This week I was told not to put a label on myself and refer to myself as in introvert as it would stop me from playing big.
I do understand that giving yourself a label can be limiting.
But what if a label can be helpful? What if, rather than being an excuse for not doing stuff (an easy trap to fall into I am sure) it is a sign of self-awareness. You still have the opportunity to do just as much as you want, play as big as you want, but you know that you will need to find your own way of doing that. That the prescribed way of doing whatever it is that suits so many people may not suit you.
And if you look on a label as being a positive, why should that hold you back?
To the lady giving me (well-intentioned I am sure) advice, being an introvert was negative. I disagree. It is just a part of what makes me me. Susan Cain argues in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking society is not geared towards introverts. And I agree. But that doesn’t makes us less than. It just means we get places differently.
Another book which I read and nodded and aha’d my way through was Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. HSP is again a label which has allowed me to explore the way I am and how I best do things. Some people will say it just means that someone is too sensitive. I think being an HSP is part of what makes me the coach I am.
The thing is, once you realise you identify with a certain trait or characteristic you want to know more. And The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling is a perfect book to really get to know your introvert self. It is a much easier read than, and very different to Quiet (which is a fab book too). It is made up of a series of short articles written by the author and collated into a book. This means you can dip in and out and easily skip chapters which don’t appeal or don’t seem relevant.
Dembling takes on some of the myths around being an introvert, one being that we don’t like people. We DO. Promise. Else I would not be in the right job. But as she says, and there is a chapter dedicated to the topic: “I like people. Just not all people all the time.”
Another myth it tackles is shyness. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I am shy. Some introverts might be shy. But many of us aren’t. It is that we need alone time to recharge after social occasions. In my case I like to observe a gathering before participating. People interpret that as shyness or even aloofness. It’s neither.
Other than being a myth busting book I lost count of the number of times I found myself nodding along, recognising myself. There are the a-ha moments that help me understand myself in my different roles.
As a coach it means I really value one on one coaching and small group work rather than working with a large group – I like to build a strong relationship with all my clients.
As a friend it means that once my awesome lovely dinner guests have gone home, I need alone time, so after my husband and children have gone to bed I will stay up, on my own, winding down with a book or some TV for an hour or even more. I have loved the time with guests, but I then need alone time. And I mean need. I find socialising tiring. Love it, but it is tiring.
As a mother it means I need to balance the needs of two noisy and demanding toddlers with my own needs for quiet time. It means I need to find my own way of parenting. I also have to understand the two children differently – one has introvert tendancies, the other appears to be an extravert, and as I know, this means they may have different needs from me as they get older.
The book has advice for people who are introverts, would make useful reading for people in a relationship of any kind with an introvert, and also shares experiences. It also helps us realise we are not alone. I mean, of course we are not alone, but because we tend to be quiet people, we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we sometimes feel alone. Along with Cain’s Quiet, it normalises us. I grew up with the label shy, and too quiet. I read my old school reports last year, every single one. And again and again came comments like “too quiet”, “needs to participate more”. Comments like that made me feel somehow out of place. Somehow less than.
I mentioned yesterday that I find the coaching world noisy, and I don’t quite fit in. That is massively down to being an introvert (though loads of coaches are also introverts, we just notice each other less!). Now, however, and in part due to this book, I know that it is OK to be like that. Fine, we might not fit in everywhere, but fitting in isn’t important anymore. And it doesn’t mean that we are less than. We still have our equally important role to play in all types of of businesses and in all parts of society. We just do it the introvert’s way.
I really recommend The Introvert’s Way to help you understand yourself, or someone you know. It’s not a limiting label. Quite the opposite: it is actually quite liberating.