I like to think of myself as a happily introverted person. I’ve always preferred a quiet night at home to loud and crowded environments, and I’ve always been a fan of listening more than talking. I’ve been an avid reader since my childhood, when I discovered a reading program where if you read enough books, you could earn MORE BOOKS (there may have been other prizes involved, but that was the only one I cared about). These days on a Friday night, I’m hoping to get off work early so that I can curl up in bed with the book that’s waiting for me on my bedside table. While friends and co-workers go out to dance, drink, and party, I relish the idea of a quiet night doing laundry, watching Netflix, or organizing my books.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete hermit; I don’t often turn down invitations to social events (with a few exceptions) and I genuinely enjoy being around people (with a few exceptions). But if left to my own devices, I’m never going to be the person planning parties or orchestrating a night out with a group of people. Simply put, I genuinely enjoy the introvert life (or as I often call it, the grandma life).
But there is also a tension to being an introvert in this day and age.
It doesn’t take long to recognize that we live in a culture that is obsessed with celebrity. Just walk to the check out line of your local grocery store and you’ll find about a dozen magazines dishing out the latest gossip on our favorite Hollywood personalities. We call them “stars” or “idols,” and for many in our culture, they are what we aspire to be like. They are the ones who live in the spotlight, from Red Carpet events to being chased by the paparazzi, and the ones who seem completely at ease on the late night talk shows. But it’s not only limited to Hollywood celebrities, we play this same game with the “average” people all around us. We admire and value those charismatic individuals who seem so comfortable and natural up on a stage speaking to the masses, or the social butterflies who seem to be friends with just about everyone. I love how Susan Cain explains it in her book, Quiet:
“We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”
One of the ways I’ve seen this value system reflected is in the idiom that I often heard growing up, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” usually employed to encourage me to be more vocal or assertive in a particular endeavor… to draw attention to myself. But I’ve never been particularly good at being the “squeaky wheel,” in fact, I seem to be constitutionally opposed to it. As a result of my tendency toward introversion, I have often felt overlooked, undervalued, and at times, invisible… and in voicing this, I have had many well-meaning friends tell me things like, “you just need to be more outgoing, you know, put yourself out there more!” (Translation: “you just need to be more of an extrovert!”). And for much of my life I have internalized that perspective myself.
“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” – Susan Cain
As much as I enjoy being an introvert, I’ve also experienced a secret shame and hatred of my introverted temperament. I’ve wanted to deny it, destroy it, hide it, change it… but with no success. I’ve painted a picture of my “ideal self” as the bubbly, gregarious, and charismatic “people person.” If you know me, you know that’s just not me, and I’ve spent countless hours beating myself up for that fact. I’ve believed that in order to be successful, to have influence, or to form meaningful relationships, I would have to change who I was (or at least learn how to put on a convincing act).
I spent much of my life wrestling with this tension on my own, because I always thought that I was the only one who felt that way… but I’m not. You see, I spent the past week with my fairly introverted family, so when I brought up the topic of the Susan Cain book I was reading, it sparked some very interesting conversations. I heard a number of my family members echo sentiments like, “I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me” or “I’ve often beat myself up for not being more outgoing and extroverted.” Embedded in these statements is a sense of shame; not for something you may or may not have done, but for who you are.
Personally, I’ve spent a lot of energy and shed a lot of tears trying to will myself to be someone I’m not. But try as I might, I can’t make myself into an extrovert, and I’m coming to believe that God has divinely (and frustratingly) foiled all my attempts to do so. Because here’s the thing, the Creator of the Universe created me to be an introvert.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:13-16
I’ve often felt like God must have made a mistake when he created me, like he just forgot to give me the standard dose of extroversion… but it was no mistake. I am an introvert because that’s the way that God created me, and it is not a disappointment to overcome or a pathology to fix, like shame would have me believe. Both introverts and extroverts (and everyone in-between) have been endowed with different strengths, gifts, and abilities that serve a purpose in God’s redemptive plan for his creation.
And while our culture may be conditioned to overlook what introverts have to offer at times, I’ve recognized that I must also take responsibility for how I have failed to embrace and steward the unique gifts and strengths I have been given. Admittedly, I wrestle daily with the temptation to despise the very person that God created me to be, to try to fix “God’s mistake,” and be someone I’m not. I get fixated on all the things that I’m not, instead of living out the fullness of who I am; a child of God, created in His image.
I write this from my own experience and from my own perspective, because I won’t venture to assume my experience is anything close to universal, or put words in the mouths of my fellow introverts… Because honestly, this is a journey that I am just beginning to embark on myself. But maybe you can relate, whether specifically on the topic of introversion, or on some other aspect of your God given identity that you have struggled to embrace. If you can relate to what I have described, I would implore you to resist the lies, and to ask God to show you your true identity… the identity that He gave you before time even began. Ask Him to show you the gifts and strengths that He has given to you, the attributes and characteristics of Himself that He has entrusted you to carry into the world for His glory.
“My temperament, my personality, my abilities, and my interests and passions all say something about who I was called to be, not simply who I am. If I really believe that I was created by God and invited to find my place in his kingdom, I have to take seriously what God had already revealed about who I am.” – David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself
*If you’re an introvert who can relate to this (or if you want a better understanding of your introverted loved ones), I highly recommend checking out the book Quiet by Susan Cain.