Can I share a secret pet peeve with you?
It has to do with a common misconception people have about introversion. This misconception goes beyond the usual “introversion means shy.”
Before I share what it is, I’ll tell you why this particular fallacy irks me so much.
Like so many other misunderstandings about introversion, it gives extroverts the upper hand.
It makes them into the courageous golden gods of the personality spectrum, while introverts shiver in their shadow.
Now that I do standup comedy on a regular basis I come face-to-face with this misconception on a regular basis.
I used to come across it just as often when I performed as a competitive salsa dancer. Or when I would do anything that involved public speaking.
I had the chance to get a handle on why this particular misconception is so annoying and FALSE when a Forbes writer interviewed me last week.
The writer asked, “Where do you get the drive to get up on stage to speak and perform, even though you’re an introvert?”
“I believe we all come to earth with gifts and the opportunity to develop them,” I said. “Public speaking and performing are skills I had the opportunity to develop at a young age through dance classes and speaking at church.”
“So, you developed these extroverted behaviors in service of a higher goal.”
“No,” I replied. “I don’t see public speaking and performing as extroverted behaviors. I don’t do them in service of a higher goal. Performing is the goal. I perform because it’s a form of creative expression that I enjoy.”
I believe countless famous introverted actors and comedians, such as Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Jim Carrey, would have responded similarly.
If you’re sitting there thinking, Jim Carrey, an introvert? No way!—let me share a few clues about Carrey’s introversion.
Speaking of how he spent half his time performing as a child and half his time in his room writing poetry and sketching, Carrey had this to say:
“I was not the type of kid you could say go to your room as a punishment, because my room was heaven to me. My isolation was welcome.”
From a young age introverted actors like Carrey developed their natural performance abilities—not because it served some higher goal, but because they were good at it and enjoyed it.
The question still remains…
Why do people think public speaking is an “extroverted behavior”?
While introverts do tend to have unique speaking challenges, they are more applicable to conversations than public speaking.
In everyday communication, introverts tend to struggle with spontaneity and quick on the spot responses. These challenges can be avoided (for the most part) with a prepared performance.
A speech, play, or standup set is usually prewritten and memorized. Then you present your prepared material in front of a captive audience of people who are strongly discouraged from interrupting you.
Sounds like an introvert’s dream come true to me!
One might argue that there are more extroverted public speakers than introverted ones. Even so, saying that public speaking is an extroverted behavior would be like saying that writing is an introverted behavior.
There are likely way more introverted novelists out there than extroverted ones. And yet, people don’t go around saying “oh, this must be so hard for you as an extrovert” every time an extrovert sits down to write.
Public speaking isn’t more scary for introverts
I have to be honest, it may be more challenging for introverts to be performers and speakers, but not for the reasons you might think.
We don’t find it harder to perform because it’s scarier for us.
If that were the case we’d be talking about fear. As I’ve said many times before, fear has to do with shyness, which is NOT the same as introversion.
Public speaking always tops lists of people’s greatest fears. Both introverts and extroverts can be afraid of public speaking, just as both personalities can be afraid of heights or clowns.
Likewise, both introverts and extroverts can have a natural ability to express themselves through spoken word poetry, comedy, theatre, public speaking and the like.
The biggest challenge for introverted speakers and performers
What IS more challenging for introverts is the overstimulation of a performance. We may experience more energy drain and thus need a lot more recovery time after a performance than an extrovert would.
This has been my greatest barrier to performing regularly. It just plain wipes me out. But I know other introverts who can get up on stage to do standup multiple times a night, without suffering too much overstimulation.
I believe that my being highly sensitive as well as introverted makes me especially susceptible to post-show burnout.
All this is to say that I’m tired of people labelling anything ‘courageous’ and ‘out there’ as an extroverted behavior.
Plenty of introverts are naturally talented at activities that are neither quiet nor gentle.
Just as extroverts can be gifted writers and painters, introverts can be badass speakers, actors, and comedians.
Let’s let self-expression, in ALL its forms, be the wild territory that it is meant to be—a mysterious landscape belonging to no one and everyone at once.
P.S. If you’re new to the blog, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Michaela Chung, author of The Irresistible Introvert and creator of this amazing innie community we have here. For several years, I’ve been building up a labyrinth of introvert resources that will take you on a magical journey toward more confidence, connection, and self-love. Start with this free Introvert Connection Guide.
Hi Michaela! That’s SO true!!!! Back in 2011, when my husband and I were living on Prince Edward Island (2009 to 2018 – we are now back in the States), we signed up for a Passport to Employment class for people in our age group (50+). It was 5/days week for 5 weeks, 6 hours/day. About 8 people in the class. I loved the class. That’s where we learned our personality types as well as learning a lot of other things pertaining to getting a job. I’m INFJ. My husband is the opposite. Extrovert. I forget his exact ID letters. Anyway, one of the instructors we had was also a school teacher AND he was an introvert. I was surprised. I figured teachers HAD to be extroverts! 🙂 He said about 60% of the teachers on the island were introverts. And you are right – it takes a lot out of an introvert to teach. So they have to recoupe and rest after their long day or even after a short teaching stint. Many years ago I taught private piano lessons. On one day I’d have 3 students in a row – 1/2 hour lesson each. Just teaching those 3 lessons wore me out! Now I understand why. I’ve also learned in the past week+ that I am also HSP. WOW! That explains a lot about why I am the way I am. And I’m almost 65! And I can be confident about it now! After all these years! YAY!
Thanks for sharing that! I feel the same about 1:1 coaching. Back to back sessions really drain me.
You are exactly on point about the introvert/public speaking misconception. I am a college professor and give lectures for up to two-and-a-half hours. When I am lecturing I am “on,” and can easily make my class presentations. But when I finish, I am ready to retreat to my sanctuary. I even have a close friend who doesn’t think that I am introverted because I teach. Introversion and public speaking are not an oxymoronic concept.
Thanks for sharing that Vincent! Well said. 🙂
You nailed it, Michaela! I’m an INFJ and an HSP and I’ve done some public speaking. I discovered that knowing in advance what I’m gonna say really does make a difference because that’s easier than having to stand in front of people and go off the cuff, which can be dicey for me in some cases.
Also, having to work as a cashier at my paternal family’s corner store drains me to no end. Many people wouldn’t understand that whole dynamic, though.
Thanks for sharing your experience with this Marcus. I’ve been a cashier too. Very draining, indeed! 🙂
wow, I think I am getting addicted to your Writing. But Here comes a question for you – when you were a beginner in this blogging field did you ever feel like giving up. like nothing is going the right way, stress, anxiety?
waiting for your feedback.
I know I’m very late on commenting to this post but I feel like you read my mind! I have always found it kinda weird that I like performing, and thought that maybe I’m not a true introvert because of that. When I took a theater class a few years ago at my college, or did a dance solo once in high school, I loved both of the experiences a ton, but I felt like I was going against people’s expectations of me and my expectations of myself as an introvert. Thank you for showing that there are so many types of introverts, I feel like this helps me understand myself better. Also good for you for doing stand-up! If I had a good routine maybe I would do it sometime 😀