As a proud introvert, I am keen to promote quiet voices speaking in the world.
I’m sharing a piece here that was originally published in Issue 1 of The Introvert Effect Magazine in February this year.
Just because you are quiet by nature, it doesn’t meant you can’t speak out and influence. You might do this a little differently to what feels like mainstream approaches. And it can take a little while to learn how your skills can best be played out.
My piece is an account of how I learned to understand and work the gifts of introversion. I hope you enjoy it and I welcome your thoughts especially if you have had similar experiences.
The second issue of The Introvert Effect Magazine – the Energy Issue – is out and is available here. The magazine is by introverts for introverts and this issue has some great tips for managing energy as an introvert.
Shining a quiet light
I’ve always been aware of a sense of feeling a little different, a bit quieter, slightly outside the mainstream. Not necessarily in a bad way, but enough to feel at a distance from what was happening at times and to not say as much as I wanted.
As a young adult, I was drawn to the work of Carl Jung, to his visions, dreams and insights and to his writing on symbols, synchronicity and personality.
I found some of his Collected Works volumes with images of mandalas that I would gaze into as if they held something secret.
I became a teacher of adult literacy and then over time, a leader in adult education, heading up large work groups, honing the vision for my teams and business area, delivering educational programs that made a difference and developing the people that worked with me.
I’ve always been interested in personal development and creativity, mine and other people’s. Learning to me is paramount and even if the terrain is tough, there’s knowledge, experience and strength from that. I incorporated and shared these lessons in my work as a leader and in more personal writing on my blog.
With all of this, it wasn’t until I worked through my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality type with a coach that I began to truly understand myself and the key to how I work.
I identified as an INTJ personality type – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging – with a very strong preference for the I – Introverted.
I remember a single moment in the debriefing conversation when my coach said to me:
“Do you ever close the door?”
I can remember my stunned silence.
It seemed so obvious and still does. But the words were like a permission slip that I clearly needed to be authentic in my work in the world.
Leadership in our 24/7 world, filled with social media and electronic devices, implies always being available and accessible. These simple words about closing the door as my source of power and learning to respect this, ironically, opened the door to so much.
After that, I did start to close the door briefly and found it so valuable in getting peace and focus. I still do whatever I can to breathe, to collect my thoughts, to envision, to put the pieces together in a mind-map, to research, to craft words and to prepare for the next interaction.
A few years later, I read Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. It was another watershed time and I understood myself more deeply as the words unfolded.
These words from Susan Cain spoke to me:
Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.
It’s true: I shine most brightly from the light of my desk or from the shade of trees at the beach where I sit writing, feet in the sand, staring out into the water and sunlight. All the incandescent ideas and visions flow from that inward space.
It’s not better than a Broadway stage, it’s just different. But it has taken me years to realise it’s just as significant a power as the brighter magic of a more extraverted and colourful performance. And it’s also taken me time to have confidence in this quiet strength as a source of expression and wisdom.
I’ve been told in my professional life, as I’m sure many introverts have, to “speak up more” and also to consider “voice coaching”.
There are times when this might be helpful and to some extent there’s truth in there. However, I gained the ability to speak up and influence more effectively through learning to work my introvert by sharpening up my practices of how I prepare, strategise, listen and write.
From this base, I can speak to large groups without undue stress and have impact in challenging negotiation contexts.
I can follow the flow of discussion in a meeting that meanders and then sum up the main ideas into a distilled message for future action.
I can listen in a very focused way and ask the right questions to help others move ahead. I can use my strategic writing ability to bring diverse ideas together to influence an outcome or argue for a position.
I have always had these skills to some degree. Over time, I have had to learn to recognise them as assets and to deploy them more appropriately and with confidence.
The linchpin has been the awareness of knowing the symbolic and practical power of the closed door and the lamplit desk, working from the wellspring of private moments however I can find them.
And it’s not that other people are not involved or important.
Connecting with critical others, listening to others’ ideas, engaging with creative communities and working with coaches and mentors are all part of the rich mix of input.
But it’s the quiet moment of distilling all of this knowledge and experience to its essence that is the vital catalyst for action.
We are all on a hero’s (or heroine’s) journey.
As Steven Pressfield says in ‘Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work’:
In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggling, and suffering. He brings a gift for the people. That gift arises from what the hero has seen, what he has endured, what he has learned. But the gift is not that raw material alone. It is the ore refined into gold by the hero/ wanderer/ artist’s skilled and loving hands.
You are that artist.
For the introvert, this important work of refining, distilling and reworking is more likely to happen if we can find space in our days.
And if there are silent walks along the beach, or elsewhere, collecting thoughts like shells.
And if we remember that the gentle light of ideas can be just as radiant as any stage performance, illuminating dark corners with presence.
The next step in my personal journey is to take this learning forward. As an INTJ, my dominant function is Introverted Intuition and I’m activating this power now with more awareness.
I’m combining my passions for learning, teaching, writing, Carl Jung’s ideas and MBTI tools to support people to harness their particular brand of brilliance to express their voice in the world.
Learning to work our introvert strengths to deploy our gifts ensures that the unique voice of what we love, who we are and what we have learned is not drowned out.
We can never know the difference our influence can make or the impact we can have on another’s life journey.
Recognising our abilities, crafting the raw material of our lives and then communicating the gold we find can be the greatest offering, enabling others to likewise shine.
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