“The unintentional training I received when I was little was that because I was a girl and an actor, I must love being pleasant, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable all the time. I think all little girls are trained this way, even those who aren’t entertainers like I was. Women are always expected to be the gracious hostess, quick with an anecdote and a sprinkling of laughter at others’ stories. We are always the ones who have to smooth over all the awkward moments in life with soul-crushing pleasantries. We are basically unpaid geishas. But when we do not fulfill this expectation (because we are introverted), people assume we must either be depressed or a c***.” – Amy Schumer, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
I have loved Amy Schumer ever since I watched her first special on Comedy Central many years ago. I thought she was not only hilarious but refreshing as well. I watched as she fearlessly roasted Mike Tyson, got her own show on Comedy Central, starred in her first movie (that she also wrote) and gave a hilarious acceptance speech at last year’s Glamour awards. When I found out she was writing a book I was ecstatic because I am a fan of memoirs that are written by funny women; from Tina Fey to Mindy Kaling to Amy Poehler to Lena Dunham – I have them all! One of Amy’s first essays in her book is on how she is an introvert and it made me happy to know that she and I had this in common because not many successful people, let alone successful women, like to admit that they are introverted.
I first learned that I was an introvert back in 2005 when I joined AmeriCorps and was asked to take the Myers Briggs test. For anyone interested I am an INFJ which is the rarest personality type and makes up only 2% of the population. Isn’t that neat? I won’t dive too much into what it means to be an INFJ but I will talk some more about the ‘I’ part of it. What I learned is that the difference between an Introvert and an Extrovert has to do with energy. Introverts are energized by having quiet alone time. Extroverts are the opposite and get their energy from being around and interacting with people.
It wasn’t a surprise to me that I was an introvert because the definition fit me to a T, but what I couldn’t help but notice was the negative connotation I immediately put on being this way. For as long as I can remember people have commented on how quiet I can be, and often not in a good way. Sometimes people seem surprised by it because they think I should be more outgoing, or they’re perplexed by it because they think there’s something wrong with me, like I’m depressed or socially awkward, or they’re annoyed by it because…I’m not sure why, that one has always confused me. When I was younger these comments bothered me and for a little while I thought maybe there was something wrong with me; why was I so quiet? Why wasn’t I more outgoing and bubbly? At one point I was almost convinced that it was due to a lack of confidence or self-esteem, but I soon realized that was wrong and that these were perceptions being put on me.
As I’ve gotten older the comments still annoy me but I’ve learned to deal with them. I know that as a culture we tend to put more positivity around being outgoing and I don’t see this changing anytime soon, although I am starting to see more content being put out there around the value of introverts. Want a few of my personal bullet points? Okay!
We’re pretty easy to be around. Our very nature tends to make us chill and laid back. I actually hear this quite a bit from my co-workers and even my bosses. I have especially received accolades on how calm I can be when working big events where stressful situations often arise but I manage to keep my cool and sometimes end up consoling others who become overwhelmed.
We really take the time to get to know people. Yes, crowds are usually very draining, but we often thrive in a small group of people or in a one-on-one interaction. I think the reason for this is because we feel fueled when we are having a deep discussion with someone and feel like we’re really getting to know them. My personal version of hell is a crowded cocktail party where I have to make small talk with people about superficial topics that never get below the surface. I would make it about 20 minutes before I’d either have to leave, hide or hit the bar.
We choose the people we want to have in our lives very carefully. People deplete our energy, sometimes very quickly, and because of this we have learned to cut out the things, or people, that want to take more than they want to give. A friend once told me she had observed how picky I was about who I hang out with, and it made her feel special.
Again, these are just some of my personal bullet points. There is a lot more to value in introverts and if you want to learn more I’ll put one of my favorite TedTalks right here for you to check out when you get a chance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4.
Although I now know the power of my introversion and am comfortable with it I still struggle with how introversion seems to be more accepted in men then in women. Men can be introverted and nobody seems to question it. I remember when I was growing up that whenever there was a family gathering of some kind going on it was not uncommon for the guys to take a break on their own and either go to the basement, or the garage, maybe even the barn if it wasn’t too cold. For some of them it was a “smoke break” but for others it was just getting some alone time and nobody ever commented on it. However, you never saw any of the women in my family doing that. They would usually hang out in the kitchen or dining room chatting and laughing, which was great, but I bet at one time or another one of them wished they could claim the same solitude that the male members of my family were able to take without feeling like somebody was clocking them.
These days, even if I’m at a family function, I don’t care and when I’m done socializing, I’m done. I have no problem hiding out in the basement or tuning everyone out while I join Dad in the living room to watch the latest rerun of Law and Order (his favorite show). However, I will sometimes get flack for it the next day.
Why is it that women are expected to be charming and accommodating – the hostess with the mostest, but men are not? Why is it that a man can be quiet and stoic, even standoffish and be considered mysterious or even cool and gets to date Natalie Wood (James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause), but when a woman is quiet, stoic and standoffish she is considered mean or weird.
As an unapologetic introvert I dream of the day when my calm and quiet manner will first be viewed as mysterious and interesting, instead of cold and reserved, and that I’ll also get to date my own version of Natalie Wood, AKA Milo Ventimiglia.