I have been reading a book called, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. For years, I thought I was an extrovert because I can be really social around people that I know very well. When I feel safe and comfortable in a setting, I can actually talk quite a bit, particularly with close friends.
For years, as a youth pastor, I felt like I had to entertain teenagers to get them to come to my next event. And I did a pretty good job of it on my better days. After all, my passion for teenagers to know Jesus was pretty uncompromised for a while. However, it still felt out of place to entertain them. I was definitely operating outside of my comfort zone.
As time went on and I recognized this conflict within me—the need to be boisterous, fun, and outgoing with students I barely knew and my natural laid-back chilled self that liked to listen to people that were new to me—I knew I had to do something different.
I wrestled with this same conflict even when I first left youth ministry and planted a house church network. I mean, my only real church experiences constantly reinforced in me the need to try and attract people to my next big thing, even if my personality, philosophy and theology told me that wasn’t necessary. I felt more and more uncomfortable in large group public speaking situations.
It was in this fire, along with seeking God’s direction on how to best finance my now-determined-to-be-a-volunteer-ministry as a house church planter that I learned about the possibility of becoming a public high school counselor. You mean, I just get to listen to students tell me their problems all day and provide the guidance they are seeking? I wondered.
That was intriguing.
It was in this process (of becoming a school counselor) that I began to recognize how much of an introvert that I am. Parties in high school were always awkward for me, not just because I didn’t drink, but also because I never really knew how to act. I was not one for a large crowd and felt the pressure to be outgoing when I wasn’t really.
Even in my conversations with close friends, I like to listen more than I talk. AND I wonder why doesn’t everyone??!! Why doesn’t everyone listen more than they talk? We were all born with two ears and one mouth, they say, we should listen twice as much as we talk.
Yet, I am constantly reminded how much our culture values and rewards the talkers and the extroverts over the introverts. So many jobs and tasks require it to be successful. I have learned to do those things—public speaking, networking, connecting in large groups, etc.— yet I found myself most at home and most prolific when I am one-on-one or working by myself.
This morning’s chapter in this book about introversion talked specifically about highly sensitive individuals. It was kinda scary to be honest because it nailed me to a tee. There were particular characteristics of highly sensitive people that I and others have often thought of as being very negative.
Did you know that highly sensitive people can actually have physically thinner skin? Like literally! This causes them to actually sweat more easily. I’ve always wondered why I can sweat just walking down the hallway with no effort.
Yet, in light of the very real, very biological reasons that some are highly sensitive, many of these characteristics have a very positive and much needed quality in certain contexts, particularly certain career fields or work tasks.
Reading about and understanding my personality style’s strengths and weaknesses has been having a dramatic impact on how I understand my struggles in my job, career and even my personal/social life. It has also revealed how I’ve been so successful within those very same areas.
It has helped me to know why I’m so uncomfortable with certain tasks. It has helped me to know why I am so much better at some tasks than others. It has helped me to accept myself. It has helped me to know what I am looking for in a job. It has helped me to know how to ask others for assistance.
While I don’t see our culture embracing the quiet, introverted, highly sensitive type of person any time soon, I do believe that there is MUCH TO EMBRACE.
AND WE CAN EMBRACE EACH OTHER.
Too often when our personality type is not embraced in our culture, we think less of ourselves. We may even think less of others.
We don’t need to do that. We can accept ourselves. We can have confidence that we bring many great things to the table, whether everyone sees them and values them or not.
We can also accept others! It can be tempting when you learn to accept yourself, to not accept others who are very different than you. It takes balance, teamwork and an acceptance of everyone for their personality and culture. We must be careful not to attack them for their weaknesses just because they are different from our weaknesses.
How about you? Any introverts out there? What have you struggled to accept in yourself as an introvert? What do you realize is such a strength of being highly sensitive that others don’t even recognize?