PSA: You Don’t Need to Be an Extrovert to Succeed

Am I in the wrong job? Apparently, in a sea of introverts, I’m one of the only extroverts. Based on evidence from two social media polls, it appears that half of all copywriters are the shy and retiring type:

Add this to a similar LinkedIn survey and we get the following results:

  • Just 8% of creatives consider themselves extroverts
  • Half of us are proud introverts
  • Almost half – 42% – are an ‘ambivert’ or ‘omnivert’.

Now, naturally, there are going to be some anomalies. I opened up the field to copywriters, bloggers or “any other content creators”. This attracted some interest from business development managers or owners of networking groups, so it’s no surprise that they voted ‘extrovert’.

The “cultural ideal” of the extrovert

Those of you who miss Jerry Springer may have tuned in to the presidential debates this week. In part, Biden and Trump’s fisticuffs inspired this post, but it’s been on the cards for a while, thanks to the latest book I’m reading.

Quiet, by Susan Cain, extols the “power of introverts in a world that cannot stop talking”. From the outset, we’re given detailed explanations into the history and physiology of extroverts.

More importantly, we’re introduced to the “cultural ideal” of the extrovert. Cain regales us with tales of her own run-in with motivational overlord Tony Robbins. Like Trump or Carnegie before him, society tells us that extroversion is synonymous with success.

But what exactly are introverts and extroverts, anyway?

Deconstructing the personality type

Introverts will hide in the corner at parties, and extroverts will drink from the keg, right? Well, not exactly. There’s a lot more to it than that, as both Cain’s and my own research suggest.

For example, much of it comes down to our biology. In 1989, psychologist Jerome Kagan launched a longitudinal study of children aged four months. He would revisit their reactions to certain stimuli at ages two, four, seven and 11.

Children were categorised into two groups: “high-reactive”, who would react dramatically to external stimuli, and “low reactive”, who remained quiet. Kagan predicted that high-reactive children would grow up to be introverts, and vice versa. In many cases, he was right.

The physiology behind introversion and extroversion

We’ve all heard the nature versus nurture argument, but some of it really does come down to how we’re wired. The children’s reactions – for example, lively kicking in response to a mobile – correlated with changes in the amygdala.

This area of the brain governs emotional response, which is visible in heart rate, dilated eyes and tighter vocal cords. But wait – an animated child makes for an animated adult, right? Wrong.

High-reactive children were shown to be more aware of their surroundings, which helped them to form a considered response to external stimuli in adulthood. It goes back to our fight or flight mechanism. High-reactive introverts are poised for attack, while low-reactive children are, as Cain puts it, “unmoved by novelty”.

How do these personality types apply to writers?

Based on Katie Lingo’s director of operations alone, I know this hypothesis to be true. His mother tells me that he was the loudest and most difficult child imaginable. Today he is quiet, careful and considered in everything he does.

He’s in the right job.

So, what did our writer types have to say for themselves?

Massive introvert right here.

Martyn Clayton, Mart Writes Stuff.

Grateful for loner jobs.

Craig Wright, Stray Goat.

Definitely the lying-in-a-dark-room-after-a-phone-call level of introvert.

Ellen Forster, Content by the Sea.

Feels pretty bleak for anybody trying to market themselves in this dog-eat-dog world. But these sensitive traits are actually a secret weapon in every writer’s arsenal. “Alertness, sensitivity to nuance and complex emotionality turn out to be highly underrated superpowers,” says Cain.

In context, an introverted writer may be better equipped to:

  • Handle constructive criticism
  • Capture a brand’s tone of voice
  • Empathise with customers.

Now, if we could just get past the Zoom hurdle, we’re laughing, right?

Enter: the ambivert

According to Science of People, “an ambivert is someone who exhibits qualities of both introversion and extroversion, and can flip into either depending on their mood, context and goals”.

We return to the Twitter study.

“I always thought I would be classed as an extrovert until I worked for myself. Then I realised I was forcing myself to try to be an extrovert in an extrovert’s world,” says Helen Hill, owner of UnlikelyGenius.

“I’m an introvert too often forced to pretend to be an extrovert, and it’s worn me out,” says Fearless Ink founder Devon Ellington, who interestingly, writes under pseudonyms.

Are we all actors playing among a stage of extroverts?

Indeed, Cain warns us of the physical and mental toll that this ‘acting’ takes. I too have heard it from the horse’s mouth. My ops director/husband tells me: “When I leave a crowded social situation, I feel physically drained. Nothing perks me up more than simply being able to walk outside alone with my thoughts.”

He adds that I seem to feed off the energy of others. You’ll note the previous lead generation success I’ve had with networking sessions.

But, like those highly sensitive types, I can’t stand extraneous stimuli. When I’m writing, I prefer complete silence. If my neighbours are drilling to the centre of the Earth, the extrovert in me will resort to axe-wielding. Is this the so-called ‘ambiversion’?

Finding the balance

If there’s anything this little study has taught us, it’s that we need balance. Moreover, extroversion and introversion are not black and white. There are a million variables from genetics to circumstance.

We can find this balance in the way we go about our day-to-day lives. We can create our own workspaces, schedule interactions in bite-size chunks, and let off steam.

Alternatively, we turn to others. In Quiet, Cain cites many historical examples of pairings whose opposing personality types were their silver bullet. Rosa Parks, despite her defiance, was meek in temperament. Martin Luther King turned her pivotal “no” into a rousing speech we all know today.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s high-reactive and empathetic personality made her the “voice of the dispossessed”, while husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt was regarded as a “great leader”.

And while I’m out there acting like a clown for LinkedIn, Craig is putting in the hours turning this tomfoolery into real value.

And if you are an extrovert…

Don’t panic. Naturally, the sources I have here are biased in favour of introversion, but nothing pains me more than to acknowledge my own shortcomings.

It’s not always nature. Sometimes it’s nurture – I grew up in a household with six children. Being a clown was the only method of defence.

And it’s not always a bad thing. If you can put yourself out there, week in, week out, people will come to you. Even if you are faking it, ambiverts.

There’s no right or wrong personality, and ultimately, neither type guarantees success. Corona is throwing new stimuli at us every day. It’s not only how we act, but how we react, that matters.

Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
1st October 2020