Last Sunday, I woke up with blissful plans to take care of chores and hang out with my cat. I was reading The New York Times in bed when my sister called me. She and my brother-in-law were going to Bear Mountain upstate; did I want to come? I briefly considered the long list of to-dos (sure to provide some major entlistungsfreude) against the fact that I’ve already turned them down several times for similar outings, and how much I love hiking. I adore mountains the way most people like the beach.
A few hours later, I was at the foot of Bear Mountain–but what waited me there wasn’t hours of strenuous climbing in zen-like silence, but raucous good cheer, accordion music, dogs and children running around, and people drinking everywhere. Unwittingly, I had walked straight into Octoberfest. And as much as I enjoyed our (zero incline) walk around the lake, the foliage, and the sense of good times being had all around me, I really rather wanted more mountain and less people. Surrounded by bon vivants drinking beer and eating bratwurst, I’d never felt more acutely that I fall squarely in the Introvert category.
I consider myself a people-person in that I truly value relationships. Genuine friendships, love and companionship, being mentored or mentoring someone, or even heartfelt conversations and shared understanding are tremendously important to me. The pursuit of these interpersonal joys is one of my life goals. And neither am I “shy” which, according to Susan Cain, the bestselling author of Quiet, means “fearful of negative judgment.” No one likes to be ridiculed but I am not the one to avoid speaking out on anything, if it’s important to me. I’ll even go so far as to say that public speaking is one of my fortes. But Cain defines “introvert” as “a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments,” and by that definition I’m a huge introvert. If you prefer one-on-one or small group interactions, need quiet time to recharge, and leave large parties feeling exhausted rather than invigorated (even if you do enjoy them), you are also an introvert!
Being an introvert comes with its own set of advantages, but the work place is where introverts often get the shorter end of the stick. On a structural level, people associate extroverts as being suited to the most powerful and lucrative functions, like executive roles, sales and marketing, and leadership positions in general. Meanwhile, introverts are associated with quiet backstage functions, and mid-level or supporting positions, and may be overlooked for more visible and authoritative roles. On more personal level, introverts might find it daunting to self-promote or bank on social capital. But even if you find it hard to schmooze with the boss at the office party, or do a pub-crawl with co-workers, there are other ways you can increase your personal branding as a professional–without feeling like you’re a fish out of water.
1. Focus on one-on-one outreach: As an introvert, you have an amazing ability to focus on one person and really communicate on a meaningful level. Cultivate professional relationships through one-on-one lunches or even coffee. Take the time to bond with your co-workers whenever you get a small (non-overwhelming) opportunity, like at the water cooler or even the office bake-off. This way, you are building social capital through other channels.
2. Use social media: Social media is a powerful tool for introverts wanting to expand their platform. You don’t have to chase every single social media platforms out there; just pick a few that meet your professional needs and focus on consistency and quality. If you have a local business, Facebook is where you meet your customers. If you are a consultant, regular blogging on your professional area of expertise will increase your visibility and credibility, and drive new business leads. And absolutely everyone should have a complete, descriptive LinkedIn profile, and make new connections and stay in touch with old contacts through that platform.
3. Think in terms of helping: According to Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and the author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, the more you help others, the more you will become successful. (Grant is also a self-proclaimed introvert who harbors a “longstanding dread of parties.” ) The theory goes that success isn’t just about staking a claim on what you view as yours; it’s also about genuinely caring about each person who comes your way, and giving help where and when appropriate. That creates a cycle of positive feedback that affects your own success as well as others’. This is classic introvert territory, people! But keep in mind: Givers are overly represented in both ends of the success spectrum, meaning some givers tend to be used, while others become extremely successful. The latter are strongly interested in selfless giving AND self-interest. By being a giver, you’re already establishing plenty of goodwill–so don’t feel shy about asking for help if it’s necessary!
4. Belong to a community: Introverts need quiet time but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy company of others. Being a part of a community is really important for professional development, so find people with like interests–you never know where you will meet a mentor or next business lead. Book club, running group, volunteering, Peaceful Dumpling (:D) are all good places to build relationships in ways that suit your temperament.
5. Become an expert in something: Introverts thrive on introspection and self-improvement. While extroverts are given to dissipating their energy um, externally, introverts can harness their mental and physical energy into building a truly innate advantage. Spend at least an hour a day really working on something that builds your expertise. This shouldn’t be just a task you do for your job, but something that builds your skill set in the long run. Whether it’s writing, studying a new language, taking photography lessons or learning to code Ruby on Rails (good for you!), it will have a huge professional benefit in the long run–and build your confidence as well.
6. Dress for success: Since you might not be given to tooting your own horn, wear clothes that signal to others that you are confident and assertive. Bright, bold colors like coral or red show your passion and go-getter attitude. If you want to seem more authoritative, wear tailored blazers, tasteful jewelry, and substantial heels. Mixing trendy patterns show your fun side, even if you’re not partying all the time.
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