We must redefine the words "introvert" and "alone"
In the minds of extrovert leaders and management, "introvert" and "alone" are pejorative labels.
To the outgoing, these words mean seclusion and isolation, not a team player. Introverts are perceived as antisocial, miserable, and unapproachable.
All are negative labels.
Are you an introvert? Do negative labels accurately describe you?
Of course not. People oversimplify and stereotype complexities that they do not understand.
If introverts allow extroverts to define them, people who often prefer silence and alone time to work and write will be stigmatized and ostracized.
I've known for a long time that I am an introvert and have experienced the negative effects of my shyness. But dramatic moments of isolation dominate my memory.
For example, about 5 years ago, my wife and children left me for a little over 2 weeks. During Christmas break, they visited her family five and a half hours away, and I wanted to stay home and get work done.
At the time, I taught writing at the university, and I longed for some solitude after a tough semester.
For Christmas and New Years, I was alone. I had no family, no tree, no presents. As an introvert, this was my idea of a perfect vacation.
My father and step mother live close to me, as does my sister's family. But I didn't tell them I was alone. I intentionally kept it secret.
They would have been obliged to invite me over, and I just wanted to be alone.
I had reading I wanted to do, and I was going to paint all the cupboards in the kitchen. The break was marvelous and refreshing.
But, when my family found out, they frowned upon me, thinking me a recluse who didn't love his family.
Love had nothing to do with it.
Alone does not mean lonely, and it is not a character flaw to crave isolation as an introvert.
Define your life as an introvert and be courageous
You are an independent writer, and you might think that other authors do not fight introversion. But you are wrong. Most writers refer to the solitude, fear, and seclusion that putting words on the page entails:
âWriting is something you do alone. Its a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don't want to make eye contact while doing it."
Introversion can be an advantage as you fight your fears and spill out your story in isolation. The adrenaline pumping through you because of your fear of social engagement, heightens your brain's state of awareness and readiness to act in the form of the written word.
Embrace these fears. They are a part of you, and fears feed your writing. Define your life as a writer and introvert rather than allowing others to define it for you.
Define your personality in positive language.
You need to be alone with your brain to put words down on paper. Solitude is the secret of your success rather than a flaw in your personality.
One of America's best writers, E.B. White was paralyzed at times by the public nature of writing. He said, "I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all."
You have the guts, and your courage should be recognized.
Define your introversion as the ability to sit with your fear and summon the courage to begin writing. You are heroic, not weak.
Words on the page are your victory over white space and silence.
People often view introversion as a disability
Outgoing, extroverted executives and leaders see "alone" as a bad word. However, they misjudge your creative process.
You write alone, and remember that it's not a negative word. Some of the best writers have struggled with your fears. White said,
the old emptiness and dizziness ... seized hold of me. .... Nobody who has never suffered my peculiar kind of disability can understand the sheer hell of such moments.
I have felt this social pain. Have you ever felt it?
Even as I write this article, I mingle brief spurts of writing with extended periods of distraction. I find any reason to put off the inevitable labor of writing - and the display of my work to other people when I am finished.
I procrastinate and avoid social interaction. I feel exposed and vulnerable as I write. I fear the judgement of others.
I make myself a sandwich and sit down to write.
I arise to fetch a drink of water and again sit down to write.
I take a little nap on my bed, my head buried in the pillows, certain that a little sleep will help me sit down to write.
But it doesn't get any easier. I struggle through this entire draft, but I don't want any help or conversation.
The draft must be worked out on my own, in isolation.
Social interaction is distraction.
After sitting a moment at my computer, I go to the kitchen cupboard to grab some Advil. The stress has given me a headache, and I pop four tablets.
It's 5:00 AM, and I have already been at this draft two hours. I push down the frustration because I know that it will shut off the writing flow.
I crave isolation, but I work optimally alone.
Defining introversion as a writing asset
I can work efficiently alone, but the process is something I must think through. The above description is less than efficient.
I am caught up in the cultural mindset that isolation is unproductive and collaboration is the way to get projects done. I am overcome with the knowledge that others will read my words.
They will think I am stupid.
I am thinking of my introversion as a problem to be solved, an error we writers often make. Introversion is not a disability or a problem, but an alternative way to creatively accomplish great things.
In 2013, Susan Cain published her seminal work on introverts in the work place, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Canât Stop Talking. In the book, she flips conventional thought on leadership and creativity, illustrating through research the assets of introverts.
She suggests that introverts are gifted with talents unique to those who crave isolation. Management, Cain suggests, needs to alter preconceptions. Susan Cain's amazing Ted Talk discussing her work is embedded below.
The hidden powers of introverts
A recent Forbe's article by Samantha Cole points to 7 influential leaders who consider themselves introverts, including: Barrack Obama, Marissa Mayer, Warren Buffet, Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, Guy Kawasaki, and Bill Gates. All of these highly successful leaders have used introversion as an asset in their careers.
On a more intimate scale, you must shift your cultural mindset to open new possibilities in writing and in the workplace. According to the famous corporate consultant and author Jennifer Kahnweiler, introverts make great leaders.
Kahnweiler's research reveals that introverts do 4 tasks well to become successful leaders. Her "4 P's Process" includes:
In an interview with Forbe's after her Ted Talk, Susan Cain said that semi-social places make strong writing spaces for introverts like a university or public library, a cafe, or even a park if the weather is nice.
"The kind of place where you feel the presence of other people, but youâre also free to be working on your own."
A balance between social and isolation is ideal. Enjoy her talk below.
Susan Cain's Ted Talk reframing how introverts are perceived
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Do you experience social anxiety as a writer? Do you consider yourself an introvert? How do you use it to your advantage?
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