I am not alone. There are many of you out there who appear to be extroverts but are really closet introverts.
Is there a 12-step program for this condition?
Why do naturally introverted people start behaving like extroverts?
They get paid to be extroverted! DUH! The awards and kudos all go to extroverts!
Introvert to Extrovert Conversion
I was a pretty shy kid.
I was 6’4″ and 145 pounds when graduating from high school. My big head of red hair (this was the early 1970s) did not make me a chick magnet.
I went to engineering school at Northwestern. Lots of introverts there!
I took a job at IBM programming word processors. Lots of introverts there!
In the mid-1980s, I took a job running a help desk supporting mechanical engineers. I got to talk to people which was fun. The more I spoke to groups the better and better I got at it. One of the perks from this was that I ran quarterly meetings and I was good at it. WOW! As a result, I received kudos.
I went off into training where I got promoted and won awards.
I learned to behave like an extrovert. There was only one issue.
Boy, did I get tired! It was exhausting! It manifested physically in lower back problems. Once or twice a year, my back would spasm. I had to learn to take better care of myself if I wanted to continue to behave like an extrovert.
I learned to behave like an extrovert, but it consumed lots of energy.
Does this sound familiar?
Here is a great video on why you have become a closet introvert.
Let’s talk about three signs that you might be a closet introvert.
You have traveled on business to meet with clients or coworkers. You have been with them all day! At 5 PM, someone says,
“Let’s go get drinks and dinner!”
If you feel like you want to go back to your room and vegetate, you are likely a closet introvert.
Being with people all day has drained you. You need time to go back to your room and recharge.
You have worked hard to give a great presentation to an important audience. You are pumped up and go on stage with a burst of energy. The presentation goes great.
When you walk off, everyone gives you positive accolades. You feel great. You sit down, and the adrenaline starts to wear off (adrenalin is a GREAT DRUG!). Fifteen or twenty minutes later, you slump in your chair, exhausted.
You are likely a closet introvert.
Evening with Your Spouse
You have been in meetings all day, but now it’s time to leave. When you get home, your spouse wants to have a discussion with you about an important issue. You just want to crawl into a corner or go to bed!
Come on, you know exactly what I am talking about. Unless you had time to decompress on the commute home, you need downtime.
You are likely a closet introvert.
Being an Actor
For most of us when we started our careers we became actors. We went to work and play roles. Sometimes, we were really good at playing those roles. In fact, if we play those roles long enough we start believing we are the characters we are playing.
We become actors.
In 2004, after my near fatal accident (which you can read about in the post A Near Fatal Bicycle Accident Was Actually a Mammoth Gift) I decided to become a high school math teacher. At that point, I had taught in 40 different countries on a wide range of topics for IBM and my first tech startup Agere Inc.
I had played the extrovert role for so long, that I was convinced I was an extrovert. The problem was that while playing the role of a trainer, I was on stage maybe 4-8 hours a week. As a high school mather teacher, I was on stage 30-35 hours a week.
After 2 years, I was exhausted, drained and depressed. I was not who I thought I was. I was not an extrovert but a closet introvert.
Check out my podcast episode From High-Tech Training to High School Teacher, and Why I Left. [Podcast]
What to do about it?
Most of us are paid to be extroverts. Susan Cain discusses this extensively her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (affiliate link). Ever since Dale Carnegie wrote the best selling book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” we have had the cult of the personality. We are all supposed to be extroverts, or at least we are supposed to behave like extroverts, to become successful in our careers.
Here are a few ideas on how to take better care of yourself as a closet introvert.
- Block off times of the day to be alone – If you are in all day meetings, find a place where you can sit by yourself, and do something that gives you energy. This might be reading your favorite book, listening to music on your iPhone, or getting online to research your next vacation. Even if it is just for 10 minutes multiple times a day, you will be surprised what it will do for you.
- Eat a snack before a presentation – I worked in an IBM Briefing Center for many years. I found that if I ate an apple before my morning presentations, I felt so much better afterward. I learned that my breakfast was not sufficient to get me to lunch when I had to present in the morning.
- Block off time before and after an event – If I am going to present or attend a conference where I will be interacting with a lot of people, I block off several hours before and after to be alone. I do not allow that time to be compromised.
- Find the right environment to work in – I am a big outdoors guy. As I am writing this update, I am sitting by a big window overlooking a hollow next to my condominium. When the weather is nice, I take all of my phone calls from a footbridge that crosses the hollow. I do this for no other reason than being outside is restorative.
Susan Cain referred to these interludes in your day as restorative niches. Find activities or environments that restore you and insert them into your day. Here are some examples of restorative niches:
- Sketching on a drawing pad multiple times a day
- Having lunch outside
- Taking breaks during long meetings and listening to music
- Bringing small home projects to your office so you can work on them during breaks
All of these can be accomplished during short breaks and can be restorative.
I have stood on stage many times and told the audience that I am a closet introvert. They all go—right!! The problem is that a good part of the audience are really closet introverts themselves.
Do you see yourself in this post? Are you really a closet introvert?