Every memory of childhood is about me spending time in nature, spending time with the animals or wandering around in the neighbourhood on my own.
Pretty much all my life, I’ve always loved solitary time and I lived with the silent feeling that I didn’t fit in… until I realised that it wasn’t true.
Opposites attract each other; the majority of my friends that I had and have are extroverts. What I didn’t know was how much I enjoyed being around them because they did all the talking and I did all the listening. This had eventually led to me to do what I do today which requires a lot of attentive listening.
Even now, people sometimes consider it a a weakness that when I attend trainings, I’m shy, quiet and that I don’t mingle with groups. Now this is different when I lead my own events and workshops. More on that later. Of course, they probably didn’t say that out of bad intentions, but for a long time, that really made me believe that I have a major weakness – I don’t fit in.
I’m shy. I’m quiet. I can’t mingle with groups. That’s what my inner-critic says.
It became an affirmation in my head which made it worse. So if you’re someone who goes through similar things, I’ve got great news for you.
As an INTP by Myer Briggs Personality Test and someone who has experienced the not-so-favourable side of being an introvert, I get you.
I’ve done a lot of research over the years, and especially recently, on this very topic, with the intention to be more like them and to work on my weaknesses. Little did I know what I’d find would change my life.
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So first up, it is not a weakness. In fact, it’s a strength.
The world is set up for extroverts
If you look back at the early 20th century, women were expected to be quiet, modest, reserved, shy and mild-mannered. Fast forward a hundred years later, the requirements in workplaces and businesses have changed. We now want people who are driven, energetic, sociable, outgoing and of an extroverted nature.
The person who speaks louder, who’s more out there, and has more dominance seems to be a better fit for leadership positions. Verbal fluency and sociability are the two most important factors for success, according to Stanford Business School. I’ve been part of so many masterminds, workshops and trainings. Every time we had to pick a leader, 9 out of 10 times, people would naturally pick someone who has an out-there personality and loud voice, and exudes dominance.
As an introvert, I watch. I sit back. I learn. I listen. So I see.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that being an introvert is hard not only in the workplaces and businesses but also in the society. When we’re seen as timid and shy, we automatically lose people’s subconscious votes for us to become leaders.
So we very hard to be extroverts. In fact, back in 1999 a drug called Paxil was produced to enhance extroversion and to cure shyness.
As a result, introverts go against their natural tendency and pretend to talk confidently and loudly, however uncomfortable it may be. We then feel more stressed and take longer time to recuperate from it when we finally have the time to be ourselves.
This was definitely my experience. When I found myself in situations where I had what it took for me a leader, but my natural tendency wasn’t to talk loudly, my voice wasn’t heard. Then someone who could speak louder, but was not necessarily a better leader, was given the leadership position.
Or I would push myself to speak louder, act more outgoing, and go to networking events with a big grin as if I was a complete extrovert, just so I’d be noticed or heard. That worked, and it got me business, but then I wouldn’t go out for the next five days because I was recovering all the energy I’d used.
How introverts and extroverts operate
So before we go any further, it’s good to understand the differences between introverts and extroverts. This table only scratches the surface but this will give you an idea of how we operate differently.
On top of that, one thing that really blew my mind was the in-depth research done by a scientist named Jerome Kagan – which shows how our natural tendencies influence how we perceive the world and how we show up every day.
One thing about me that people comment on, both in a negative and positive way—depending on who’s making the comment—is that I’m very sensitive. Being sensitive has such a negative connotations, but being sensitive also comes from a place of deep care for others and also how we’re wired.
Highly sensitive people not only just pick up the slightest cues from those around us that happen within split seconds, we also feel the words and expressions of others deeply. Surprisingly, we also feel other people’s energies twice as much. In the spiritual world, we’re called “empaths”—those who feel and take on other people’s energies in our bodies.
I’ve sat in countless numbers of transformational workshops where we do deep mindset work, and also in the jungles of South America working with indigenous shamans on traditional healing modalities. When I sat in groups and circles where people experienced healing of their past traumas, I’d feel them as my own in my body. Most of the time, with healing comes a lot of pain and I would be confused as to why I was feeling so much emotional and physical pain. I used to think—because of the comments I’ve received over the years—that I was too sensitive, and simply dramatising the whole experience.
But are we really dramatising it or are our bodies made genetically to be that way?
The answer from Kagan’s research, where he monitors 500 people from infancy to adulthood, shows that although it’s not black and white clear-cut, we’re highly influenced by the temperament and the genetics we’re born with that defines how we take in information daily.
So the question is, how do we go about in our lives as introverts?
As Susan Cain says in her famous TedTalk on introversion, her way of socialising is to be in a room full of people who love to read and internally reflect, but enjoy each other’s company.
We’re all built and wired differently, and the first step is to recognise and acknowledge our natural tendencies and to optimise our performance based on it.
So here are some of the things that I would suggest and that I personally do to navigate a world that favours extroversion in interpersonal relationships and leadership positions.
Connect with people one on one
Although I can switch gears to my adapted extroverted self, I prefer to connect deeply with people one on one. So when you’re with a group of people, you will intuitively pick out a person you can connect with. Although the rules of networking is about getting to know as many people as possible and getting seen as much as possible, that one profound connection will create not only a more meaningful relationship, but also open several exciting doors.
If, like me, you give talks to large groups of people, practise, practise and practise. Find out what’s required of you, what’s expected of you and what you need to deliver. Again, connect to one person each in the audience. This will transfer that energy that you’re transmitting to the group like wildfire.
Solitary is paradise
I’m a lone wolf and I absolutely love my solitary time. This time alone allows us to reflect and go within to start the introspection process and come up with many ideas. How do you think Steve Wozniak (the co-founder of Apple) or Ghandi can make such impacts on the world? By spending alone time to recharge, reflect and create.
One of my strengths since young is my ability to listen with the intent to understand, and to ask questions that make people think. It’s what led me to where I am today in my business. Many people like to talk, and not many listen. When there’s someone who listens and ask questions, that makes people feel heard and special. That also allows you to understand people better. One of the traits to win friends and influence people—from the famous book by Dale Carnegie—is to listen, and by doing so you put the spotlight on others which makes people appreciate you more.
Use social media
From watching my social media videos and livestreams and judging my energy and enthusiasm, many people believe I’m an extrovert. The thing is, that energy and enthusiasm comes from being able to spend majority of my waking hours alone—thinking, reflecting and creating. So if you struggle to connect with large groups of people in person because it drains your energy levels far too quickly, social media is the best way to spread your message.
So there you go. Being quiet, soft-spoken and needing a lot of time on your own isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the majority of leaders who are making an impact in the world are introverts.
The key here is to honour our natural tendencies and learn ways to navigate in our daily lives so we can optimise our performance to the max. Let’s put an end to suppressing who we are and start showing up in our authentic selves. The world doesn’t need more fast-talkers, big personalities and dominant characters. The world needs more leaders who honour their true self and show up with courage, conviction and authenticity.
Arabelle Yee a nationally recognised Speaker, Life Strategist and High Performance Coach. She helps individuals, entrepreneurs and professionals become the best at what they do through the power of mindset. “A cross between Elizabeth Gilbert and Tony Robbins”, as her peers would say, Arabelle teaches Leadership, Mindset, Human Behaviour and how to optimise performance. Arabelle works with clients from professionals and change makers to multiple 7-figure entrepreneurs. She’s also been featured on Sunday Times, The West Australian, 7 Days News, Huffington Post and many more.