Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by Lisa Rivero.
You wake up, determined to have a productive and creative day of writing. Coffee brewed? Check. To-do list written? Check. Comfy writing clothes? Check.
You turn on your laptop and enter what has become our new virtual home away from home: the internet. Several emails vie for your attention. You answer some of them, archive a few, click links on others that take you to interesting blogs or articles or videos. You accept friend requests on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and find yourself commenting and replying and sharing. You begin to get that familiar weariness that indicates you should really be doing something else, but you also know that having a dynamic social media presence is important for your writing career. By the end of an hour or two, you force yourself to open a Word document, at which time your mental energy is so low that you minimize the window and make another pot of coffee.
If this sounds familiar, the problem may be more than simply one of time management, multi-tasking, or attention. You may just be an “introvert” who has spent all of your energy supply.
Debunking Common Myths About Introverts
Although introversion is better understood now more than ever, many people still don’t understand what it means to be introverted. Here are three common myths:
- Introverts are shy.
- Introverts are selfish and self-centered.
- Introverts lack social skills.
As a way to get a handle on introversion, let’s look at each of these myths in turn, with an eye toward learning how to write, create, and recharge as an introvert.
Introversion and Shyness Are Not the Same Thing
Shyness has to do with fear, anxiety, or embarrassment, whereas introversion is about interest, preference, and energy. People who are shy want, often desperately so, to mix in and connect with others, but are prevented from doing so by anxiety. Introverts, on the other hand, simply prefer time alone or with close friends over the life of a socialite.
It is possible, then, to be extroverted–to feel energized by frequent human interactions and large social gatherings–and to be shy at the same time, which must be a frustrating experience, to say the least.
Of course, it is also possible to be introverted—to feel energized by time alone and less frequent but deeper personal interactions—and to be shy. In this case, writers and other creators can use social media to begin to reach out more and make those connections that they need but fear. The trick is to do so from an introvert’s and not an extrovert’s center, selectively and in small amounts, your way.
Introverts Can Care Deeply about the World
Just because introverts get energy by going inward doesn’t mean that they are always thinking about themselves. The introvert at the edge of a social gathering may be watching others intensely, listening carefully to what is being said, and more concerned with others than the extroverts who can’t stop talking about themselves. Neither introverts nor extroverts have a corner on altruism or empathy.
Introverts’ Social Skills Are Often the Envy of Extroverts
Introverts can be CEOs, actors and actresses, even motivational speakers. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell has said that public speaking “has nothing to do with extraversion. It’s a performance, and many performers are hugely introverted.”
Perhaps because introverts have to learn to be actors to a certain extent to fit in to an extroverted world, they often pick up extraordinary social skills through long and frequent practice. Because they tend to listen rather than talk, introverts can notice nuances and details of conversations that others might miss, leading to a richer dialogue. Because introverts may be acutely aware of their own inner life, they might take into consideration the inner lives of others and work to cross boundaries and forge connections between disparate groups.
The Potential Downsides of Being An Introvert
These killer social skills can backfire, however, if introverts don’t pay attention to their own energy levels and needs. If others assume you are an extrovert who enjoys the social prowess you display as you wield hashtags and updates online as though you were born pre-connected, you might find yourself sucked into a time and energy sinkhole, whether offline or online. You might get so good at the social media dance, that you convince yourself you aren’t really an introvert after all, or that you have “gotten over” your introversion. To make matters more complicated, creativity experts tell us that some highly creative people are both introverted and extroverted, depending on what is needed at each stage of the creative process.
The telling point is your energy levels. Does toggling back and forth between social media and your own writing keep your writing tank filled, fueling you for more and better work? Or does it slowly drain your resources, so that by the end of the day you shut down in psychic exhaustion, wondering how you could have written so many words without writing anything at all?
I’m slowly learning to make social media work for me, as an introvert, even if that means eschewing some well-meaning advice meant to boost my platform and solidify my brand (advice that was probably written by an extrovert). I aim to strive for quality rather than quantity when it comes to connecting online, and I’m putting together a new working schedule that includes 15-minute blocks of social media time, two or three times a day, rather than having my limited psychic resources escape continually through open windows. What I may lose in numbers of followers, likes, or an online presence, I have already gained in peace of mind, energy, and productivity. That’s a trade I’ll take any day.
Lisa Rivero is the author of four non-fiction books about education and parenting and one historical novel for children about filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. She also writes a blog at Psychology Today and teaches writing and creative thinking to wonderfully introverted engineering students. She’s happy to connect with introverts and extroverts alike on Twitter and Facebook.