It’s Friday night. While my friends are hitting the party scene, I’m redecorating my bedroom to the strains of Vance Joy’s ukulele—and I couldn’t be more content.
But then the thoughts creep in. I can’t help feeling that something is off—shouldn’t I be “getting out there,” wearing a flouncy dress, and laughing at everyone's jokes like some model in a perfume ad? Think of the Instagram photo ops I’m missing!
As much as I cherish my alone time, I do love going out with friends, hence the nagging feeling. I call it guilt, pop culture calls it FOMO (the fear of missing out), and author Susan Cain calls it a side effect of the extrovert ideal. Cain, who wrote the bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says we live in a culture that values extroversion to the extent that it marginalizes introverts and their needs.
"Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in 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.”
Hence, socializing has become the weekend ideal—and I feel like I’m missing out on all life has to offer because, tonight at least, I don’t want to do it.
FOMO for introverts is not limited to worrying our friends are having too much fun without us. It can also mean assuming our talkative coworkers are more successful, fearing our preference for one-on-one over group conversations will somehow hinder our understanding of the grand mysteries of life, and worrying that, just maybe, being less visible will make us less loved. Cain says introvert guilt comes from both ourselves and our environment, and it begins in childhood.
“If you're an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come ‘out of your shell’—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”
If your wellbeing depends on balancing alone time with socialization and you identified with anything above, you’re probably an introvert. We make up about a third of the U.S. population, and I’m afraid we’re all needlessly suffering from a bad case of FOMO.
But after hearing from therapists on introverts' fears, it’s clear that extroverts get FOMO, too. As psychotherapist and author Karen Koenig pointed out, everyone is afraid of missing out, and everyone does from time to time—that’s life. But instead of focusing on our fears, we should celebrate and strengthen what makes us unique contributors. Introverts bring a lot to the table, and often in ways we don’t expect.
We Desire Deep Connections, Creativity, and Constancy
Although we don’t typically think of introverts as great conversationalists, psychiatrist Dr. Taliba Foster says they can be “powerful verbal communicators.” Quieter people “are skilled at detailing issues with moderate use of language and can draw people in quickly because they get ‘to the gist’ in short order and do not talk for the sake of talking.” This sort of to-the-point communication style is best accommodated by one-on-one conversations, so maybe your preference for smaller groups indicates a desire to communicate in the most effective way.
Foster also says introverts “are often great at areas of self-expression that people tend to take for granted.” Even those introverts who aren’t great conversationalists are often superb artists, designers, and writers. There’s a reason so many scientists and creatives are introverts: Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Meryl Streep, and J. K. Rowling, to name a few. Studies have shown that contemplation, daydreaming, and all the head-in-the-clouds thinking introverts naturally love are essential to fostering creativity and intelligence. Research, proves, by the way, that creativity benefits your health in numerous ways. (Speaking of creative introverts, check out the site Introvert, Dear for insights on introversion that will give you that blessed I'm-so-glad-that's-not-just-me feeling.)
In her hilarious book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling shares how she spent much of her time in high school observing others, which has contributed to her success as a comedy writer. Her advice for the younger generation applies pretty well to introverts, too: “I just want ambitious teenagers to know it’s totally fine to be quiet, observant kids…. you will find you have plenty of time later to catch up.”
For introverts, “catching up” means pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones—after we’ve recharged with alone time.
Koenig echoes this, saying introverts’ predisposition towards silence doesn’t make us less connected; rather, it makes us more understanding of others:
“Stepping back and observing more than speaking, introverts get to see, really see, a good deal more of what’s going on than extroverts do. They can be terrific at pointing out nuances and having astute insights. This not only serves them well, but serves all of us.”
As for being out-shined by our more garrulous coworkers, Foster says quiet dependability is worth more than we think. “We tend to look past introverted coworkers who never want to go out for drinks, or those who keep a low profile at the office,” she explains. “However….introverts may be viewed as dependable professionals who are too focused on their responsibilities to participate in petty office interplay or as trustworthy employees who are more likely to abide by workplace protocols (such as confidentiality) than an extrovert or office socialite.” In fact, a new study indicates that introverted CEOs actually make more money, potentially because their energy for particular projects tends to remain steady rather than spiking before plummeting.
When FOMO Could Be the Push You Need
Now, while we should give ourselves freedom to embrace our introversion, we still have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones sometimes. Every once in awhile, the fear of missing out may actually indicate the potential for a new friendship or an exciting opportunity. Koenig says pushing yourself toward new opportunities as an introvert is not about being good, but better.
Extroverts tend to regret what they do say more than what they don’t, and introverts vice versa. So often I’m too drained to engage in long conversations, so when I pass by people I know, I settle for smiling and saying hello. But if you stop for a moment to make sure the pleasantries last for at least ten seconds (maybe by adding a “What have you been up to?” after the “Hi, how are you?”), you end up with, at least, a better understanding of what’s going on in the other person’s life and, at best, a response that leads into a longer conversation you never would’ve expected.
For introverts, small talk is the worst, which is why trying to make new friends is so draining. But sometimes a waste-of-breath comment to a stranger about something as mundane as the weather can actually establish camaraderie and lead to a friendship. The best way for introverts to meet new people though, is through our friends. It makes sense that our friends’ friends would be the type of people we’d enjoy hanging out with. So ask your friend to invite one of her friends along the next time the two of you get together. That way, you can skip the awkward small talk and have something to bond over (your love for your mutual friend!). Also, don’t feel guilty for asking a friend to go with you to a large social gathering, but push yourself to meet other people, knowing you can always swing back to her if things don’t work out.
Realizing that it’s not wrong, embarrassing, or—heaven forbid—nerdy to value my alone time revolutionized my outlook on life. I mostly credit this to reading Quiet (a must-read for all introverts), but also to identifying with the strong-willed but bookish, soft-spoken characters in novels like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Fahrenheit 451, and Jane Eyre. We introverts love people, but we know that we cannot show them the love they deserve when we’re too burned out from spending time with them. It sounds a little paradoxical, but being our best selves requires following the lifestyle that best fits our authentic needs. Sometimes that means socializing even when we don’t feel like it, and sometimes it means binge-watching TV by ourselves on a Friday night—and feeling absolutely no guilt about it.
Photo Credit: Sveta Laskina