Why Introverts Should Ditch the Label

I’ve been using the introvert label for years. I wore it like a sticker. Hello, my name is Introvert. You may see me smiling and cracking bad jokes, but I’m dying a bit on the inside. And not from the cheesy jokes. I struggle to keep up with a regular social pace. It certainly makes for a boring social life, but it has really impacted me at work. Here are a few examples:

Why are you against working in an open-office environment?

– I’m an introvert. Being forced to hold my facial expressions and posture in a socially-acceptable manner for 8+ hours is too exhausting.

Why do you have to freak out over this tough work meeting?

– I’m an introvert. I have a hard time speaking my truth or handling confrontation.

Why don’t you like to join team activities or after-work events?

– I’m an introvert. Socializing is a total drain on my emotional battery.

Do you see a trend? A problem is presented and an excuse is given. The excuse of being an “introvert” comes across as a negative characteristic. It also comes across as though you expect the people involved with the “problem” to accept this horrible thing about you.

Just in case you think I’m full of it, a quick Google dictionary search states an introvert is a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things. Ouch. Makes introverts sound like depressed narcissists.

It is no wonder I got in a habit of making excuses for myself or asking for validation to make amends for my “deficiencies.” I would often mutter phrases like, “Sorry if this sounds dramatic.” Or even, “Do you think I have a right to feel this way?”

The risk of using labels as lifelines.

When those I’m-an-introvert-and-here’s-what-you-need-to-know articles starting exploding on the internet, I grasped onto it like a lifeline. I thought maybe I would be able to work from home more if I showed my Introvert Badge. I thought people would be forced to have sympathy and understanding for me after a difficult work meeting. It took me years to realize it, but it did the opposite. It presented my decisions and reactions as destructive and damaging. The worst part — I actually believed I was shoddy and incompetent.

I’m ditching the introvert label.

After many frustrating conversations with my husband and an eye-opening chat with a dear friend, I had a brain switch flip. My internal conversation was completely rewritten when I really realized the source of my anxiety or unwillingness to go with the crowd. Take a look…

Why can’t you enjoy working in an open-office environment?

– I’m a workhorse. I care a lot about the work I do and the thought I put into it. I find open-work spaces to be distracting, which impacts my work. That is not ok with me.

Why do you have to freak out over this tough meeting?

– How I present myself is very important to me. I want to be helpful and supportive. However, tough calls can sometimes trigger negative feelings for all involved. You may have to explain deficiencies or reveal mistakes. I cringe at the thought of making others feel bad, even when done in the most professional manner. I care even more if the conversation reveals I had a misstep and let people down. That goes against my work ethic. I don’t “freak out.” I care. I care A LOT.

Why don’t you like to join team activities or after-work events?

– I keep work my work. I hope I enjoy it most of the time, but I will always enjoy my family more. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. I deserve to spend my time doing what makes me happy, so I am…damn it. I will contribute to the team in other ways.

While it may look like my tendencies are all about my “own thoughts and feelings (eff you, Google dictionary),” it is more about owning and respecting who you are and what makes you a badass. The more and more I tried conform and act as expected, the more the results suffered. Instead of instantly agreeing to something that goes against my work style, I now try to offer an alternative…

Are you free at 3pm for a meeting to chat about the team meeting tomorrow?

– That’s a great offer. I think you should host the meeting if it is helpful to the rest of the team, but I won’t be joining. I’m going to be planning my talking points and solutions for the meeting, but I’ll keep Slack up if you want to ping me questions during your meeting.

Why can’t you just have a full-time job? / Why can’t you just work with one client for years?

– I love the challenge of tackling new things and I’m damn good at it. Like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, I like playing the role of the cleaner. I’m awesome at discovering opportunities and showing a team how to make it work…then getting out. It works for me and I’m not compromising. Harvey Keitel wouldn’t sit behind a laptop for 8 hours doing the same job for 8 years!

So, while I recognize and love my fellow introverts, let’s ditch the label. Let’s just own what makes us confident, successful and happy. I dare you to replace, “But I’m an introvert” with “I own who I am and I know what works for me.” Ok, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but are ya with me?