Last year, for Christmas, my mother gifted me a remarkable little book. I was compelled by the very title of it: The Powerful Purpose of Introverts. Yet, as often happens with books I buy or receive, it sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I read it. I finally did so last week, and in a certain sense, it was life-changing. It transformed the way I view myself as an introvert.
My entire life, I’ve been fed (and believed) the false notion that, if I wanted to succeed and be liked in this world, I’d have to be more like my extroverted siblings and friends. That I’d have to learn how to be more talkative, more outgoing, more comfortable with being the center of attention. But reading this book helped me realize that there’s nothing wrong with me as I am now, nothing I need to change about myself.
As introverts, we’re different in ways that aren’t always celebrated by society, because most of our gifts are hidden. Extroverts are praised for being outwardly expressive, good talkers, fun at parties (actually wanting to be at parties). But introverts have great talents too, some of which extroverts don’t share to the same capacity, and all of which play a part in the overall functioning of society.
I would assume that most people who find themselves on this blog are introverts (readers, writers, thinkers, and so on). But I’m curious to know what my readers have to say. Are you an introvert or an extrovert, and what makes you believe you’re one or the other?
Introverts crave meaning so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.Diane Cameron
The Powerful Purpose of Introverts is written by Holley Gerth, “a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, life coach, and podcaster with a Masters of Science Degree in counseling.”1 Gerth incorporates a wealth of knowledge, from her own life experiences as an introvert along with scientific evidence, in order to demonstrate how introverted people and our behaviors are often misunderstood (even by fellow introverts and ourselves). Gerth highlights the fact that our tendencies and preferences are the result of our brains simply being wired and functioning differently than extroverts’. These differences, however, bestow us with gifts and talents that extroverts don’t have (at least not to the same degree).
What it comes down to is that being introverted is not a mere personality trait. It’s the way we are neurologically disposed. Our nervous systems process and respond to information and our surroundings differently than extroverted nervous systems do. Extroverts are fueled by dopamine, a hormone released in response to external stimuli, whereas introverts are fueled by acetylcholine, a hormone released in response to internal stimuli (reading, thinking, writing, daydreaming, etc.). And introverts become overstimulated very easily when our brains release too much dopamine, or in other words, when we are exposed to too much external stimuli. This is why we feel drained after a lot of socializing, for example. We aren’t antisocial; our nervous systems simply can’t handle all that dopamine.
Perhaps because the author understands personally what it’s like to be an introvert and how much pressure the world puts on us to act like extroverts, she writes from a place of gentle compassion. She reminds her readers that there is nothing wrong with us. Introverts and extroverts both have unique talents and gifts, imperative to the successful functioning of society. It’s crucial that we all show up in the world as exactly who are, not who we think others want us to be.
That was my favorite thing about this book: the author’s focus on celebrating who we are, being thankful for that which sets us apart, and recognizing our strengths as introverts, rather than dwelling on our weaknesses. It’s true that some things are more difficult for introverts. It takes more energy for us to give presentations or lead a team at work, for example, but it’s not impossible. In fact, we have strengths that make us even more successful in these tasks. There are certain things that come more naturally to us. For instance, we have an acute attention to detail, the ability to think deeply and find meaning where others may miss it, and a talent for motivating ourselves to work independently. These are just some of the qualities, according to recent studies, that make introverts even more successful leaders than extroverts, contrary to popular opinion.
Gerth encourages us to learn more about the characteristics that set introverts apart, so we can hone those talents and put them to best use. She reminds us that in order to live authentically and thrive as the person we inherently are, we must understand what makes us this way. Her book is a great starting point. She provides us with the basics, a place from which to begin learning about the biological differences between introverted and extroverted people. The very fact that these differences are rooted in biology is encouraging; it suggests that the way we are is for a purpose. There’s no need to change.
As a final note, I just want to point out that Gerth is a Christian, and she does reference aspects of her faith and spirituality in this book. However, I didn’t find that she was reliant on the spiritual aspect so much so that her ultimate conclusions are unscientific. In addition to her own experiences, she references many notable psychologists and neuroscientists to back her claims and findings about introverted people, which lends her great credibility. Her spiritual references didn’t feel distracting or overbearing, and in my opinion, even those who don’t align with the same set of beliefs as her will still discover a wealth of insight in this book.
Gerth has crafted a beautifully-written, straightforward, inspiring little book that invites us introverts to celebrate who we are and recognize our gifts and talents as special, rather than wrong and needing to be changed for the sake of social conformity. Introverts are deep thinkers, creative and compassionate people, and rather than attempt to emulate the extroverts in our lives, we should try to understand our unique qualities and figure out how best to utilize our talents.
I highly recommend this book to all my fellow introverts, and also to those extroverts who desire to better understand their introverted friends, family, and loved ones. This book does well illustrating why we are the way we are.