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How To Be A Little Less Introverted


Last week in my Blogging for Beginners class at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, a student declared that she doesn’t feel comfortable putting her photo on her blog, something I strongly encourage all my students to do. People want to know what the blogger they’re following looks like, and the more professional the photo, the better.

But my student is an introvert, like so many writers are. That’s why we become writers—because we’re not comfortable expressing ourselves out loud.

When I was a kid, I was shy. With my close friends I could be myself—goofy, silly, and talkative—but around strangers, I hid behind my mother’s legs. I sat in the back of the class at school and, although I was a straight-A student, I rarely raised my hand for fear that I wouldn’t sound articulate. I was hyper-self-conscious about the way I looked, moved, and spoke. I remember the first time I attended a school dance. I had no idea how to dance, so I stood in a circle with my friends and moved back and forth, probably snapping my fingers. It was terrifying, but it also felt good to dance, and I slowly got the hang of it. When I saw my friend Shannin showing off all her moves to the boys across the room, I made it my goal to become less shy. I took a blank sheet of paper and drew a fat exclamation point on it and colored it yellow. Yellow was my favorite color—the color of dandelions and the sun, of lemonade and smiley faces. I taped that paper to the middle of my bedroom wall where I’d see it every morning when I woke up. It was my secret reminder to take more risks and be more outgoing. I wanted to be more !, more extroverted.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, has changed the way we view introverts, which is wonderful. Meanwhile, we have books to promote and readings to give, and those can be difficult tasks for writers. Self-promotion can feel like hell. I’m no expert at being extroverted, but here are a few things that have helped me feel more comfortable putting myself “out there”:

1. Take risks

By taking a risk in another area of your life, you’ll build confidence to take risks in your writing/publishing/social media life. Back in the late 90s, when I was living in Los Angeles, I took an acting class. I had never been a good actor because I was shy, but I was a fashion model at the time and thought acting classes could help me book TV commercials. Then one week I decided to go skydiving. Rather than do a tandem jump, I signed up for the all-day course to learn to jump on my own. And I did it. In fact, I felt on top of the world, like I could accomplish anything, after that. That week I had to perform a scene in my acting class. I walked in and looked at the audience (my class), and thought, “I just risked my life. What’s the worst that could happen in this room? Someone may laugh at me?” I had no more fear or acting. I nailed the scene and my teacher invited me to join his advanced class. But you don’t have to go skydiving to get over your fear of promoting yourself on Facebook. You can think of other ways to push your boundaries. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t out of fear? Do that thing! Confront a friend, writing a letter to your state senator, jump off a high dive. Do something that scares you, and you will become more confident in all areas of your life.

2. Prepare

Because I’m an introvert (really, I am), I’m not comfortable improvising. If I have to get up on stage to do a reading, I rehearse that reading. I read the piece many times out loud, timing myself to make sure it isn’t too long and listening for lines that could be cut. Ideally, I read it in front of someone else to get feedback and to see which parts get laughs, so I know when to slow down or pause. By the time I get on stage, I’m confident and comfortable and ready to have some fun. This goes for filming video blog posts, too. Do your hair, prepare what you’re going to say, and then film it over and over again until you have a take you’re comfortable posting. Each post will get easier and, before you know it, you’ll be streaming live.

3. Just do it

Here’s a confession. I have an email newsletter. I’ve only sent it out three times so far because I have so much anxiety about it. I worry that people will be annoyed at the “spam” and unsubscribe or, worse yet, just roll their eyes when they hear my name and whisper to each other, “She’s such a self-promoter.” I worry that I’ll send it with a typo, and people will send me nasty emails telling me I have no business editing books. But every few months I JUST DO IT. I write my newsletter, I proofread it ten times for typos, then I hold my breath and click SEND. And you know what happens? I get emails from old friends saying, “Go Meghan!” and “So good to hear from you! How are you?” No eye rolling, no nasty emails, just positive support. Who knew?

4. Read Susan Cains’s Quiet

This is on my own To Do list. Any book that hails the power of introverts is a book writers need to read. Let’s stop beating ourselves up for being crappy promoters and learn to value our true strengths. We have the power to change the world through our writing. We are creative and insightful and great listeners. Let’s harness that power and put it to good use.

5. Consider starting a Lean In circle

I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, but I was inspired by her talk at the BlogHer ’13 conference. “What do you fear?” she asked. “No go out and do that thing.” The Lean In website provides guidelines on how to start a circle of like-minded peers to support you in your goals. It’s worth checking out.

What about you? What tricks have you found help you get over your fears of public speaking and social media? Deep breathing? Yoga? Meditation? I’d love to hear your experiences!

31 comments to How To Be A Little Less Introverted

  • This is all wonderful advice for someone who is shy or self-conscious, or anyone who would like to build an audience or put themselves/their work out there, or feel that self-promotion is a bad thing (which, it is not). Thanks for posting.

    However, being shy and being introverted are not the same thing. Shy people can be introverts, but all introverts aren't shy. Nor are introverts risk averse. Not all extroverts take risks.

    Here's a classic description for an introvert –

    "Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert! Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

    Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to "recharge."

    Perhaps a more appropriate title is How To Be A Little Less Shy.

    • meghancward

      Aditi – Thanks for the distinction between shyness and introversion. Did you get this definition from the Fast Company article you linked to below? Although there is clearly a spectrum of introversion/extroversion, I would think this definition would apply to all (or most) people. I love parties, but also love my alone time and need to recharge after being around a lot of people. Who doesn't? Introverts may prefer their alone time to time spent with groups of people, but that doesn't mean we don't all need quiet time to recharge.

    • meghancward

      P.S. Do you consider yourself an introvert? Do you consider yourself shy? Seems like, although they may have different definitions, they often go hand in hand.

      • aditi raychoudhury

        Finally getting to this….. as per two of those free MYERS Briggs personality types – I am about 70% introvert and generally leaning towards in smaller percentages (Introvert(67%) iNtuitive(25%) Feeling(38%) Perceiving(11)%) – of course, it is sometimes hard to answer those questions accurately… because they are SO limiting – so, yes, not only have I considered myself an introvert.. looks like personality tests attest to it . But…. I have almost NEVER been shy – I never had stage fright – right from my first school performance at age 4, to dance recitals till i was 18 – neither have I ever had any trouble speaking my mind, in large gathering, say, classroom situations. However, I consider myself, and, supposedly am, an introvert, primarily because I like to spend large amounts of time alone… for example, I work best when I am alone- i.e. almost every single day, i spend more than 8 hours a day – not speaking to ANYBODY, or seeing anyone and i prefer it that way – if my husband is out of town (as he often is) – make that pretty much no adult conversation all day, for nearly 4-5 days, except for video chatting w him for a little bit every evening, and perhaps a short phone conversation w one or two of the same people I always call. Even when I did work in an office my most productive / preferred time to work was after everyone left work. I agree that most people need to spend time alone, have their space, or recharge alone… however, its how much of alone time you need that determines if you are introvert or extrovert.. and in that regard, I like to spend very large chunks of time, particularly, while working alone. But, as you know very well, I am quite social, not shy and enjoy parties w my close friends.

        • aditi raychoudhury

          ps: and i do spend a lot of time reflecting on my own behavior, state of the world, what the fishes are ingesting and so on… a LOT of thinking and self-reflection time for sure….

      • aditi raychoudhury

        PS: earlier i used to get comment notifications via intense debate- but now i don't. I didn't even know you had replied to my comment… till recently, when I was reading something else that you had posted

    • Brad

      Thank you so much Aditi for pointing out what the rest of the world STILL fails to understand (even after Susan Cain's book dominated the best-seller charts). Introverts do not have problems with engaging. WE CHOOSE NOT TO. We have no desire to be like extroverts (or more like extroverts) because they exhibit the qualities we deplore (loud, outspoken, unthoughtful, talkative, often-times shallow).

      I'm an introvert who has OUSTANDING social skills (people often don't even believe me when I tell them I'm an introvert). I can command a room (when I have to), charm the hell out of anyone (when I have to) and be engaging and witty (when I have to). The relative part of the previous sentence is "WHEN I HAVE TO". I loathe socializing in groups (especially for business networking). I do it because I have to and I do it well. When I retreat into my own quiet world again, it's not simply because I want to but because I HAVE to.

      I really wish people would stop treating introverts like they're practically autistic. Shyness has NOTHING to do with introversion (albeit there may be introverts who are shy, that characteristic is not a defining part of the introvert at all).

      Not interested in being more like an extrovert but, here's an idea, tell extroverts to be more like introverts (shut up, listen more, stop crying to be center of attention, observe more). I think that would make the world a better place more than anything else.

  • This article in Fast Company "ARE YOU AN INTROVERT OR AN EXTROVERT? WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR CAREER" delves into extroverts and introverts – but it doesn't offer much advice in terms of how to actually enhance your career. Your blog does. 🙂

  • julia

    Thanks for your advice. I'm an introvert by nature, too, but learned to put on an extrovert act as a reporter at the LA Times.

    • meghancward

      Interesting! Did you find, like Aditi mentions in her comment above, that you needed alone time afterward to recharge?

  • Amy

    Aditi, I was thinking the same thing. As one married to an introvert, I've learned a ton about what that means… and it's not at all the same thing as being shy, or being risk-averse. Another friend with an introvert partner gave me this classic article to read, that I think says a lot of it well.

    Meghan, I love the stuff you're saying here! And I think this applies to "shy" rather than "introvert". 🙂

    • meghancward

      Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article. Seems everyone is talking about introverts this week, so it's fun to learn more about them – and to discover the distinctions between shyness and introversion.

  • Love the idea of a big yellow exclamation point!

  • annerallen

    I always come out right on the cusp of introversion/extraversion on my the Myers Briggs tests. This means I can fake being an extrovert for a certain amount of time, but I absolutely need solitude to balance it. It's hard to explain to people, who think I'm acting strange when I have to take my "time outs". Buy if I don't get them, I become agoraphobic and can't stand to be with people at all.

    • judith schara

      I really admire your willingness to share what for me would be such an expose of my most private self. Its apparent that a great many writers fall into this broad category of introvert and it is some comfort to hear about this. I have had a blog site half-way up on the internet since May and struggle with putting my first post up . I am sure it sounds silly to you all who blithly blog about so much. But it does help to hear writers I admire talk about their own fears.

  • 2013 is so the 'Year of the Introvert' !! As an extro with a lot of close innie friends and family members I will say however some of the new innie theories about us are WRONG!! For example we don't suck energy off of you. We get a charge from being in crowds or big groups but the one-on-one experience is similar for both types I think. Also extros are insecure about sharing things and putting ourselves out there too. We are more comfortable improvising however. Also I've felt a fair amount of jealousy from my innies for my (seemingly) greater ease in navigating some parts of life. Maybe this will subside now that innies are identifying as secret geniuses. ; > ; >

  • Lucy Miller Robinson

    Lovely list. Self-promotion makes me squirm. Another great book to read is Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly." It's all about the power of vulnerability.

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  • mainecharacter

    About the newsletter, if you're apprehensive about sending it out, you probably don't have to worry about it. It's those who think their newsletter is the best thing ever that get a little trigger happy.

    And about Quinn's book, last week I went out of my way to visit a bookstore I'd never been to before, and her book was right on the corner of the first table as you come in the door. Almost got it just to reward myself for being there. 🙂

  • Great post, Meghan. I think writers who want to be in business NEED to get out there no matter how introverted they may be. Business is business.

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  • Quiet is a fascinating book about the prejudice that our society faces against introverts, and why it's unfounded, and how, as an introvert, you can overcome that, as well as just KNOW yourself better. I never really classified myself as such before, but reading this, I understand why, if I'm exhausted, all I want to be is alone, and how I'm extroverted only when I can control my environment and how that's a THING! If you're shy or are unsure, this is a great read. I think you'll discover something about yourself, that's why I've recommended to a lot of people lately!

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  • I'm not an introvert, actually I would call myself very extrovert, by the fact that I like to show my personality in all forms. First, introverted people should try by all means to stop shyness and apprehension, and choose to display their own beliefs and principles.

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