I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I have also always been socially introverted.
I first discovered what entrepreneurship truly meant when I was 13.
That summer my older brother introduced me to the world of personal development, additionally a friend of his told me to go into business because it would give me options in life. These two seemingly random experiences have since shaped my view of the world in dramatic ways.
My experiences have taught me that benefits of being an introvert are real.
My disposition towards being an introvert AND being an entrepreneur stretch back to when I was young.
It goes back to my days at grammar school in Jamaica when I would collect all of my old school supplies, clean them up as much as I could, and then sell them to classmates who had forgotten theirs, or when I would pool all of my money together and buy all of the ice cream sandwiches from our school vendor and then resell them at a profit.
My point is that from a very young age I have viewed the world in the way an entrepreneur might.
So it should come as no surprise to hear that I’ve always wanted to be extroverted… to be the life of the party, to have all eyes on me, to walk into a room and command it immediately.
To me, not being a social introvert seemed to be a requirement to becoming a great leader and entrepreneur (or any career for that matter).
Maybe you’ve felt the same way? Our culture today seems to be designed for the extroverts among us and the people who seem to be winning at the highest levels are all extroverted.
With this constant reinforcement of the idea that extroverts are inherently better than introverts it’s no surprise that young entrepreneurs, like myself, may feel that the only way to get ahead, is to be extroverted.
But what do you do if you realize this, and you are naturally introverted?
Unfortunately, that’s the trap I found myself in and, while there were some benefits to the path it lead me down, I’m only just realizing in the past year that my desire to become something I’m not has slowed down my progress and disproportionately affected my happiness.
The purpose of this article is to perhaps save one of you from experiencing the same thing because the truth is that, while the world does indeed reward extroverted people, there are also major benefits to being naturally introverted.
These are the 2 lessons I’ve learned over the last 9 years about being introverted:
1. You can’t change who you are (and that’s a good thing).
I’ve spent an enormous amount of time, energy, and effort trying to make myself into a more extroverted person. When I entered high school I was the typical awkward, shy person that most of us are at that age but I was determined to change that. I felt that if I didn’t, I would never have a shot at the big goals I had for my life as an entrepreneur.
To this end I put myself into situations I wasn’t always comfortable with such as auditioning for and playing lead roles in our school musicals, participating in regional impromptu speaking competitions, and even trying to act a certain away around people because I felt that it was a necessary role to play.
There were benefits to this kind of peacocking but the net effect was always feeling awkward, out of place, and walking away more embarrassed than I would have been otherwise.
I continued this throughout college, living with the rule that if something made my heart pump in that gut-wrenching, nauseating way that we’ve all experienced I would have to do it immediately.
I became a club promoter and spent every weekend trying to get girls to come out (because it would mean more guys would come out to), I got all dressed up for a date auction and walked the runway while girls bid on a chance to go on a date with me (knowing full well that no one would bid), and I participated in hundreds of other things that I didn’t really enjoy or care for, all because it felt like something an extroverted person might do.
Fast-forward to today and I have quite a lot to show for my efforts:
I met and fell in love with my partner Rachel
I am comfortable speaking to a crowd and enjoy public speaking
I’ve gained leadership skills and become comfortable taking the lead in group environments
I feel confident in my ability to do something, even if it makes me anxious or nervous
But one thing didn’t change, I didn’t become an extrovert.
That’s just the truth of it; I can act the part, I can cross my fingers and hope, I can will myself into the role, but I can’t become a true extrovert. I’m just not wired that way.
And that’s okay because…
2. Being introverted is amazing.
Growing up I decided I wanted to be extroverted because it seemed like a requirement to have the level of success that I truly wanted. Now that I’m older, I realize that this was never the case.
Sure, success as an entrepreneur requires an ability to sell your ideas, it requires an ability to lead a team, and it requires a tremendous amount of confidence, but these are all things that introverts can do just as well.
We work hard and take pride in our output, we connect well with others on an emotional level, we have the ability to determine what truly matters to a person, and we understand that the difference between success and failure lies in the actions we take.
When you think of someone who is introverted and someone who is extroverted you may create a mental image of someone who is shy and closeted versus someone who is loud and in your face.
The truth, is that these two images are of specific personality types but they have nothing to do with introversion or extroversion tendencies.
Introverts can be loud, we can flaunt our wins, and we can command the spotlight. The difference is that our energy tends to come from within rather than from the people around us and for entrepreneurs, this is a fantastic quality due to the lonely nature of the job.
Now, based on the world we live in, it’s easy to think that in order to win you need to be more extroverted. Our companies are structured to reward those of us who are willing to stick our necks out, the job market looks for the “alpha” when making hiring decisions, and the people we see winning most often all seem to be extroverted; but let me assure you that this isn’t the case.
Introverts have a major advantage when it comes to entrepreneurship; we thrive in focused environments, and we are passionate about our work, we love the people around us and enjoy being with them but at the end of the day we are recharged by being alone and focused.
This trait is ideal for the world of entrepreneurship, an environment that requires an enormous amount of output in order to create something from nothing.
There are benefits to embracing the positive sides of being extroverted, there are good reasons to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, but at the end of the day you have to embrace who you are and make decisions accordingly, do that and your life will change for the better.
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