Article by Joanna Rawbone
As an introverted female business owner in my ‘later years’, this topic had me intrigued from the outset. How true is it? Had I ever stopped to ponder this? Well, I have now!
I know that many women report feeling more invisible as they get older, and I wonder if that indicates a vicious circle? I feel less visible, so I’ll retreat more to save myself from the pain of invisibility. Certainly Susan Cain, author of the bestselling introvert’s ‘bible’ Quiet, confirms that “We act more introverted as we get older.”
Act and be are 2 different things though
Notice that Cain uses the word ‘act’. It is important to differentiate between behaving in a more introverted way and being more introverted. The difference may sound subtle, but it is significant.
Those who identify as an introvert recharge their mental batteries quietly as they are naturally over stimulated mentally. Being in a busy or noisy environment doesn’t suit them so well as the additional stimulation is just too much. Introverts are known for saying ‘I’m all peopled out for today’ or ‘I’ve had enough peopling now’. At that point, they check out mentally if not physically.
Those who identify as an extravert on the other hand, need the external stimulation in order to recharge. So, they are social beings who start a conversation with anyone and seek out excitement.
But wherever we are on the introversion-extraversion dichotomy, we can always flex our behaviour. I can and have ‘extraverted’ when the need arose, but it always takes its toll. I can be the life and soul of the party for a short time provided I’ve pre-charged my mental, and social batteries. And I’m also known for disappearing without warning when I need to recharge. Sadly, our society from early years education, through the working years are biased in favour of extraverts so many of us have spent decades pretending in order to be accepted.
In my own experience …
As I’ve aged, I’m in my 60s right now, I’ve got more comfortable in my own skin. That’s something I doubted I would ever be able to say as a younger woman, filled as I was with self-doubt and comparisonitis. I no longer need as much external validation or to feel like I need to fit in with the ‘in-crowd’. It’s what psychologists call intrinsic maturation. The theory goes that we behave in a more extraverted way in order to attract a mate, so we fulfil the need to bond and create a family. Being in a successful long-term relationship however often requires us to calm and settle somewhat. That’s when we see people behaving in a more introverted way, like being happier in smaller groups rather than at wild parties. But is this change of lifestyle mourned by the die-hard extraverts as they see their previous life disappearing? I have certainly had friends who say so.
Me? I couldn’t wait to ‘settle’ into a gentler lifestyle with my life partner.
It may not be exciting enough for some, but it enables me to recharge my batteries frequently and without explanation, excuse or guilt. Bliss.
But what if I lose that life partner, as many do around my age? Will I behave in a more extraverted, outgoing and sociable way again?
I’m pretty sure my answer to that is no, dear reader. My procreating years are behind me, and if I do attract another mate, I hope it will be someone who I can spend quiet times with, enjoying each other’s company, and often in companionable silence.
The importance of recharging
I mentioned earlier that extroverting takes its toll on introverts and the price we pay is initially overwhelm, then introvert hangover, before hitting Introvert burn-out. So, the need to recharge is paramount. It starts with boundary setting so those closest to us know what we’re doing and why.
The way I recharge depends on the situation. If I’m just a bit overwhelmed. I’ll use a simple technique to give me a bit more charge in my battery to see me through the rest of the day. This might include specific breathing techniques, a quick meditation or even a dance break if I’m on my own. If I’ve gone beyond overwhelm, I’ll need the equivalent of a duvet day to recover from my introvert hangover. Walking in nature usually works, especially by the sea, losing myself in a book or music is very replenishing for me as is needlework. And if I have reached burn-out? Well let’s put it like this, having been there once, I’ve vowed to stop myself getting to that point again as it took me over 3 months to recover. So, the answer is, recharge often for best results.
Joanna has spent more than 24 years working with 000’s of international clients through her own training & coaching consultancy, Scintillo Ltd. During this time, and through her own earlier experiences, she has seen just how problematic the Extraversion bias in organisations is. It negatively impacts employee engagement, retention and productivity. It also impairs the physical and mental health & well-being of employees with the obvious consequences.
Recognising that it was time for action, Joanna founded Flourishing Introverts, a platform to:
* support those who want to fulfil their potential without pretending to be something they’re not.
* educate and inform organisations about the true cost of overlooking their introverts
* promote positive action and balance the extraversion bias
Joanna has a real passion for helping her clients make the small but sustainable changes that really make a difference. Being a functioning introvert, her clients value her ability to listen to more than the words, understand things from their perspective and co-create robust, pragmatic solutions.