The Comfort Zone: the Introvert’s Dilemma

A short read on embracing the qualities of introverted-ness and pushing forward.

Photo by kilarov zaneit

The Introvert’s Dilemma

If you’re anything like me, you know the pains that come with being introverted. It’s amazing how I could describe a typical day of mine and the mental image painted in the mind of an introvert is entirely different from that of the extrovert. Let’s walk through an example for my day as a grad student. I’ll describe a typical day in 5 simple steps.

  1. Wake up — morning routine
  2. Leave home to go to campus
  3. Attend lecture for a couple of hours
  4. Plan an evening schedule ( ̶u̶s̶u̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ always studying)
  5. Have a meal and enjoying whatever is left of the evening

I’m sure nothing seems off-putting so far, right? Let’s take a closer look at how this day could go from the perspective of an introvert.

  1. Morning routine involves waiting for roommates to clear out of the kitchen and bathroom before I can enjoy my own peace
  2. The commute to campus is a few blocks away (this is New York City, after all), but I’d rather take the extra 2–3 blocks to the side-entrance of campus where there are less people; the likelihood I see someone I know is much lower. I also left 15 minutes early (or late) so I could decrease that likelihood further.
  3. Attending lecture via a seat that has at least one chair between me and any of my classmates. I need my space. Oh, and no raising hands for questions, you’re not hearing my voice out in the open like that.
  4. Planning an evening schedule. I could go to the coffee shop down the street. But there are people there. The library? People. The english department lounge? Living. Breathing. People. Home? Just me. Home it is.
  5. Studying. I skipped out on the study group because, well, people. Good news at least is that there’s a lot of activity on the class’s online forum, so maybe I can get some help still. Bad news is all that activity is me posting questions, anonymously of course.

If any of this list resonates with you, keep [listening] reading on. Let’s now take a look at how the introvert’s comfort zone is our enemy — and how we can confront it.

Why is this a problem?

Photo by Vilintas Meškauskas

Introversion, a term defined by psychiatrist Carl Jung, is the state of being predominantly interested in one’s own mental self (contrasted with extroversion — the state of primarily obtaining gratification from outside oneself). A harmless, albeit accurate definition. Introversion has been interpreted in many ways, including being shy, being modest, being someone who is more comfortable around a smaller group of people, or someone who finds their contentment within themselves versus with their interactions with the outside world. Again, still harmless. So, why would one suggest there is a problem? The truth is, being introverted isn’t a problem at all. It doesn’t lower your social status or value. It doesn’t discount your credentials — you can study at the same school, work the same job, and meet the same people as an introvert. So what gives? Well, the problem is not that introversion has chosen you, but rather when you choose it to define you.

Let’s expand upon that — continuing with school as our example. Out in the world, more so as you advance in your career, college serves two purposes and two purposes only: brand recognition and network. Now, more than ever, if there’s something you want to learn about, information is readily available for free, or at least cheaper than the cost of a four-year degree. Anything more you get out of college is not required to graduate and is completely on you. Extracurriculars — volunteering, joining a student organization, extensive research — are all optional depending on what you want to do once you graduate. If you lived every day in the introverted scenario I described, you’ll likely pass up on all of those opportunities. This is the problem. This is the Comfort Zone. If you choose to live life in a way that sacrifices opportunities to grow, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. It’s your responsibility and yours alone to ensure that you’re getting the experiences necessary to grow and develop. So now the question becomes: how do we confront our introverted-ness and achieve that?

How can we confront it?

Photo by Courtney Cook

Now that we have an understanding of how damaging the Comfort Zone is, let’s talk about how we can avoid the consequences. The first step is to look at your current situation — are you a college student? An early-to-mid career worker? Freelancer? Entrepreneur? Whichever of these apply to you, think very carefully about what it is you want out of your situation. Some advice from someone more experienced? A promotion or raise? An investment from a venture capitalist? An internship? A mentor? You name it. Once you’ve done that, you’ve established point A (where you’re at now) and point B (where you’d like to be). You just need to connect the points. There’s no cookie-cutter way to do this, unfortunately. A lot of what happens here is case-by-case.

For me, I find a lot of spontaneity when taking the steps between point A and point B. As a student I already know I have to go to class, study, and make the best grades I can. A few events occur during the semester that catch my attention:

  • I’ll hear of a networking event that has a guest speaker I’d be interested from learning from
  • A faculty member or administrator wants me to speak to prospective students at an event
  • A student organization that’s involved in something I’m passionate about has openings for leadership positions
  • I can get extra credit on a project if I create a presentation and share with the class
  • There’s free food/coffee somewhere (“free” and “food” are the favorite words of any college student — so there’s bound to be others there)

The events change all the time, but what doesn’t change is the immediate thought of being around groups of people, having eyes on you, or having to speak up and address a crowd. It makes me want to pass up the opportunity entirely. When those thoughts hit, what I need to do is think about why I was interested in this event in the first place? Why am I excited about it at all? Perhaps it’s the change to make someone happier, to share ideas with someone and learn from each other, to teach someone, or to gain something for myself. The next thought is that people are generally more worried about themselves than they are about me. Most of us — introverted, extroverted, or even a mix — get nervous in front of a crowd. Everyone has a social battery that eventually drains out. We’re all human, and we each have the ability to do amazing things. Big or small, the leap that we take by doing something important or exciting to us gets us that much closer to that point B. And once we see how much there is to gain from doing that presentation or stepping up to speak with so-and-so, it becomes that much easier to do it. Go in there expecting to fumble a word or two, knowing that if anyone else were in your position, they’d do the same. It’s a normal part of life. After you’ve tried it out once, the next time gets that much easier.

Photo by Miguel Henriques

What can we gain from practicing this?

These confrontational moments become easier the more you remove yourself from your Comfort Zone. Before you know it, you have more control over your hesitations, you’ll be more outgoing, and you’ll find a greater sense of growth within yourself over time. You’ll get better at speaking. You’ll be less timid in social interactions. You might even find yourself seeking out more opportunities like the one you just conquered. We’re all different, but we’re all on a journey to become better versions of ourselves.

Embrace your introverted-ness. Go out and become a better you.

I hope you enjoyed this piece on The Comfort Zone. I hope it lends you some strength for when your next big moment comes around. If you’d like more content like this, consider following me on Medium!

I studied Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things at Columbia University. I love philosophizing about how technology will impact our lives in the future!

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