Growing up, I was a fairly average student (pause your gasps). My parents would be told the same thing over and over again every PTM: I was smart and I was obedient, but I needed to ‘come out of my shell’. If you’ve ever heard this advice given to you before, solicited or not, you have my sincerest sympathies. For a long time, we didn’t have the vocabulary to identify what I sometimes wish my teachers could’ve seen: I was an introvert.
Things changed in high school, when I quickly realised my love for being buried in a book also meant I could write, and well. I started participating in debate club, and discovered a love for volunteering. The big thing that changed during this time wasn’t that I realised I enjoyed networking with other students: it was recognising what I was good at, and taking the effort necessary to develop those skills. Susan Cain talks about this in her TED talk about introverts, and it’s a talk I’ve recommended several times to many people just because I never realised how big the problem was before I watched it. It wasn’t just me-the-weirdo who found energy in some alone time- there were others.
We talk a lot about the importance of collaboration and team-work in the modern work-space, and those are undoubtedly incredibly important skills to tap into. But something our modern, open-planned offices don’t account for? The value of solo-work, focus and tapping into oneself for creativity. The fact is we have just as much to learn from self-improvement and reflection –qualities typically associated with introverts – as we do from collaboration and communication.
What I wish my teachers knew is that instead of being pushed into basketball (which to this day I am appallingly bad at) or art (I don’t know this for sure, but I may be colour blind), if I’d just been given the space to go deeply into my own interests – reading deeply about nearly anything – I would’ve come into my own a lot sooner. When I finally did find a teacher who saw that, everything fell into place pretty quickly.
If you’re an introvert struggling in your workplace, I highly suggest turning your office into a space where you know you can be productive. If you work in an open-planned office, take an hour or so to find a different, quieter space where you can finish projects in. Once you recognise where your strengths lie, it’s a lot easier to feel confident about your performance at work and foster closer relationships to your colleagues.
The next time someone gives you some unsolicited advice about coming out of your shell, know that I’ve been there, and if you like it, then rest assured your shell works just fine. Besides, it looks good on you!