Getting To Know Myself :: Confessions Of An Introvert

When I was a kid, people sometimes called me “shy.” I hated those people…. At least, I hated them for that moment. I’m sure they weren’t trying to be mean, but I feel that I can speak for all introverts when I say that “shy” is always an offensive and unwelcome adjective. It conjures up images of a kid who wets his pants when the teacher calls on him or hides in the coat closet during recess. That’s not me. My bladder control is superb and I’ve always had friends to play with at recess. But I am an introvert. I have come to terms with that now although I used to struggle with it a lot. I still remember people writing things in my yearbook like “You’re an awesome guy! You should talk more.”

What? Seriously?  Who uses someone’s yearbook for constructive criticism?

I never understood why I people thought I was quiet. I didn’t feel quiet. It wasn’t like there were things that I wanted to say, but  just couldn’t because I was too scared. Honestly, there simply wasn’t a ton of things to say. I never felt the need to come up with something to say just to be heard. I never felt compelled to be the center of attention or to be the person that everyone talked about. Every once in a while I would try to get rid of the “shy and quiet” label and try to mimic other, louder, personalities. But it always felt uncomfortable and strange, like I was living in someone else’s skin. It was exhausting.

At some point in college I grew to understand my own personality much better. It was like I was meeting myself for the first time and, to my surprise, I found that I liked myself very much. I began to be comfortable with the fact that most of my personal growth happened in solitude as I processed my thoughts, experiences and ideas through excessive internal dialogue. So, I started making more space for that kind of thing.  I also realized that there was a lot of value in just listening to others instead of trying to think up something to say. But not everything I learned was a positive. For instance, introverts are often very deep thinkers and analyzers. We spend a lot of time, sometimes an unhealthy amount of time, listening and analyzing and often make others feel awkward by our non-participation in group conversations. I found that some people perceived me as arrogant, rude and unfriendly. Which I can understand, since I was often being arrogant, rude and unfriendly. But being of aware of those tendencies helped me to become much better at overcoming them. And I became less likely to avoid some of the situations that made me uncomfortable. Instead I chose to see them as opportunities to grow. I still have a long way to go with this but I find that I am a far more balanced introvert than I used to be.

Maturing happens when you recognize who you are, and then decide to move forward. I have heard a lot of people use their personality as an excuse for immaturity. As if being an introvert gives you a pass to not engage in relationships with new people. Or that being an extrovert means that you’ll never have to read books or spend time alone. Simply knowing your strengths and weaknesses doesn’t make you better. That’s a much more cumbersome task. It involves learning to work within your strengths and stretching yourself to grow through your weaknesses. In the process of growing you will have to come to terms with your personality but you do not need to be limited by it. Your personality may dictate the way that you process the world around you but it doesn’t have to dictate how you will engage that world.

Johnny Carson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Jonathan Edwards, Michael Jordan… All introverts who had remarkably impressive and very public careers.

Tons of famous artists and musicians in history have been introverts.

Even some of the best public speakers in history have been introverts.

I used to struggle with the idea that extroverts are far better suited for the whole church ministry thing. All of the public speaking. All of the meeting new people. All of the situations that put a big spotlight on you and your life. But the truth is, there are plenty of amazing pastors, leaders, writers and communicators that are self-professed introverts: John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Anne Lamott and Donald Miller just to name a few favorites. And while I can’t speak to the personal habits of these individuals I can assure you that they have disciplined themselves to work within the strengths of, and grow through some of the weaknesses of, being an introvert in order to have the successes that they have had in their lives.

Oh… and just to be fair. I’m sure there are some extroverts that have done some amazing things too… like stand-up comedy or something.

Just kidding. I am married to an amazing extrovert who challenges me and keeps me balanced. She has probably had more to do with my growth in this area than any other person could and I am indebted to her for her patience and love with the stubborn parts of my personality that have yet to mature. And I often return the favor by encouraging her to slow down, find some quiet space and read a book or something. She is a wonderful and balanced woman.

So, in summary… Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Own it. Learn to maximize your strengths and stretch yourself to grow through your weaknesses. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not, but don’t settle for what’s easy.

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About rmashaw

I am a Christ-follower, husband, father, pastor, musician and artist who desries to open up the box of my life for others to rummage through and perhaps find something of use to them.
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4 Responses to Getting To Know Myself :: Confessions Of An Introvert

  1. rachel s says:

    I really don’t have any insight or great knowledge to add to this, all I have to say is that this overwhelmingly helps me. There are times where I am so thankful for my incredibly introverted, and I’ll say it, even shy personality. But most of the time I see it as this huge barrier that keeps me from normalcy. I have always felt different from my peers in this way because it always seemed like they all had some type of bold awareness that I didn’t have. I can’t tell you how many times I have called myself “socially inept,” or have had to write little motivational sayings on my wall to remind myself that God purposefully gave me this personality and that it’s okay. I’ve learned a lot about laughing off the awkwardness and I too have tried to push myself but at the end of the day I’m still me. I am about to take a huge risk and go for a career that will be very difficult and will involve moving a lot and having to meet tons of new people and this thought has absolutely terrified me. But like you I agree that you can’t sit in your state of fear, you must learn to grow. I guess out of all of this jumbled mess, I wanted to say thank you for sharing this and I find it very helpful as I take this huge risk, to not be fearful but bold.

  2. Cesar Perez says:

    Great blog man.
    I am also an introvert and can relate to a lot of what you said. However, I never had that preconceived idea of what people meant by calling me shy. I never assumed that what they meant is that I had incontrollable bladder. Although I… … did… …have… incontrollable bladder… mmm… if you need me I’ll be in the closet.

  3. Erin Mashaw says:

    I love you so much… thanks for your sweet words- they meant a lot- especially today 🙂 I think its awesome that these days if I happen to mention that you are an introvert, most of the people around find it hard to believe… I think it may be a sign of maturity when people can’t tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert… way to go, babe!

  4. Tandy Hammond says:

    I am an extrovert in case there was any doubt:/
    My daughter is an introvert although I’ve begun to be very careful not to use any words to lable her. I often try to sit quietly around her with the purpose of just exsisting with her. This is my new way of “telling” her I value who she is and all that she hopes. It is a small contribution but seems to have brought us closer. Thanks for the insights b/c I often wonder if I’m on the right track. ~Tandy

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