What a time to be alive.
Here’s the first one: You’re not broken.
I am somewhere in between an introvert and an extrovert. I’ve spent all my life wearing the label “introvert” like a punishment. I once took a stupid buzzfeed quiz titled “Are You More Extrovert or Introvert?” and it told me my personality falls right in the middle. Tears came to my eyes and I took it like a crown. So, ever since then I have said that I’m somewhere in between (thanks, Buzzfeed). I like to call myself a listener. I really like conversations, but I’d rather listen more than talk. And I honestly think that the world actually needs more listeners. Listeners are highly underrated. Introverts are highly underrated.
All this to say.. I’ve been learning lately about the value that having this type of personality brings to the world, and I think it’s worth sharing. I think it’s worth writing about because our society is so fickle. It ascribes all kinds of value to certain types of people, and says those kinds of people are the ones who should be listened to, seen, heard, all of the above. In our society, extroversion is valued above introversion. So, if you’re an introvert and you want to be heard, if you are trying to draw attention to a cause or idea, you have to work a lot harder and do things that terrify you. Like picking up a phone. Like trying to network in noisy rooms where people have to bend over to hear you (because of course you’re not only introverted, you’re under 5 feet tall. Whyyyyyy..).
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years challenging myself in areas where I know I need to grow, but also learning to recognize the value of the areas where I know I am strong. If you’re a listener, or you’re an extrovert who would like to learn more about us listeners, here’s a few notes from my brain:
1. If you’re a listener, you’re needed:
You’re likely making an incredible impact on your community and the lives of those you’re close to; you probably quietly practice your gifts and talents; you just don’t make social headlines too often. And you’re probably ok with that.
2. You can lead as a listener!:
That’s right – you can totally be a leader without having to pretend to be an extrovert (how exhausting does that sound?). If the picture of a big, charismatic personality as a leader makes you want to back into the shadows, that’s ok. I’ve actually become convinced that listeners can sometimes make the best leaders, and here’s why.
I’ve been able to lead a non-profit organization as a listener for the past three years. Now because of this, we seriously lack in marketing, publicity, and networking. BUT we’ve been able to build effective, sustainable, and locally led programs in East African communities that effectively prevent poverty related vulnerabilities through listening. My personality is such that I research, listen, learn, and fill my brain up a lot. As a result, my brain is stuffed with information about under-resourced communities, grassroots development, culture, and social issues. I haven’t been the one to build UTST’s programs though. When I begin building a relationship with a community, I spend a long time asking lots and lots of questions. I usually already have an idea of what the answers are, but I want to hear the people. I want the solutions that we work towards in their community to come from their own hearts and minds. Because they know what they want to see happen in their communities, but are rarely given the opportunity to be heard. Then, they lead out in planning and carrying out programs designed to empower. Now, we’re seeing that our partnerships are preventing children from being orphaned, preventing homelessness, preventing prostitution and exploitation, and preventing all of the trauma that goes along with these things. I’m overjoyed. I think that if I had not entered these communities as a listener, we’d not be seeing the type of true empowerment that is happening. Too many people enter communities and tell them what is going to happen, when the truth is that a leader cannot force grassroots community development and empowerment. That can only come from the people. Listeners give that power to the community.
Listeners are good leaders because it usually doesn’t come naturally for them. They have to choose it every day, and they have to practice. They are constantly evaluating themselves, and conscious of the effects they have on others, both positive and negative.
Lastly, as a listener who leads, you don’t have to force yourself to be everything and do everything. Like I said, my organization seriously lacks in publicity, marketing, and things like that because they are my weak areas. I have brilliant stories to share, stories of people who I am so very, very proud of, but I have no idea how to get our message out there. I’m scared of people making it all about me, when it isn’t, and so I hide a lot. That’s not fair to the people I work alongside. So, I’ve learned that I need to find people who excel at things like publicity, and let them do it for me.
3. Listeners have things to say!
Usually really well-thought out things to say. But maybe they won’t say them until they’re asked. If you’re a listener, you need to realize that you might never be asked to share your thoughts and/or opinions. If it matters enough to you, raise your hand and speak.
4. They have to work hard.
In a world that rewards extroverts and talkers, listeners have to work extra hard. Engaging in class discussions, making small talk at work, meeting new people, these are things that can be totally exhausting. (Or if you’re like me and fall somewhere in between, oddly mentally energizing and draining at the same time. Like running. Oh life.)
5. If you’re a listener, you’re not broken!
I cannot emphasize this enough. Society will make you feel like you’re not enough, like you cannot make as much of an impact as those outgoing people, that people don’t like you as much, the list goes on and on. Especially when you’re surrounded by outgoing people and feel like you have to sprint on your short legs to keep up. They’re all lies, friends. It’s simply not true. Do you have to work harder? Yes. Do you have to do things that terrify you every day? Yeah. Do them. Have patience with yourself. It’s ok.
6. If you’re a listener and ALSO are occasionally plagued by anxiety, give yourself grace:
It’s so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so hard. Give yourself grace. If it’s a day where everything makes you feel like you can’t breathe, give yourself grace. Focus on things you know you are good at. Find things that are healthy distractions and let yourself spend some time there. Sing! Singing fills your lungs and keeps you from breathing too fast. Sing really, really loudly.. it’s helpful for me. If you occasionally experience high-functioning anxiety, like me (in which your nervousness fills you with a terrible buzzing energy that you have to let out somehow), let yourself clean the whole house, let yourself run around the park. Go for it. The more you learn about how to help yourself, the better it will get.
7. If you’re a listener who hates being alone, find the people who love you.
It’s one of the symptoms of falling somewhere in between introversion and extroversion. I know introverts who could spend days completely alone and be happy about it. I panic about spending 30 minutes home alone. I like having down time with other people. Maybe it comes from growing up homeschooled and rarely being by myself, but also rarely actually being with other people (what a strange phenomenon). When David and I got married, we lived alone for like a year and I hated it. I never wanted to be home. Since then, we’ve been housemates with lots and lots of friends, over time, and I like it. Find your own balance.
8. Listeners enjoy extroverts (I think).
Extroverts – I love people like you. I love how you fill up conversations and blank spaces with words. I love how you give me something to listen to. I love being around extroverts – I really do! You’re not broken either, by the way.