Once upon a time, across the Pacific, on the tropical island of Singapore, there was an introvert named Steve. Of course, he was too young then to even know the difference between an introvert and an extrovert, let alone being able to figure out that he is one.
What he did know, was that, unlike other kids who are loud and always gathering into groups to play, he would rather stand back and watch quietly. He had a couple of close friends he played with, but was equally happy when he was alone.
The most common words in his report card were ‘lacked confidence’, ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’. ‘Why are you like this?’, some adults would say to him – as if a kid would have an answer. But, he started to believe something was wrong with him anyway.
Growing up, he was always told by adults to speak up, so he wouldn’t be shadowed by others. He actually never really cared if he was overshadowed. He never craved being the centre of attention – in fact, he goes out of his way to shun it, if he can.
That’s not to say he wasn’t jealous of classmates who could instantly give smart answers when called upon by the teachers, or crack the funniest jokes and make
the girls everyone laugh. But that’s not him.
Thinking and speaking on his feet was never his strong suit, especially when he was put in the spotlight. For him, that’s when anxiety took over, before he shut down completely, occasionally triggering nervous giggles and unhelpful comments.
Maybe it’s because of that, he likes listening more than talking. To him, people are much more interesting, like puzzles, and hearing their stories (and gossip, of course) is much more fun than his own mundane life. He also didn’t feel like anyone needed to know his thoughts and opinions, because…why would they?
As he grew older and got into high school, he tried following the ‘advice’ to put himself out there and become more outgoing. For a while he actually did, hanging out with all the extroverts and having all the fun – and making great friends in the process. Yes, it was mentally exhausting and draining, but he found that it worked – as long as he still had alone time to snuggle up with a book and a glass of wine, to make up for it. He had found the balance! Or so he thought.
It was around the time he started working, that he realised he’d been an introvert all this time (yay, internet quizzes!). Turns out, he might not be that strange after all. Just different. It kind of validated him, but in a society that values extroverted skills at work, (like acting and speaking quickly, and being able to ‘sell yourself well’) he soon found out that much of the world is still the same.
Because he liked having lunch alone sometimes, to recharge and think, colleagues thought he was anti-social and a loner. And when he sat silently organising his thoughts during a meeting dominated by strong voices (and because interrupting is tough and also rude) he was deemed unenthusiastic and lacking ability.
Opportunity after opportunity passed him by, and before long he stopped even trying, and bought into the narrative that he wasn’t good enough. That may still be true, but without being given the space and opportunity to grow, who would know for sure?
So, why am I sharing this story with you?
I moved to Christchurch five years ago, after completing the software development bootcamp at Enspiral DevAcademy and eventually joined Media Suite as an intern. Here, I’ve actually been given plenty of space to grow and chances to be heard, to show the doubters in my life what I can actually do.
I want to use my new-found voice, not only to highlight some cultural differences between our countries, but to also draw some attention to difficulties introverts might experience during their childhood and work life. I wish someone had told the adults in my life to consider the introverts a bit more.
I’m just grateful that my awesome teammates at Media Suite genuinely understand that there’s a need for demographic diversity (gender, age, ethnicity), but, there’s also a need for diversity of thought. It’s essential in our quest to build the right thing. And because of that, we’re always conscious of the need to adapt to different working styles, focussing on getting the best out of each other.
For example, we’ve recognised that not everyone’s comfortable with collaborating in person, so on top of our daily use of Slack and emails, we’ve been trialling RealtimeBoard (a digital whiteboard collaboration tool) to share and iterate on ideas.
There’s also a growing movement of people making the effort to send out meeting agendas and discussion points as early as we can, so everyone gets some time to mull it over before the meeting. We consciously seek competing opinions in our meetings to make sure no one gets talked over.
Sometimes we’ll reach out to participants on Slack after a meeting to see if anyone has thoughts they didn’t get to express face-to-face.
I’ll be the first to admit that social events are also exhausting for me sometimes. It’s not that I don’t want to join in, but sometimes I’m just not up for it and want to stay at my desk to decompress.
Trust me, that’s not always an okay thing, and I can’t count how many times in the past I’ve been pushed or pressured into joining meals I wanted to skip.
However, that’s never happened to me once here. Everyone seems to understand if someone misses social events, and gives them space to recharge – often checking in afterwards to make sure you’re okay. This could also be because the less people who show up at morning tea, the more cake there is to go around…?
Of course, there’ll always be more work towards being inclusive, but I believe we’re heading in the right direction. In true Media Suite fashion, we’ll continue to experiment and iterate helping the team to do better work.
Anyway, before I head into the kitchen to hunt down some cake, I’d like to thank my teammates for always being so understanding. Fellow introverts: you should know that yes, it’s easy to feel like you’re less capable for not coming up with the rights words at the right time, for needing more time to consider your response, or feeling like you’re always playing catch up.
But, someone that listens, as well as voicing their opinion is surely what we need in the world now. Taking your time to understand the problem, and then coming up with a good solution, is always better than a quick fix. Being overly sensitive is better than not being sensitive at all. As with all forms of diversity, it’s important to embrace that difference. All those different perspectives will eventually come together to provide better answers, not only enabling us to do better work, but also allowing us to enjoy each other’s company more.