On Being an Introvert and Flexing Your Socialization Muscles

On Being an Introvert and Flexing Your Socialization Muscles

Extroversion is a muscle you can strengthen over time. Image credit: Victoria Garcia, Flickr

Image credit: Victoria Garcia, Flickr

Introversion is currently having a bit of a moment on the internet. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts unleashed the floodgates, and now it’s nearly impossible to spend a day or a week online without seeing some sort of Buzzfeed article or numbered list about what it’s like to be an introvert, things extroverts don’t understand about introverts, and so on.

If this moment had happened a few years ago, I would have been full of justification and pride. I was right all along, I would have said. Being an introvert is super hard, and no one has understood how I’ve felt until now! In fact, traces of this attitude are visible in the review I wrote of Susan Cain’s book in 2012.

However, because of the effort I’ve put into into running my freelance business this year, all of these articles talking about how introverts are sensitive little snowflakes that the world just doesn’t understand have started to rub me the wrong way.

What I mean is that over the past year, I’ve realized something important: extroversion is a muscle you can strengthen; you just need to flex it enough.

What made me change

I remember years ago that whenever I attended WCDR events, I would come home happy but exhausted. All the people! All the conversations! But as I volunteered with the organization more and even began to be responsible for checking people off the registration list when they came in, I noticed that it became increasingly easier to be giggly — effervescent, even — and make small talk. It wasn’t so easy that I didn’t need time to recuperate afterwards, but I became comfortable in the role, slipping into it like a warm bath.

Fast-forward to this year, when I finally committed to taking self-employment seriously. All of a sudden, the events where I was interacting with people and presenting a shiny exterior increased in number from once a month to twice a week. (I still go to networking events twice a week, in fact. Sometimes even thrice, depending on the way things are scheduled.)

I get the sense that deliberately putting myself out there like that would exhaust a lot of people, especially those who wave the introvert flag with pride. It would have exhausted me a few years ago. But it doesn’t, now, because I’ve trained myself enough that these events are a new kind of normal.

How do you strengthen your socialization skills?

Let me make one thing clear: I still consider myself an introvert. I still need time to recharge after a long day filled with new people. But in case the “muscle” metaphor doesn’t work for you, I also liken my increased skill at socialization to flipping a switch — I can deliberately change my mindset for a few hours (or even a whole day) so that the intimidation and weariness I would normally associate with large events doesn’t affect me.

I’m sure there are lots of other people out there who are frustrated by the current special-snowflake paradigm when it comes to introversion. So what can you do if you’re one of those people, but don’t know how to break out of that mindset? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Start small, and do it consistently

One of the best things I did was join the WCDR. Eventually, I joined the Board of Directors; as a result, I volunteered on a regular basis and checked people off the registration list at every monthly meeting. This was beneficial in several ways:

  • I got to see the same people repeatedly and build a rapport because it was a monthly event.
  • I got a lot of time in between to cool off because it was only once a month.
  • I enjoyed talking to the people who attended because we shared a key interest.
2. Find a purpose behind what you’re doing

I’m attending so many networking events now because of my business coach. When we started about six months ago, that was one of her first pieces of advice. I admit that it helped to have someone to “blame” my new activity on, but my coach made it clear to me that doing this, even though it would be painful at first, was essential to making my business succeed.

I don’t know about you, but I like to eat. And if going out day after day to meet people will let me keep on eating, I’m all for it.

So if you want to be more at ease around new people, ask yourself “why” first. If it’s just because you want to conform to societal expectations, your plan won’t work. You have to have a deeper meaning in play.

3. Accept that it’s slow going

Like I said above, I still get tired. There have been times when I’ve bailed and not left the house. But thankfully, those are few and far between. Remember that bit about the WCDR volunteering? I checked people in for at least a year before I started attending to other types of events. Building that socialization muscle takes time, and that’s natural.

I wasn’t planning on making this an advice post, but here you go. I’m trying to change, and maybe you can too.

7 thoughts on “On Being an Introvert and Flexing Your Socialization Muscles

  1. Carolyn Charron

    Great advice! I am also a introvert who has trained herself to be sociable and I still need reminders regularly as to WHY I need to get out.

  2. Lisette

    Christina, a wonderfully written human article! Yes, it’s not always easy for us introverts. But because we’re good listeners (let the others do all the hard work!) we get to know people better and build real relationships. It’s the effort that matters. It’s not that the process of networking or building relationships is slow, it’s just that we need to be consistent. You show that beautifully with your volunteering. And as you know, that is something I share with many new business owners.

  3. Sue Archer

    Hi Christina,

    I love this article, especially the point about consistency. I think attending a regular event helps us attain a certain comfort level because it’s familiar. It also helps us gauge how much we need to be “on” and adjust our energy levels accordingly.

    Also I laughed a lot at the idea of being a “sensitive little snowflake.” I think there’s a balance somewhere – it’s good if extroverts are aware of introversion, but we all need to meet halfway.

    1. Christina Post author

      I’m pleased that so many people are focusing on the consistency aspect. That’s actually one of the big benefits to any professional association, I think – they schedule regular events so you can practice these skills.

  4. Susanne Hemet

    So thrilled that you took my advice, stayed consistent with it, and it paid off! I knew how you would feel when I gave you that advice because I am an introvert as well. When I built that muscle up strong enough, people had a hard time believing that I actually am an introvert. Now I tell them I’m a “situational extrovert.” As with any exercise, consistency is key. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  5. Jacqueline Bos

    When my husband and I stated our business and understood the importance of “being out there” consistently, I would sometimes tag along, not feeling comfortable about it. When asked what I did. I would nudge my husband and ask my husband to tell them what we did. Everyone around me looked like real “business” people. They looked smarter and more confident that I. I felt intimidated and small.
    It all changed when one day my husband could not make it to an event and asked me to go in his place. If it hadn’t cost us money then I would have stayed home.
    I didn’t feel comfortable to talk about me, so what i did was ask about them and about their business. I asked if they could give me some tips on networking . I just kept asking and asking. Everyone was so eager to help me.
    By the time I left there, I felt confident and was the last one to leave and looking forward to the next event.