By Sophie Scott
"In a gentle way you can shake the world." Gandhi
This little girl isn't me. But I love her happy face yet shy demeanour as well.
In a world that praises extroverts and being 'outgoing', where do those of us who are shy and introverted fit in?
I grew up in a large, noisy extended family of women.
Although I wouldn't describe myself as shy, I know what it's like to prefer to listen and observe, rather than always contributing.
One of the biggest challenges in this noisy world is finding your own voice.
And if you are shy, it can be hard to be heard, listened to and acknowledged over all the racket.
But Harvard law school graduate and author Susan Cain says that's where the value of being an introvert comes.
Her book 'Quiet, the Power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking' became an international best seller.
In it, she argues that introverts have a wealth of hidden talent and that many highly successful people are in fact shy and introverted as well.
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk," she writes.
"Use your natural powers -- of persistence, concentration, and insight -- to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply."
At a women in science discussion I hosted recently, the topic of feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight came up.
The scientists told me that many of them feel much more at ease toiling away in their laboratories working on breakthroughs and cures, than standing in front of an audience bragging about their findings.
In fact, three of the four brilliant women scientists on the panel that day told me they would describe themselves as introverts.
And that they would much rather have been in the audience than up on the stage with me talking about the importance of women in science.
But you would never have known it .. from the passionate, eloquent way the women spoke to the audience, that they were shy.
What impressed me most was that they admitted to the audience that they were vulnerable, and that showing up and putting themselves out there, didn't come naturally.
But here's the important point... they did it anyway.
They got past the point when our emotions kick in, when our bodies react.
You get that heart thumping and that sinking feeling in your stomach.
But you keep going.
What I learned from them that day is that when you are stepping outside your comfort zone, you don't have to be comfortable, you just have to show up, lean in and do your best.
Give it your all, even if it doesn't come naturally.
And I like Susan Cain's friendly reminder that whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality.
"Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet."
Her work underscores that there is vulnerability and even fragility in even the most 'successful' confident people.
And to be truly happy, we need to accept our flaws as hard as that may be.
How have you coped growing up an introvert, and what's helped you along the way?
Love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time.
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