x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Just say it out loud - it's OK to be an introvert in this society

While it is considered an advantage to be an extrovert in society and business, introverts are often more focused on their personal pursuits.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power - Lao Tzu

Have you ever experienced a nauseating fear when making a presentation in front of a group of people? Or maybe left a party or a wedding early in favour of a quiet night with a good book? Do you prefer to contain your feelings, rather than expressing them even to close friends? If you answer "yes" to these questions, then you probably are an introvert.

How would I know? I am an introvert myself.

It must be said, there are no defined personality types set in stone. Many people are slightly introverted; only a very few cannot stand human interaction at all.

And the same applies to extroversion. Extroverts, in general, are outspoken and confident, likeable people who enjoy socialising, leading and motivating. It is considered an advantage to be an extrovert in terms of social acceptance, but at the same time introverts are often more focused on their personal pursuits. That can be a positive trade off for people who may be less confident in public.

Either way, it's nothing to worry about - as I have learnt the past year or so. Studies in the United States have shown anywhere from half to three quarters of Americans are introverted to some degree. If that is true in the US, a country known for extroversion, what does it say about other countries including the UAE?

What's the role of a shy person in society, you may ask. Well, to name a few people who are considered to be (or have been) introverts: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla. Indeed, many renowned thinkers throughout history were introverts. That's exactly what they were: thinkers.

In Steve Wozniak's autobiography iWoz, one of the traits that he considered most important was his introverted personality. When he and Jobs collaborated in the founding of Apple, they didn't conduct presentation after presentation to high-powered boardrooms. No, they thought and worked.

Wozniak said he and Jobs each worked alone in their own corners with their own prototypes. When both were done, they would sit together and evaluate their work. Wozniak credits his achievements to the time spent working alone.

So introverts play a great role in society, but I don't mean that extroverts do not. On the contrary, extroverts too make an important contribution.

Here's what I mean: Thomas Edison (who is considered an extrovert) is sometimes said to have taken credit for inventions related to electricity that were really the work of physicist Nikola Tesla, who is often called a classic introvert.

The two men worked together and while details of their partnership are unclear, it is known that Tesla quietly made great contributions while Edison, so much more outgoing, is acknowledged as the man who popularised the light bulb, for example. Without both men's contributions, we might still be using candles.

Those kind of examples can have an affect on your personal life. A year ago, I realised something about myself. Whenever class ended, I would jump in my car and race home to the solitude of my own room and my own thoughts. I was not very social, barely talking with anyone. I hated small talk and shied away from it when I knew it was coming, even if it was just someone asking about the weather or my weekend plans.

But, I realised, when the subject of conversation was something complex, being discussed in detail, I spoke, listened and debated.

This realisation made me wonder why I am, well, the way I am. Then I stumbled upon book after book about introverts and extroverts.

Since then I have changed a lot. Of course I haven't turned into an extrovert, but I have embraced my introversion. I still often read and write alone, but I have also become able to be more social and confident to a degree.

I have written this article to share what I have learnt with my fellow introverts: you too can educate yourself to realise why you make certain decisions. Identify, acknowledge and embrace your introversion. Who knows? That quiet time alone might lead to the world's next great invention.


Salem AlQassimi is a business student at the Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology

On Twitter: @SalemAlQassimi