In defense of introverts
I am an introvert, let me just say. It surprises people sometimes when I declare myself as such, I suppose because I can be outgoing and personable, and because I do public speaking and am a “public figure,” at least in the realm of healthy living. But truthfully I am most myself when I am alone, with my family or with one or two close friends.
Recently I watched a fascinating TED Talk in praise of introverts and felt rather vindicated about my life-long secret tendency toward introversion. Speaker, author and researcher Susan Cain lays out a powerful argument in defense of introverts. Famous introverts throughout history – Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi among them – have made significant contributions to cultural enlightenment and social change, despite their personal aversion to drawing attention to themselves. They were driven to do what they thought was right even though doing so filled them with anxiety.
Ms. Cain rightly points out that we live in a culture where we value action over contemplation, and that “bold, assertive leadership” is the quintessential definition of a successful person. She concedes that good things happen when people collaborate, but that there is room for those of us who stand back and observe from a distance, too.
What does any of this have to do with weight loss or healthy living? Just this: I managed to get myself into a whole lotta trouble by not listening to my authentic voice. My entire life, I always felt slightly “off” – even shameful – as an introvert, so I kept it hidden. But doing so meant that I accepted other people’s definition of what made someone valuable. You were supposed to be gregarious, outgoing, involved. I’m not naturally any of those things, so I felt out of sync with myself. My discomfort made me feel anxious and unvalued, but I had no words to voice that anxiety so I stuffed it down the only way I knew how: with food.
Being an introvert isn’t either inherently good or bad. Nor does it make a person more or less inclined to be success at weight loss. It’s just kind of like being left-handed: not the norm. But some of the world’s most creative people are left-handed, and maybe a few of them are introverts too. I’ve learned that it’s okay to prefer solitude. It’s okay to enjoy autonomy and to spend time in quiet contemplation. The world needs people like us, too.
And while I may feel my most creative and productive when I’m alone, I’ve also learned that I benefit tremendously when I reach out. It’s a push outside of my comfort zone that gives me perspective and expands my empathy for others.
So maybe I’m an “extroverted introvert.” Being public about my flaws and my failings raises every red flag I have. But being okay with that discomfort is part of what helps me grow, and part of what makes this introvert okay with just being who she is. And BTW, can I get this shirt?