d like it to go.
The way to maintain your energy is to talk about what makes you feel passionate rather than just going along for the ride to some destination you don’t want to go.
At first, you might need to work on your conversation and other social skills. But over time, you’ll learn how to navigate the social landscape better, and you’ll find that your battery stays charged for longer than you would’ve ever thought possible.
And sometimes, believe it or not, you might find yourself so energized that you have trouble falling asleep.
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