I was lounging on my couch on a Saturday morning when my phone dinged. It was a text from my friend: Hey, I’m going to hang out downtown Ann Arbor with some people from my youth group tonight. Want to come?
A frown crept its way onto my face. I had been planning a quiet night in, and the thought of being friendly and sociable with people I didn’t know was perturbing. I knew, however, that my friend would think something was wrong if I refused, and I had no concrete reason not to go. Ignoring the temptation to tell my friend that I was en route to Wisconsin, I forced myself to send an excited reply: Sure! What time?
This was but one small victory in my ongoing war against introversion. As a naturally solitary person, I have felt the pressure placed upon all introverts: the pressure to be outgoing. While we wallflowers may resent this demand to magically morph into a social butterfly, extroversion is necessary in today’s society.
Many people believe that introversion and shyness are synonymous, but they are actually two different things. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, explained the distinction between the two.
“The number-one misconception about introversion is that it’s about shyness,” said Dembling. “The best distinction I’ve heard comes from a neuroscientist who studies shyness. He said, ‘Shyness is a behavior – it’s being fearful in a social situation. Introversion is a motivation – it’s how much you want and need to be in those interactions.’”
In other words, introverts are fully capable of being sociable, but often choose not to. The structure of today’s society, however, requires them to fully utilize their capability to socialize, as much as it might irk them. Integral societal constructions such as school systems and the workplace are built around the assumption that extroversion is the superior personality trait. This is not necessarily true; many of history’s greatest literary and scientific minds have been intensely private people.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said in a Forbes interview that both introverts and extroverts contribute equally to the creative process.
“Introverts . . . are more likely to listen,” said Wozniak. “By weighing up all the options and considering their contribution, they add a great deal to the group’s creativity. And, by allowing extroverts to take their ideas and run with them, introverts get the voice that can really sell their creations.”
Society, however, has not fully recognized this fact. It demands constant engagement in the world, and this is not likely to change any time soon.
So what should introverts do about it? They should fully engage. This is especially true for teenagers. Introverted teens experience a special pressure to be outgoing, and this happens for a reason. Many of life’s opportunities come during adolescence, and extroverted personalities have the advantage in seizing them. For example, the college admissions process emphasizes leadership and social confidence as desirable qualities. If a teenager wants to get into college, he or she must lead a life fraught with social interaction, and this means being as outgoing as possible.
Furthermore, a teenager’s personality is still in flux. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teenage years are when people develop the way they interact with others. A person who is introverted when he or she is a teen may mature into an extroverted person over time, which is advantageous in today’s society. Teenagers are young enough to choose to be extroverted and then work toward attaining that quality. It is a mistake for a teen to label him or herself an introvert and then give up on all social interaction; by the time that teen is an adult, it might be too late to change.
Luckily, I realized the importance of socially exerting myself soon after I entered high school and immediately began to place myself in more social situations. Though I was reluctant at first to be sociable, I quickly accepted that extroversion is a necessary quality for success in a world built around extroverts. I still often prefer solitude, but I have learned how to be outgoing without exhausting myself, and it is gradually getting easier. Each time I text my friend agreeing to hang out in downtown Ann Arbor with her youth group, it takes a bit less effort to press ‘send.’