Another TED talk, another revelation.

THIS HIT HOME. It’s validation that “it’s ok to be me.” Even in a culture that tells me that I need to be outgoing, to be loud, to be brash. Because those are the types of people that are rewarded.

I am an introvert. I spent much of my life trying not to be, though. I’ve always felt that to be liked I needed to be more funny, more charming, more of a “talker.” My truth is that I’m in my head a lot, my spoken words are measured carefully, thus I tend to seem “quieter.”

I’d attributed the fact that these days I’d rather lie on the couch and read / watch a movie than go to a party, to entering a new stage of my life. I’d rather have an intimate gathering of just a few people, or an evening with my partner (more likely, it’s the latter). The thought being partying is what you do when you’re young; I’m older now. But when I think back over the years, from my teens and my twenties, that same feeling — the desire to just chill out — existed then, too.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Except that I forced myself out. I noticed this during my travels, too. This pressure to always be socializing, to always connect with other travelers. I even wrote about it, before I really thought about what it means to be an introvert.

In the TED talk above, Susan Cain speaks about the importance of nurturing and supporting introverts, rather than trying to turn them into extroverts. She explains how many of the great inventions of our time were created by introverts, specifically because they were introverts. She talks of the current trend in schools and in workplaces to open spaces up, push desks together, to always work in teams.

I remember when I used to work in a corporate office, that transition period from solitary cubicle to an open plan. The increase in teamwork, of team-building exercises. When words like “synergy” and “collaboration” and phrases like “the sum is greater than the parts” were thrown around almost on a daily basis. Not to say that these aren’t important things; they are real and I’ve experienced the power of collaboration.

But when did it become default that that’s the only path to success? How did it become part of our culture where extroverts are celebrated and introverts are made to feel less than? In this discussion on CBC’s Tapestry program, Cain discusses the phrase “you need to come out of your shell” and why she dislikes it:

I absolutely hate that phrase because, for people who tend to be the target of that particular expression, those are people for whom the shell — in one degree or another — is an organic part of who they are. And so that expression is saying to them ‘this piece of you, that is part of you, is wrong and we have to rip it away’…it’s like taking off your arm; it’s taking off a part of who you are.

I guess what it comes down to is this: there is an idealized notion of what makes the “best” kind of person, and when I don’t conform to it, I feel badly — maybe I even try to change myself. That’s why I love these kinds of messages, because it reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’m not abnormal. I strive nowadays to express my authentic self because I’ve always tried to conform to something, always felt like I needed to adapt myself to different social situations.

This adapting instinct does have its place; it can make things more comfortable for everyone. But how much of myself do I compromise when I do it? How much of my real self am I not letting others see? And what am I telling myself when I feel that I need to be something I’m not?