I recently had a conversation with someone in which I suggested that I thought she was an introvert. She replied “well, I used to be shy, but I’m not really that way anymore”.
I think a lot of people make this same mistake of confusing introversion with being shy or having a fear of speaking to / in front of people. In fact, the dictionary lists one of the definitions of the word “introvert” as “a shy person”. However, I believe there is a distinct difference.
Introversion vs. Extroversion
The best way to determine if a person is an introvert or an extrovert is to ask them how they prefer to relax and recharge. Extroverts are generally energized by spending time with others, while introverts are generally energized by spending time alone.
Extroverts love to hang out in places full of stimulation – where there are crowds and activity and plenty of opportunities to interact with others. Being with people relaxes them, and gives them energy. They “recharge” by hanging out with a group of friends, and the more the merrier!
Introverts, on the other hand, use up their energy when interacting with others, and “recharge” by being alone. They tend to prefer one-on-one conversations to large groups of people, but that doesn’t mean that they are shy or fearful – just that it takes more effort for them to interface with others.
A Public Introvert
People are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I am a natural introvert. They wouldn’t have guessed this because I do things like teach and train, hold leadership positions, and I run a business which requires a lot of networking, selling, and speaking to groups of people.
But the truth is that while I enjoy all of these things, they wear on me. I love to teach and speak to large groups, but I am usually somewhat exhausted after I finish. I enjoy meeting people in business circles and talking about ideas for growth and opportunity, but I usually need to retreat and recharge alone for a while afterward. It’s not unpleasant to do these things, just tiring – like an athlete who loves his sport, but can only perform for so long before needing to rest his body. It’s a “good kind of tired”.
A number of public figures, performers, business leaders, and teachers are naturally introverted people. Introversion does not prevent or preclude a person from any accomplishment. It has nothing to do with timidity or a fear of talking to people. Fear is something that can and should be overcome, but introversion is part of who you are – it’s an important component of your unique personality, and it is not going to change.
Nor should it.