Quiet discusses in depth the role that introverts can play in business.
I have been thinking about how that might apply to college students. I worried in my last blog entry that perhaps a entrepreneurship oriented economy might disadvantage introverts. This may be true in some cases. Nonetheless, the book goes to great lengths to highlight the skills and inclinations that introverts bring to the table can be very valuable in business. Susan Cain discusses the advantages of introversion like sensitivity, firmness, preparedness. These things can work out just fine in college.
Where introverts fit well
The big difference between introverts and extroverts is not how “social” they are. The book is full of great examples of highly social introverts. Many highly successful people – lawyers, professors, corporate CEOs – are introverts. Their jobs use their introvert strengths (like careful analysis and creative problem solving). They do jobs that are very meaningful to them. Although they might not get energized by the social aspects of those jobs, they have learned to perform well in social environments in order to serve those greater ends. Because they are doing something that is important to them, they are willing invest their energy into social performances.
Extroverts might recoup a lot of energy from being on stage, or being the center of attention at a party. Introverts lose their energy when performing these duties. Even so, they can learn to do them competently. The big key is that introverts need time to recharge alone (or mostly alone). Once they have gone to the party or spoken at the shareholder meeting, they will do better if they take time to be alone, regroup, read and think.
Introvert roles in college
About a week ago I read a Reddit thread by a student who was worried that he was not having the right kinds of experiences in college.
It’s my first semester freshman year, I’ve got a heavy work load but far from the heaviest, and I spend most of my time studying. But whenever I have any free time, I see friends having fun, doing things, getting involved. I don’t drink, so when my dormmates have parties I feel kind of awkward and just kind of sit there. . . I’ve been here almost three months now and I have gone off campus maybe three times. I spend most of my time indoors and tell myself that it’s because of the weather, which is stupid, because I can look out the window and see it’s pretty nice out.
It could be that this freshman student is just an introvert. He is expending a lot of energy on school – probably more than he is used to. He is involved in some groups, but they seem to drain rather than energize him. He needs to spend some time alone. That will tend to build up stores of energy and give time to really practice the skills he wants to learn while in college. Focused practice is something that introverts do relatively naturally.
I wish someone had told me this: Once he gets enough sleep and time to relax internally, then socializing will feel better. Remember that a good party (or any good social experience) is a fine place to have one good conversation. Talk to someone – anyone – about something they are interested in. Do it while they are sober. And once you have had that good conversation, thank your host for a nice evening and go home read your book (or whatever else you wish you were doing). That is a totally acceptable evening out and there is no “standard good time” that your evening must live up to.