This is a guest post, by the beautiful Tanja Gardner. She lives in New Zealand, although she spells like she’s British, and she’s an amazing writer who’s taking a powerful stand for introverts stepping regally into the full expression of their purpose in business.
There’s a difference between honouring your introversion and playing small
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone dismiss introversion as an “excuse to play small”, I’d… Well, I’d probably invest it, live off the interest, and offer my coaching services for free.
Seriously, the myths around being introverted — that we’re all just shy, poorly socialised, or just too selfish to make an effort — are mindboggling. Errr… no actually, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence for genuine physiological and biochemical differences between introverted and extroverted brains. (In everyday terms: we really are wired differently!)
That said, introversion can make an incredibly convenient excuse to avoid stretching beyond your comfort zone. So how can you tell whether you’re being true to who you are as an introvert, as opposed to hiding your light?
It’s a complex question, and without getting to know you, I can’t say for sure. But here are a few things to consider that might help you figure it out for yourself.
Before we talk about whether you’re honouring your introversion or not, it might help to check that we’re all talking about the same thing.
Being introverted (or extroverted) is basically about how your energy levels tend to respond to interacting with others.
- If you’re introverted, you’ll generally find that spending time with other people drains your energy levels; and you recharge from being blissfully alone.
- If you’re extroverted, you mostly get your juice from being around other people; and you start to feel flat when you’ve been too long by yourself.
Note the terms “generally” and “mostly” there. That’s because introversion and extroversion aren’t absolute characteristics – most of us experience a little bit of both in different situations. So instead, the terms refer to what you tend to experience most often.
(Not sure which “-vert” you are? This fun, free and totally unscientific quiz might help you figure it out!)
Plenty of introverts “play big” — but that doesn’t mean you have to
Now let’s look at the assumption that people who claim to be introverts do so to play small. The truth is that there are plenty of introverts out there making a splash on the world stage. No-one could accuse Leonie Dawson, Susan Cain or JK Rowling of “playing small”.
But — and this is a pretty big “but” — just because they play big doesn’t mean you have to as well. I get a little twitchy when I hear big-name coaches talk about “playing small” as though it was the greatest betrayal anyone could commit.
No. I’m sorry, but no.
I don’t believe in “one right way” for anything. If you genuinely want to create a revolution and change the world, that’s awesome. But if your priority is simply to help a few people to the best of your ability while earning enough to pay your bills and maybe save a little bit for a rainy day? That’s perfectly valid too.
It comes down to consciously choosing where you spend your energy
To me, the question of “are you being authentic or hiding” comes down to your answers to three component questions:
- 1. What do you really want? I don’t just mean from your business here, but from your relationships, your spiritual practice, your downtime, and anything else in your life. It doesn’t matter what someone else wants. What’s right for you?
- 2. What do you need to do to make that happen? Note that there may be many possible answers here. Be suspicious of anyone who tells you there’s only one way to get to your goals. And remember that some routes may be far more introvert-friendly (i.e. less energy-intensive) than others.
- 3. Is the energy cost of whatever you need to do worth the payoff of achieving your goal? As an introvert, your energy is a limited commodity. That means that – much as you need to budget your money – you need to wisely choose what you’ll spend your energy on. It’s totally OK to decide that something’s just not worth the energy for you.
Here’s how your answers play into the overall question
- If you genuinely want to lead a quieter, more peaceful life: then trying to force yourself into someone else’s model of success is inauthentic. It’s not “hiding” to acknowledge what you really want from life, and choose to work towards that instead of what someone else says you should be striving for.
- If you’d like to play big — or play bigger than you are — and want to find more introvert-friendly ways to do so: I don’t see that as hiding either. The reality is that some activities are going to cost you more energy than they’d cost an extrovert. But you can often accomplish the same thing in different, less energy-intensive ways. Looking for routes to achieve your goal that work better for you is playing smart, not playing small.
- If you try a particular technique and conclude that the results just aren’t worth the energy drain: nope – still not hiding. When your energy resources are limited, every activity carries an opportunity cost. That means that if you choose to do this thing, you have to sacrifice being able to do that So again, picking your battles and choosing the activities that give you the best payoff is playing smart. (Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself about what you most want!)
- BUT… if you really want to help people on a bigger scale and claim you can’t “because you’re an introvert”: then, my friend, I’m sorry, but yes. In that case, you’re hiding. You’re using introversion as an excuse. You’re ignoring the fact that so many other introverts have found ways to do what they want to do in spite of — or sometimes because of — their introversion.
So. Which are you doing: hiding, or being authentic?
I don’t know you, so I have no idea what you truly want from your life or business. Nor do I know what you have and haven’t already tried out. And — newsflash — neither do those folks who bandy the phrase “playing small” around like it was the word of the day.
You’re the only one who knows that.
So rather than telling you whether you’re honouring your authentic introversion or not, I invite you sit with those three questions above.
And if you realise you want to make more of a difference, but can’t figure out how to do it without wrecking yourself?
Click here for a free, no-obligation “Create Perfect Clarity” session to explore your options.
Then she discovered that what she really wanted to do was help fellow introverts build their businesses without exhausting themselves. So she started Conscious Introvert Success: a treasure-trove of introvert-friendly resources, information and coaching.
Or you can check out Conscious Introvert Awesomeness: her free community for introverted business owners to connect with and support each other.