Introvert Risks

At a later date, I plan to respond to this notion that the very act of stepping out of your comfort zone is useful in its own right. This pervasive notion among the success gurus out there that you are not living your life, and have no hopes of success unless you are opting to somehow scare the shit out of yourself every day. (Hint: I think this approach is bogus.)

I don’t however think it is bogus to say that sometimes we need to take some kind of risk. And that at times those risks will put us out of our comfort zone. Not for its own sake, but because the mission of any given point in our life requires it. I take no pleasure or excitement in being out of my comfort zone. That is why they call it a comfort zone after all. But if an important mission takes me there, so be it.

Yet you may not know I am there unless I tell you. That is because the praise and glory for taking risks often goes to the more outspoken risk takers. Those that instead of stepping outside their comfort zone, opt to take a flying leap out of it, over a cliff, and into a choppy ocean of uncertainty and danger, screaming, and blogging about the scariness of the entire affair during the fall.

In other words, extroverted risk takers.

Introverts have their own comfort zones, however. They take risks too. Perhaps less sexy risks. Perhaps their comfort zones are misunderstood so as to make it appear they never leave them in the first place. Or when an introvert does something to expand their perspective it may be so similar to what their more gregarious counterparts do each day that no credit is even given for the risk taken.

But it is there, and it is time such things were acknowledged as well.

We introverts are often more sensitive to stimuli, both internal and external. We dislike chaos and noise. It tends to fry our circuitry. So if we do find ourselves shouting above a room full of excitable, screaming colleagues, you can bet it is because our belief in the idea is so strong we are willing to step into the disorienting fray of extroverted “brainstorming.” That is outside of our comfort zone. And because most introverts don’t process information in that manner, and certainly don’t share it that way, we are taking a risk by attempting to do so..

Introverts, contrary to popular misconceptions, are not de facto shy. Some of us are, and some of us are not, just like the extrovert population. (Yes, that surprising fact is also true.) Yet introducing ourselves to strangers in any medium is about as welcome to most introverts as would be climbing several flights of stairs with a bag of dry cement strapped to our backs.

But sometimes there is an idea. A solution. Something which we in our introverted alone time have conceived that must be shared with specific people we think will be able to help. But since we are idea based, people may find we jump right into the groundbreaking idea or observation. We take a risk every time we do so in a world that expects us to nuzzle up to strangers and begin the “Small Talk Tango”. Introverts can ironically be seen as quite pushy once we decide something needs to be shared because we get right to the point, and that potential pushiness is a risk we take when we believe in something.

Our energy, our mental energy in particular, is a precious commodity to us. Not only that, it is a “combustible” mixture. It takes little for it to be exhausted, depending on the circumstances. We can be drained of it in short order when in public or around certain people for an extended period of time. If extroverts would stop and think then about how much of ourself introverts allow to be drained at times, they would see that sometimes the simple act of placing ourselves in a situation is risk taking and being outside of the all important “comfort zone.”

Assessing what it would cost us to do something, and how we would go about doing it. Comparing what we would lose if we failed to what we would gain if we succeeded. And deciding that the potential loss is worth the potential gain. Taking action because being uncomfortable or even in pain is not as vital as what is at stake. This is risk taking. This is stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.

Risk taking is not, as society has started to believe, running headlong into Interstate traffic, screaming how much you love the uncertainty of life the entire time.

Like much of what we introverts do, our risk taking is often so quiet and private, the world remains unaware of it. Which is why I point this out in my post today. So people will in fact realize a simple truth; introverts take risks every day.

If you are an introvert, what risks do you take without trying to be other than what you are?


  1. “Yet introducing ourselves to strangers in any medium is about as welcome to most introverts as would be climbing several flights of stairs with a bag of dry cement strapped to our backs.”

    I'll take the cement any day of the week. It's not even a decision.

    Your post describes me exactly. Not only is small talk frivolous to me, but it works directly against the transactional framework that it take for me to interact with strangers in the first place. I can't do open-ended conversation. One of us has to have a specific issue to which they believe the other can provide a specific solution.

  2. JMH

    Heh. “Pushiness.” I relate. I think the more we try to cover up and mask introversion or the more that orientation is at odds with what people see to be our dominant personality traits, the more difficult it is to be able to claim introversion and have people accept it. People don't understand why you might want to stay in on this particular night or why no, you don't want to arrive at the conference an hour before registration for some impromptu networking, because they believe that you're every bit as extroverted as they are. Being able to take space to be an introvert becomes that much more difficult when you're judged by extrovert standards.

  3. I think what people don't always understand is that introverts and extroverts have different loci when it comes to comfort. For instance, quitting your job and moving to Kuala Lumpur might be a pretty feasible thing for an extrovert, but perhaps taking a Spanish conversation class is one for an introvert. We are all individuals in that way. This year I actually went to a networking event by myself. I introduced myself to people and we made “small talk”. I don't love that phrase because I think that we need to genuinely connect with people introverted or not. Commonalities make it less painful as long as we don't look upon others with a sort of bored disdain. We all take risks and we all need to step into each others loci to understand that. Great post!

  4. So, this is a post that I certainly don't relate to as an extrovert (I'm a huge fan of the flying leap, myself). But I love love love that you brought this up and HOW you communicated it.

    This really makes me think about the others I work with and how I can work to better recognize and appreciate the introvert's scale of risk. Thanks for this, Ty! Always a pleasure to read your insights.

  5. I agree–there are many risks we all take that aren't crazy or wild or worth a blog post, but they're just as important as those big, noisy, noticeable risks. And I think introverts and extroverts alike take them. For example, I'm an extrovert that happens to be wildly claustrophobic. So my daily commute, which is no big deal to others, is a mental risk for me. Every time I get on the train I have to force myself not to dissolve into a full-blown panic attack, especially when it's hot and crowded and the train suddenly stops moving way down in the tunnel. Yet I do it every day because it's I know it's better for the environment, and i want to do my part. So getting to and from work is a worthy risk for me, but no one's waiting for me with a medal when I get home.

    I also think that the small risks that lead up to a big change–updating your resume, attending a networking event, starting your own website, etc.–are important steps in the evolution process and shouldn't be overlooked.

  6. Ce

    Interacting with people in general is a daily and hourly risk for me. Since there are not a lot of jobs online/offline that don’t deal with people I feel stuck and drained. Through volunteering and working I always felt forced to interact with others even if I am the more chatty/sociable one compared to the people I communicate with. Only writing seems safe to me as no one really has to hear and more importantly see me. It’s only good when the other person is ok with me. So no matter what I do I always feel out of my comfort zone.

    • Yes, writing can certainly be a solitary business, and in fact most of the time should be. This can be quite the comfort at times for the introvert as well as for the shy. But We writers must also be careful not to become too enamored with our solitude in my opinion, lest we miss out on the world about which we wish to write so well.

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