Being an Introvert and Creative

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it. I think a lot of creatives are introverts. The quiet, introspective time that is required to be successful in a creative field  like graphic design and photography is really appealing to people who crave being alone as a way to hold onto sanity.

For clarification, as far as definitions go, I think of introverts as being recharged by alone time and extroverts as being recharged by time with other people.

I am, without a doubt, an introvert. That is not to say I’m a misanthrope. To the contrary! I actually love people and I am not shy at all. As my children can attest, I am not one to quietly stand in line minding my own business. Here in the southern US, it’s not uncommon for people to talk to strangers. So I talk to people I don’t know often and I smile at them even if I don’t talk to them. (Maybe I’m one of the annoying people quieter types hate. Good thing I can read people fairly well, too, so I know when to shut up.)

Anyway, I read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a few years ago. I thumbed through it again today and read this:

“We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal…Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Do you agree with that? I felt that in my chest when I first read it.

For years, I tried to conform, to “step out of my comfort zone”, and “fake it until I make it”. In other words, I pretended to be an extrovert.

Creative introverts via the Rising Tide Society
Photos by Laura Barnes at Roam

Nowhere was this more clear to me than my 2-year attempt at organized networking. I tried out a few groups and settled on a couple of them. One of the networking groups was a women’s group that met monthly, in the evenings. I’d usually dread going. It felt so unauthentic to me. I felt like I had to put on a “fake me” to even walk in the room.

But I sucked it up and did it. Month after month. For two long years. I talked to others about it. They tried to help with the advice about how important it was to step outside my comfort zone. And I really tried. I did meet some nice people. The best part about the whole experience were the one-on-one meetings I had with members I met there.

Because that’s the thing. I’m a one-on-one person. I am not a big-group person.

Being in a big group took every ounce of energy I had. The meetings were loud. They felt phony. I was uncomfortable in my own skin.

And, the truth is, the only business I got from it was one really crappy client, who was a referral from one of my fellow networkers. She cried tears of joy when she saw her beautiful images and then proceeded to order only a set of wallets, a 5×7, and an 8×10 after I had done an in-home consultation and in person ordering session.

So, yeah, not worth it.

After a lot of soul-searching, I quit the formal networking. And, I admit, I did feel like a failure because I figured I must have been doing something wrong. Other people used networking as a way to build their businesses, so why couldn’t I?

Well, I couldn’t because I am an introvert. Being in the room with all the people was definitely way outside my comfort zone. Nothing short of, say, taking a Valium, was going to make me feel any better about it. And because I felt awful about it, I am sure I projected some kind of lack of self-confidence, which is a huge turn-off. Hence, no new business.

Clearly, formal networking didn’t work for me, but I want to give you some ideas on what has helped me, as an introvert, run my life and my business:

1. Toastmasters. Toastmasters (toastmasters.org) is a group that is all about public speaking. Truly life-changing. I absolutely loved it. It was a large time commitment (preparation and weekly meetings) but I devoted about a year to it and I just can’t say enough about it. The group I was in was pretty small; usually around 10 people showed up to a meeting. But it was safe. I learned how to organize a speech and how to be more spontaneous in my public speaking. It was a great confidence-builder. Check it out.

2. Stop considering introversion a negative trait. There is a lot of beauty in contemplative thought. Stop calling it “navel-gazing”. There is nothing wrong with being self-aware and thoughtful. In other words, re-frame, my friend.

3. Read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It will change the way you think about being an introvert

4. By all means, take time for yourself to be alone and have some quiet time. If you have small children and are at home with them, you will have to work harder at it. But maybe your spouse can take the kids out so you can be alone with your work or just be alone. Or maybe you can take advantage of the child’s naptime once you, yourself, are past the zombie state of motherhood.

5. Set boundaries. This is a big one. I used to feel guilty about turning down a friend’s party. But then I’d go and feel like a dork because I was so uncomfortable. So now I just usually politely decline. And if someone has a problem with that, it’s their problem and not mine. Truth is, I’m OK with a small party where I know a few people, but you need to figure out what your limits are.

6. Being an introvert is no excuse for bad social skills. If we want to be in business, we must be communicate with other people at least some of the time. As a mom of a child with Asperger’s, I know a bit about this. Like a lot of things, it just takes practice. One-on-one meetings with a safe friend is the best way to learn better social skills. Also, the chatting I do at the grocery store with random strangers helps, too.

7. Maybe you need silence. I grew up with a TV on almost all the waking hours of the day. As an adult, I’ve discovered that “background noise” is not just a distraction for me; it is truly very stressful. So I work in complete silence most of the time. I am able to focus and keep my energy level up.

8. Yoga. I practice Bikram yoga 3-4 times a week. In case you don’t know, it’s a 90-minute class at 105 degrees and 40% humidity. It’s grueling at times. The thing about yoga that non-practitioners might not understand, though, is that it’s a great way to center and to learn how to breathe properly. Since I’ve been practicing yoga, I am much calmer in general and I don’t “sweat the small stuff” as much. Not saying Bikram yoga is for everyone, but there are lots of other types of yoga. Try several different kinds and see what helps you the most.

9. Compromise. There’s a good chance you live with an extrovert. It shouldn’t be all about you, so learn to compromise when it comes to balancing your needs with your spouse’s need to be around a lot of people. Maybe you could go to a party for a set amount of time, for example, and then leave the party and have a night with just the two of you. (My hubby is an introvert, though. Lucky me!)

10. Make some new friends. My beloved grandfather always told me how important it was to have friends of all ages. He lived to be 90 years old and suffered the loss of many friends. But he always had younger friends, too, and they helped keep him active and energetic. I think this advice is true at any age. It’s good to have a variety of friends. And for introverts, meeting new people may be difficult. So, start small. Invite one new person out for coffee in a place that doesn’t stress you out. Have an end time on it. Say, “I was wondering if you’d like to meet me for coffee at 1:00. I need to leave at 2:00, but I’d love to chat.”

Being an introvert in an extroverted world has its challenges at times, but, honestly, I see it in a positive light now. If I wished it away, I wouldn’t be the same person. Introversion is at the heart of who I am. It doesn’t need changing. I just needed to learn how to be true to myself and find activities that support that.

Bonus: Check out this podcast with Natalie Franke Hayes: www.EverIlluminated.com/19-the-rising-tide-society-with-natalie-franke-hayes

I’d love to read your comments below!

Dawn Attebery

Dawn Attebery is the owner of www.EverIlluminated.com, a new website for professional (and aspiring) portrait photographers. First and foremost, Dawn believes in always, always, ALWAYS being kind. Ever Illuminated celebrates the very best the industry has to offer through podcasts, sessions, articles, and products. Be sure to get on the Ever Illuminated email list and receive a darling little ebook that will help you learn to set limits and give tremendous customer service.

7 comments

  1. Dawn! Thank you for this post! It definitely struck a chord with me. In all honesty, I find it hard to go to TuesdaysTogether meetings, but in the end, I love them. I try to approach larger networking events the same way I approach 1-on-1 events. I choose 1 or 2 people and I zero in on them, and try to spend authentic time with them. It’s still hard, especially if they are an extrovert and their intention is different than mine. But it helps. I definitely love all your tips, though! And I may just take your advice and look into my local toastmasters club. Great post, Dawn!

    Reply
  2. Dawn Attebery

    Thank you, Stephanie! That’s a great way to approach meetings. And I’d love to hear your thoughts about Toastmasters. I really loved it. Glad it was a small group, though. Best wishes!

    Reply
  3. Wow – found this on Twitter and I’m so glad I found you Dawn! I’ve literally had a half-finished post written about this very topic. It came about when reading Quiet, whilst simultaneously reading ‘Creativity’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (er – don’t ask me how to say that!)

    Basically I totally agree – introversion and creativity go hand in hand, I’ve found (not to say extroverts aren’t creative, but that’s another essay!) and once we embrace our strengths as introverts, we can make the most of our creativity, and getting our work out there. So happy I found someone who feels the same way!

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  4. Dawn Attebery

    Thanks for posting, Cat! Glad you can relate. And, yes! Seeing it as a positive has really helped me…. I haven’t read “Creativity”, but will need to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation. Nice “meeting” you!

    Reply
  5. What a wonderful post, I will definitely seek out Susan Cain’s book. As a designer and artist I find it difficult to create my best work without solitude. As I quite my mind and environment I open a gateway for my creative self and ego to thrive and fully explore my conscious and subconscious influences. My father, also an introverted artist, taught me this at a young age. This “creative detatchment” has not only become a part of my process, but also something I look for in other “artistic entrepreneurs” when networking. Through the years i have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most brilliant introverts. I always ponder our geniuses who were the most introverted (Yves St Laurent, Micheal Jackson, Bill Gates, Prince, Einstein) and take comfort in knowing there is power in having an inner quite that can be harnessed.

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  6. Dawn Attebery

    Thank you for your thoughtful post, Erika! You will really enjoy that Quiet book. I love it that your father taught you about solitude and how you can use it to channel your creativity. What a gift! Take care.

    Reply
  7. Worth reading post! In order to be more creative, you need to feel more comfortable being alone. I think Creative people are both introverted and extroverted, but at different times. They need and use the companion of other people to build better ideas, but they also use solitude to let ideas incubate.Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply

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