Saturday afternoon. Cars scurry by my apartment, beeping once or twice before zooming off into the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Little children dart ahead of their parents in the street, laughing and screaming in celebration of the weekend. On the sidewalk, couples strut hand-in-hand toward their favorite brunch destination, recounting memories from Friday night. I sit alone, propped up in a wooden chair at my dining room table, fingers hopping across the letters on my keyboard. I've found my happy place and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
As I begin writing a new blog post, my mom calls to check in and her tone is tainted with concern as I tell her how I'm spending my afternoon. "Oh, really?" she says. "Shouldn't you be outside on such a beautiful day? Go check out the Winter Village in Bryant Park with your friends!" As a 20-something living in New York I'm not supposed to be cooped up inside on a Saturday. Despite my efforts to reassure my mom that I'm not some sort of a loner, she continues to worry because, well, that's what moms do. I used to get defensive and raise my voice, feeling the need to explain why I'd opted out of a "boozy brunch" and shopping in SoHo with girlfriends. Should I want to be more like my peers who have plans every night of the week and always demand to be the center of attention? Is there something wrong with me because I'm not excited to make small talk at a networking event on a Tuesday night? In my head the answer had always been "yes."
Even in business introverts have seemed to take a back seat to their extroverted peers, needing to overcome a stigma that they're shy, aloof, don't like people very much, and therefore aren't primed to be successful leaders. One survey found "65 percent of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership, and other studies have shown that highly extroverted U.S. presidents are perceived as more effective." Introverts, unfortunately, are often misunderstood; in reality they tend to be great listeners, creative, and loyal -- characteristics that we also find admirable in leaders.
In business and our personal lives we all have different styles that we should embrace, whether we're more introverted, extroverted or perhaps a mix of both. I've recently adopted a mantra from Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking: "Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured ... Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to." On nights when I'm not in the mood to go out dancing, I savor the quiet moments I have to myself to decompress, gather my thoughts, and let the sound of sirens fade away. Once in awhile though, we must remember to make ourselves uncomfortable.
Traveling reminds me that I'm capable of throwing my introverted tendencies to the wind at times. When I travel I return to my infancy, a curious being, eager to explore my surroundings yet quickly overwhelmed by the constant stimulation of a culture that isn't my own. I become acutely aware of my habits, longing to escape the crowded bar scene and lay down in my hotel room at the end of the day. In such circumstances, I push myself to stay out and befriend other travelers, those whose rich stories I wouldn't have heard had I decided to stay at my dining room table 4,000 miles away.
We all derive energy from different sources, whether that entails having activities lined up every night of the week or recognizing when you need to just curl up with a book on a Friday night. Find what it is that makes you tick and do you.