Normalize It: Introversion

introverted mind

Skeptical as I am, I’ve always been pretty impressed with the Myers-Briggs test*. Mostly because everyone I know who’s taken it has received a scarily spot-on evaluation, myself included. According to the assessment, I fall into the INFP camp, or introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving, which means that I’m creative, sensitive, and bent on making the world a better place for people – yay! According to an MB knock-off test I took a while back, I am also doomed to be a writer. Also yay-worthy, because writing is, to put it mildly, my freakin’ GIG! On the flip side, I am socially reserved (unless I’m with people I know exceedingly well – then I’m just plain crazy), overly emotional, and prone to overthinking. This might explain the little discovery I recently made when I stumbled upon this article, which talks about the income levels of the various Myers-Briggs personality types.

Wouldn’t you know it, my personality comes dead last in earning power, at least according to this cute little study provided by the Career Assessment Site. I laughed out loud a bit when I saw this. But then I read the following section from the article, which goes into unnervingly accurate detail on people with my personality type:

“Individuals with the INFP personality type are introverts and they tend to be less comfortable with networking and ‘reaching out’ in general,” he says. “This may lead them to miss opportunities to make contacts that propel them to positions of higher income levels.”

Flickr/Wiertz Sébastien“Individuals with the INFP personality type are introverts and they tend to be less comfortable with networking and ‘reaching out’ in general.”

And in a world where “who you know” matters more than “what you know,” this can be detrimental.

These individuals also tend to be attracted to career paths that offer a lot of flexibility and freedom where their creative expression can manifest itself on their terms, Bollag says. “This is why you find that a lot of INFP’s go into fields like music, arts, and creative writing,” he explains. “Unfortunately for income statistics, there is a very good reason why we use the term ‘starving artists’ and the few examples of famous artists, novelists, and musicians that make it big are a very small percentage of the population.”

Finally, he says, these individuals tend to lean on subjective analysis of situations when making decisions. “They consider the impact their decisions have on other people and aim to have harmony in their environment. While there is nothing wrong with this perspective, it may lead them to shy away from positions that force them to make hard, logic-based decisions that effect others in a negative way.”

For example, an INFP may have a much harder time making a corporate level decision that lays off a thousand employees for the betterment of the company than someone who had a Thinking (“T”) based personality type. “A T-based personality type may be able to justify the action, but an F-based personality type, like the INFP, may have lingering issues with such a past decision long after it has been made.”

All I could let out after reading this was a succinct, powerful “damn”. The article is right. I’m super introverted and I loathe networking/”reaching out” (ugh, that phrase), to the point where I’ve probably missed out on a ton of opportunities because of it. I’m like that shy, aspiring model walking around the mall who’s silently shouting “Someone notice me! DISCOVER ME! HIRE ME!”, hoping to catch her big break because someone saw me eating a Big Mac in McDonalds. I want people to “stumble upon” my writing and be taken by it. I take admittedly passive steps to get my work out there. Not that I’ve never e-mailed my stuff or had it published elsewhere – I have – but every time I e-mailed those prospective curators with my ideas, my heart definitely did a few jumping jacks. And every time I send my work to someone, I have to suppress the urge to include a diatribe about how tired I was when I wrote it or how I’m more than happy to fix the flow or order of any paragraphs or sentences or words or syllables or letters if it’s not 100% perfect and to their liking.

The need for flexibility and freedom at my job and the gravitation towards the creative sector are also spot-on attributes. I’m a solitary worker who wants control of her own domain. I want to create something that shines a new light on the world, even if the light is a faint one and only a few can see it. I want to be involved in something with a greater purpose than my own interests or “hey, let’s make this entity more money”.

Lastly, the points about subjective analysis and involving emotion in business decisions are also extremely characteristic of me. One of my biggest fears is one day having to make a decision like the one mentioned above. I value being honest over saving peoples’ feelings in important situations, but having to tell a loyal group of people that I am letting them go for “business reasons” would be unbearable for me.

 

I suppose it makes sense that, given all of these facts about me, I’m not exactly on the high roller train. Most rich people are at least somewhat extroverted and charismatic, or are at least pragmatic enough to partner with people who are. Brilliant Steve Wozniak would probably not be worth $100 million today if it weren’t for the celestial persona that his Apple co-founder Steve Jobs possessed.

I’m also humble enough to admit that I would probably be incapable of making harsh decisions at the expense of others who were just trying to feed their family and live a good life. The revelation of my earning potential that this study purports to provide doesn’t particularly bother me, since (a) the study obviously doesn’t account for individual people’s circumstances and idiosyncrasies and (b) money in and of itself is not something I need to accumulate a lot of.

But you know what does bother me, just a tad? The fact that people like me – introverted, emotional, and not really invested in the “social scene” – are so frequently misunderstood. The fact that we are often seen as having a weakness for being the way we are. If my traits were truly a weakness, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

It’s true: I’m not out every weekend; I’m not even out MOST weekends. I have far from 500 followers on Instagram. My circle of friends is small. I spend half my income on rent/utilities because I need to live alone and I want absolutely nothing to do with anyone when I come home or wake up in the morning. I have had legitimate panic attacks in front of my partner when I thought I wouldn’t fit in with his friends during the beginning our relationship. When I attend pole practice, I am utterly focused on becoming better and thinking of combos, tricks, and routines in my head rather than talking to people around me. I would rather pee my pants in public than “work a room”. I run away if I think people are going to try and make small talk with me. I cry a lot. I intensely analyze everything I do with my life and question my validity as a human to the point of detriment. My preferred hobbies (outside of pole) are reading, drawing, and writing – all solitary activities.

At the same time, I’m the girl who will happily serve as the designated driver for a night out with my friends. I choose to limit my social time to people who inspire good thoughts within me and, to them, I strive to deliver the utmost attention and support. To my partner, I am overwhelmingly supportive, loving, and motivating. Even though I don’t frequently feel like being social, I will come out of my house when I’m ready and enjoy a hilariously fun night with my neighbors a couple times a week. In pole class, I help teach the newer girls and seek help from the more experienced ones. Despite my bookworm tendencies, I am also crazy adventurous and will be the first the first to raise my hand to go on a trek through the Himalayas or dance on a table at the bar – no alcohol needed. I am caring, kind, and compassionate, and your well-being is just as important to me as my own.

I’m also not the only introvert out there. As one of my favorite books, Susan Cain’s Quietdescribes, there are as many types of introverts as there are people. Moreover, there are plenty of people who may “seem” extroverted to you, but are actually introverted and vice versa. Despite the myriad studies that have been completed on personality theory, we still tend to think that introverts are boring, shy losers and extroverts are super-social and adventurous. Indeed, Western culture values and rewards the extrovert, but introverts have just as much to offer and are an essential part of society, too.

So, please: try and understand introverts and realize the enrichment we can bring to your workplace, your community, and your life. We are the listeners, the artists, the bastions of imagination. We are the shoulders to cry on, the hug when you need it the most. We are the optimists, the idealists, the dreamers. Sometimes, we dream so hard that our dreams spill into our reality without us even knowing it. We are everywhere. And we’re not going anywhere, either.

-H

Notes:

*Yes, I am totally aware that the Myers-Briggs test limits its determinants of intro/extraversion to whether people are, essentially, socially outgoing or not. It somewhat ignores the original Jungian definitions of the terms, making it a somewhat one-dimensional way to look at intro/extraversion. Still, my own MB description was pretty uncanny and I identify with it for the most part. It’s not the end-all-be-all of who I am – but it’s a good “roadmap” to understanding who I am as a person, I guess.

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