This was the header of a promo email I received the other day: ‘Today is for Introverts. Finally.’ As the member of a family that includes many proud introverts (including me), I couldn’t help but be intrigued. It turns out that January 2 is World Introvert Day … every year. Who knew? On the other hand, introverts wouldn’t make a big deal out of it if they did know, would they?! 😉
Although I’m two days late in recognizing this august occasion, now that I know that such a special day exists it seems only fitting to give it its day in the sun. North America is a world where extroverts predominate. And there’s a sense that those of us who are not like that, should be. The kids who raise their hands and eagerly shout out, “Me, me” before they have really thought about what their answer might be, they’re the ones who are pegged as the ‘winners’, the ‘smart kids’. The people at parties who seem to know everyone and never run out of things to say are pegged as the most popular and most likely to succeed. Interestingly, there are other cultures around the world where speaking before you are spoken to would be considered rude and where the preponderance of people are seen to be introverts, so there you go. The reality is that most of us are some mixture of being more comfortable on our own and needing to have people around us all the time. We figure out in our own way how to be most comfortable with ourselves in this complicated world. There’s nothing better or worse about either end of the spectrum; it’s a question of understanding where each other is coming from and working to our individual strengths.
The first thing most people think of when they hear that someone is an introvert is that they must be shy, or socially awkward, or a nerd. This isn’t really the case at all, although some of us may present ourselves that way. There are lots and lots of definitions and descriptions of characteristics of introverts, but the common denominator is that introverts are comfortable spending time alone; they enjoy solitude. Introverts actually gain energy from their alone time, whereas extroverts gain their energy from their interactions with other people. Introverts need that alone time to recharge their batteries; too much people time is wearing on them. Maybe that explains one of the characteristics I came across: introverts prefer writing to talking. That one really resonated with me!!
Our younger son, a self-proclaimed introvert, observed early in the initial COVID lockdown that introverts finally had a societal advantage. Introverts typically have been able to survive these extended periods of isolation a lot better than extroverts just because of their comfort level with alone time. This is the same son who came home once long ago with a report card that was perfectly fine but also had a comment that said he’d be at the top of the class if he’d just raise his hand occasionally (there must have been a participation component to the marks). His response was, “If I have something that’s worth saying, I’ll say it.” As I say, a proud and committed introvert.
The website introvertdear.com lists 12 reasons to celebrate introverts on World Introvert Day. I’ll share a few of them.
- Introverts really know their stuff. Really? If so, maybe that’s because they spend more time reading and thinking than socializing?
- Introverts are problem-solvers and idea-generators. If you spend more time alone you have more time to think things through; I think that’s the rationale.
- Introverts are low maintenance. I’m guessing you’d have to ask partners and colleagues of introverts whether they agree with this, but it works for me!
- Introverts can be the calm before the storm. We’re typically more likely to think twice about a situation before starting to worry or become anxious. I guess that goes along with problem-solving.
Drawing from a number of online articles about introverts (Amazingly successful introverts throughout history, Famous introverts who could teach us a thing or two, Famous introverts, Famous introverts and what you can learn from them, Famous introverts who have been hugely successful in life) here’s a selection of 15 famous introverts throughout history. Some of the people listed might surprise you. I think they do a good job of showing that people can overcome their inclination to stay in the background when something is important enough.
1. Albert Einstein
Einstein is known to have said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
2. Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks is one of the seminal figures in U.S. civil rights history, thanks to her courageous 1955 resistance stance of refusing to give her seat up for a white man. Yet, according to biographers, she was a shy, retiring woman by nature.
3. Bill Gates
Bill Gates always understood that growing a successful business required having a mixture of introverts and extroverts. You need the introverts to come up with creative ideas and solve the tough problems and then the extroverts to sell the ideas.
4. Sir Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton was known to be “a deeply introverted character and fiercely protective of his privacy.”
5. Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was shy and retiring by nature, but didn’t let that stop her from doing what she believed was important. She gave hundreds of press conferences as First Lady, served as a United Nations delegate, and was a human rights activist and sought-after public speaker.
6. Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela referred to himself as an introvert. He was more comfortable observing others and evaluating than in speaking.
7. Mark Zuckerberg
Another acknowledged introvert.
8. Al Gore
The former vice president, presidential candidate, and climate change champion is another public figure who found success despite being an introvert.
9. Abraham Lincoln
The introverted leadership skills of the President Lincoln have been studied often by researchers and educators because of his studied approach to decision-making and his reserved nature.
10. Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett is one of the most successful introverts and businessmen in the world.
11. Mahatma Gandhi
Famous for leading a massive nonviolent resistance movement, Gandhi is quoted as saying, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
12. Charles Darwin
The renowned scientists and author of The Origin of Species was a quiet type who enjoyed solitude.
13. Meryl Streep
Like many actors and actresses, Meryl Streep is a known introvert.
14. Frederic Chopin
This world-renowned and inspirational composer was so introverted that he gave only about 30 public performances in his lifetime.
15. Barack Obama
Barak Obama is a known introvert. Columnist David Brooks said it well in one of his The New York Times articles, “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.”
So, if you consider yourself to be an introvert, may I wish you a belated Happy World Introvert Day. Welcome to my club! And if you’re an extrovert, we love you just the same, but cut us a little slack when we just need to back off from too much talking. It’s just the way it is!
As a bonus, let me share a typical day at our home of introverts:
Image sources: Introvertdear.com, Introvertday.org