Somewhere between half and one-third of us prefer solitude to crowds, enjoy reading to talking and like to sit with our thoughts before we speak.
With a recent rash of attention to this aspect of personality, much of it generated by attorney-author Susan Cain’s best-seller, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” more people are owning up to their true nature.
Introverts are in good company. Innovators like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks and Steven Spielberg are among the famous introverts Cain identified.
Some envious extroverts are even drawing the spotlight to introverts who would prefer, of course, to work behind the scenes.
Take Katy Waldman’s Slate essay: “Yes, it’s great to be an introvert in 2013,” but she fears, “Maybe I am secretly an extrovert, or an ambivert, which is a mix of the two personality types. This makes me a little sad, since the cachet of the introvert seems to have skyrocketed lately.”
Some people who identify as introverts surprise others, who would have expected them to be extroverts.
Stand-up comics, for example.
University of New Mexico anthropology professor Gil Greengross, who also writes for Psychology Today, found that the stand-up comics he surveyed were more introverted than his control group of college students – and that surprised him.
“Perhaps the most surprising finding was that comedians are more introverted than other people. We might expect comedians’ pursuit of fame and attention to place them high on extroversion,” he writes in the study. “The public perceives comedians as ostentatious and flashy. Their personality on stage is often mistakenly seen interchangeably with their real personality.”
His study published in 2009 in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences, surveyed comics and college students based on their answers to a personality scale, “The Big Five,” which measures extroversion, introversion and other personality characteristics.
Albuquerque stand-up comic Goldie Garcia says she’s always known she was introverted. But her mission is larger than the amount of energy getting on stage requires.
“I want to reverse stereotypes. I want people to know that Latinos are just like any other person. We buy Tide and put Crest on our toothbrushes like everyone else,” she says. “I’ve always had an introverted feeling. I’m a loner in life. I’ve always wondered why God would choose me to be a comedian. But coming from a family of nine kids, I always loved cheering people up.”
During her 30 years in comedy, Garcia has toured the country and produced the New Mexico Comedy Showcase this past summer, but it hasn’t gotten more natural to be on stage: “Doing it for as long as I have, you would think it would be easier, but I still get that feeling of panic. I think most comics have that. I think most comics are introverted.”
She says she balances the extroverted stage work with long periods of solitude when she does her art: “I become a shut-in with my art.”
Greengross, who considers himself an introvert, says on second glance it makes sense that stand-up comedians are introverted: “They have to play with ideas in their heads. Most of it is a lonely job, except for the time they are on stage.”
He doesn’t want anyone to think that being extroverted is better than being introverted, although Americans are often stereotyped as extroverts.
“Introverts interact with others quite well. They can go to parties and fake extroversion. They are 40 (percent) to 50 percent of the population,” he says, explaining that his working definition of introverts is that they generally avoid too much social interaction and like times of quiet reflection to replenish their energy.
Cain says introverts have many beneficial qualities, but two that seem contradictory are their capacity for solitude that producing ideas requires and for cooperation: “Studies suggest that many of the most creative people are introverts, and this is partly because of their capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reï¬‚ective thinkers. Implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones.”
Introvert Hazel Thornton, a professional organizer in Albuquerque, says she thinks the Internet has allowed introverts to shine in ways that would seem unnatural and draining otherwise.
“My theory is that Facebook is dominated by introverts,” she says.
In a blog for Introvert Retreat she says social media has made her more social than before: “Another thing people say is that Facebook has caused a decrease in good old fashioned face-to-face social interaction. I disagree. If I am home on a Saturday night chatting online with Facebook friends, I can guarantee you that the alternative is not to go out partying. The alternative is to read a good book alone.”
Like all successful introverts, Janet Barclay, who lives in Canada and manages introvertretreat.com, has learned to improve her life by working at home as a web designer and virtual assistant.
Barclay, who is certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test that measures introversion and other characteristics, says that introverts can be misunderstood, “because we don’t toot our own horn in a group situation. Being an introvert doesn’t mean we are shy or socially awkward. It doesn’t mean you can’t do public speaking. It just means you are more content spending time alone. It means you’re more focused on what’s inside your head than what’s going on around you.”