There’s a Western saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” which is typically used to convey the idea that those who are the loudest are more likely to get attention. On the other hand, a more Eastern saying goes something like, “The nail that stands out gets hammered down.” Contrary to the Western notion that it’s “better” to be loud so that you can get noticed, in collectivistic/Eastern communities, standing out is actually a “bad” thing.
I’ve struggled with my identity as an introvert (or more accurately, an ambivert with more introverted tendencies). On one hand, it’s a part of my personality and also cultural upbringing. Growing up in a collectivistic family, you’re taught to defer to your elders, be seen and not heard. This approach does not work well in the Western workplace, especially in places that work in teams. When I was a trainee working on a large multi-disciplinary team in a setting where we did primarily group work, I often listened to the group discussion and offered my opinions when I felt like I had something important to say. I often worried that I would be perceived as an “inadequate” clinician or didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t talk as much as some of my other colleagues. During my exit reviews, one of my colleagues even said, “At first, I thought you were going to be meek.”
Although I know that he didn’t mean the comment to be mean in anyway, it made me angry because it was such a stereotypical view of who an introverted person (an Asian-American at that) is. Just because I don’t always have something to say does NOT mean that I’m going to be a meek or submissive person. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with being meek, but I don’t identify as such and I definitely don’t let people walk all over me. But I, too, held on to some of the stereotypical views about introversion and thought of my introverted characteristics to be “bad.” My supervisor gave me some feedback that was helpful: my ability to listen before I speak and talk when I have something important to say were actually strengths, especially as a clinician. I talked a lot with my supervisor about how I could still be authentic/myself (i.e., listen > talking), maintain my presence, gain respect from my colleagues, and “move up in the world.”
So I’ve been glad to see this trend in social media (e.g., Pinterest), blogs, and news pieces that explain what introversion actually is. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this struggle and that other introverts in the world are successful leaders. As I continue becoming an “adult” in my profession, I hope to be able to navigate and negotiate being an introvert in an extrovert’s world and be successful!
Are you an extrovert or introvert? Pros/cons of being an extrovert/introvert?
- Are the Brains of Introverts and Extroverts Actually Different? (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- Speaking Up About Introversion (afterfacebook.wordpress.com)