Thriving As An Introvert: Peter Vogt of Introvert Insights On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts
You need to have a positive self-concept of yourself as an introvert — which is to say that you need to simply be the introvert you are instead of trying to fight it or change it as the world too often demands. Just like extroverts, you deserve — and get to be — who you really are, without having to constantly justify or explain yourself.
In a world that often rewards outspokenness and social networking, introverts can sometimes feel sidelined or overlooked. The workplace, educational institutions, and even social settings can often seem engineered to suit the strengths of extroverts, leaving introverts searching for a space to flourish.
However, introversion comes with its own set of unique strengths — deep thinking, the ability to focus, empathy, and keen observational skills — that are invaluable but often underestimated. The question then becomes: how can introverts not only survive but also thrive and succeed in environments that seem skewed towards extroversion? In this interview series, we are talking to introverts, business leaders, psychologists, authors, career coaches, organizational leaders, and other experts in the field who can talk about “How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Vogt.
Peter Vogt, The Introvert Advocate, is a Minnesota-based educator and author who has been researching and writing about introverts and introversion for more than 20 years through his company Introvert Insights, LLC. He teaches the comprehensive online course “Be the Introvert You Are! The Introvert’s Way to a Healthy, Happy Life,” and he’s the author of the book The Introvert Manifesto: Introverts Illuminated, Extraverts Enlightened. He’s also an introvert himself — and has been for 56 years now (and counting!).
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the small city of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, population 6,500 or so at the time but closer to 10,000 now.
I didn’t know what an introvert was growing up — I’d never heard the term at the time, I’m sure — but looking back now I realize that my introversion has always been a part of me. I just didn’t know it, nor did I know what introversion was really all about back then. (I didn’t even know it was a thing.)
I had a happy childhood and good family life growing up. I was lucky in that my semi-introverted mother and very introverted father didn’t put pressure on me to “be more outgoing” etc. (So many introverts do face that kind of external pressure during their growing-up years — to their detriment — but I did not.) I was pretty much able to just be myself, and I’m very grateful for that now.
At the time, though, I always felt sort of strange or different, especially compared to most of the other kids at school and such. Most everyone else seemed to enjoy things that I did not enjoy, and I seemed to enjoy things most everyone else did not! For example, when it came to attending school dances — and, in my case, interacting with girls — I just couldn’t do it. I tried one dance in high school, after much cajoling from my friends, but I lasted less than 10 minutes there. All the lights and the loud music — and girls! — rattled me, so I went home basically in tears that I was trying to hide from everyone else. (My dad saw them, though, and did his best to comfort me. I think he himself understood what I had tried to do that night, and how difficult it was to pull it off.)
So … even though important people in my life, like my parents, were not communicating to me that something must be wrong with me, I somehow came to the conclusion — on my own — that something was at least not quite right about me. And I carried that around all through my growing-up years.
I did have my handful of a few friends, and I did participate in various activities, including sports. To me, I fit in somewhat. But I didn’t quite fit in fully, in my mind at least, and I figured it was because of who I was. I was always a little on the periphery, and I think I unconsciously tried to keep it that way in some respects.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally, and what brought you to this specific career path?
I am now a full-time educator and author, specializing in helping introverts be themselves, live their own way, and thrive. I do this through my writing (weekly blog posts and my monthly newsletter), my online course (“Be the Introvert You Are! The Introvert’s Way to a Healthy, Happy Life”), my book (The Introvert Manifesto: Introverts Illuminated, Extraverts Enlightened), and my speaking and other activities.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications (aka journalism) from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1990. It was a good choice for me, especially because of all the writing involved, but the one thing that did not fit me where journalism was concerned was the idea of staying out of things (in an effort to be objective). I soon learned that I wanted to get involved in things and help people. So I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1998.
It was during graduate school that I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment and had the eye-opening realization that I was (and am) an introvert. I’ve been fascinated by introverts and introversion ever since.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Thriving As An Introvert. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does “Introvert” mean to you?
First of all, we always need to keep in mind that the word “introvert” is shorthand for “person who prefers introversion” or “person who tends toward introversion most of the time.” Which is to say that you’re not either “an introvert” or “an extrovert,” but rather than you tend to lie somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes of introversion and extroversion.
That said: An introvert is someone who simply prefers a quieter, calmer, less externally stimulating life compared with an extrovert. Introverts want and need less socializing (but they still want and need some!), for example, because it tends to drain them. Introverts are energized by quiet time alone, time to think and reflect, the ability to focus on one person or one idea or one task at a time, and the chance to engage deeply in their relationships and activities.
Can you help articulate a few of the challenges that come with being an introvert?
The biggest challenge, by far — particularly for introverts who live in Western culture — is that extroversion is seen as, and treated as, the right/best way to be … while introversion is seen as “lesser than,” sometimes even as something to “fix” or “cure” or “overcome” in yourself.
The cultural pressure to be extroverted — which often ends up becoming self-inflicted pressure too — is relentless. It’s also all-encompassing, so much so that it can be very easy to not even realize that it’s happening around you, and to you.
It ends up being a one-two punch that can really knock you down:
- You think you have to be the extrovert you are not, for starters. (And that already takes a ton of your energy.)
- You work so hard at trying to be the extrovert you’re not that you don’t get what you need in life as the introvert you really are.
Is it any wonder that so many introverts are frustrated and exhausted all the time — and tearing their hair out as they try to figure out why, and what they can do about it?
I’m sure that being an introvert also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that introverts have?
There are lots of advantages to being an introvert; lots of strengths you have!
- You’re independent. You’re willing and able to work by yourself, and you don’t need to be constantly monitored.
- You’re focused. Engaging deeply with something for several hours is not only no problem for you, it’s right in your wheelhouse!
- You’re reflective. You think before you act, which not only prevents you from speaking rashly and/or doing something stupid but also makes the things you do say and do carry more weight and respect.
- You’re methodical. You don’t give up on things. You can see complicated things through from start to finish without getting bored and/or distracted.
- You’re imaginative. You’re always thinking, and so you might very well connect thoughts and ideas that others do not — which results in new, innovative thoughts and ideas.
- You’re good at research. Tracking down information and, especially, reading it all and digesting it and synthesizing it come easily and naturally to you.
- You’re great one on one. You listen well, and people find you easy to talk to. You bring out the best in others because you give them your full attention without, for example, constantly checking your phone.
- You’re prepared. You don’t leave things to chance. You don’t “wing it” (unless you have to, in which case you can and do). People can count on you to do what you say you’re going to do, and on time.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being an introvert? Can you explain what you mean?
How much time and space do you have? ☺
The most common, and most aggravating, myth by far is that introverts don’t like people. Nonsense! The way introverts interact with other people is, however, different from that of extroverts. I want to stress here: Not worse than that of extroverts, and not better than that of extroverts either. Just different from that of extroverts.
Introverts like, and do better with, one-on-one conversations where distractions (like the damn phone) are minimized or eliminated. We seek depth in our interactions, and that’s generally just not possible in, say, a crowded bar with the music blasting from the speakers.
If introverts ran the world, all conversations would occur one on one over a cup of coffee/tea at the quietest coffee shop in town.
That is not at all the same as “introverts don’t like people.” Grrrrr!
The other myth that needs to go — and this one comes both from other people and from within oneself — is that there is something fundamentally “wrong” with introverts. Argh! No, once again! Introverts are simply different from extroverts — not inferior to extroverts (or superior to extroverts, for that matter).
We all have to go against our own grain at times in life. No problem. But just as no one is expecting or asking extroverts to fundamentally change who they are (because no one thinks anything is “wrong” with them), no one should be expecting or asking introverts to fundamentally change who they are (because there’s nothing “wrong” with introverts, either).
Do you have any role models who are also introverts? What have you learned from them that can help introverts navigate the challenges and benefits of introversion?
There are a couple of authors I really look up to: Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) and Laurie Helgoe (author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength). Both of them do such an amazing job of helping us introverts see that there is nothing we need to “fix” or “cure” or change in ourselves.
This is a bigger deal than you might think.
So many introverts internalize a message that they need to be different — that they need to be someone they are not, that they need to be extroverts. Susan Cain and Laurie Helgoe push back hard on this (damaging) notion, backing up their assertions and advice with both solid research and extensive discussion of their own personal experiences.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Things Introverts Need To Thrive & Succeed In A Society That Seems To Favor Extroverts”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . You need to have a positive self-concept of yourself as an introvert — which is to say that you need to simply be the introvert you are instead of trying to fight it or change it as the world too often demands. Just like extroverts, you deserve — and get to be — who you really are, without having to constantly justify or explain yourself.
What does this mean, practically speaking?
You simply remind yourself, daily: “I’m an introvert.” And you proceed each day with that thought in mind, making all your decisions and plans accordingly.
For example …
Suppose it’s Friday afternoon and some people from work say to you “come out for drinks with us after work.”
Fair enough request, of course.
But if you are wiped out and you would just as soon go home and read a book, you get to say (after reminding yourself: “I’m an introvert”): “Not today, thanks.”
And then, when the inevitable nagging happens after that, you get to follow up with something like: “I stand by my statement.”
If and when you have a positive self-concept of yourself as an introvert, you become increasingly comfortable with — and good at — responding to things this way.
That said: If you’ve been fighting the opposite message for years or decades, as many introverts have, this new mindset/belief system will take some time and practice to develop. But I promise you: It’s totally doable!
2 . You need to have plenty of solitude in your daily life, with solitude being how you define it. Generally it’s some combination of being alone and being in a quiet setting. You absolutely, positively must be able to decompress, especially if you have expended lots of energy during the day and encountered lots of external stimulation in the form of lots of people interactions, lots of noise, etc.
The solitude you pursue won’t always look the same from day to day. Sometimes you’ll want/need absolute aloneness in near absolute silence. Other times you might want to be “alone” with a few other people around! — like when you go to hang out at the coffee shop to read a book or something.
Just be sure you get the solitude you need, even if you can manage only a few minutes sometimes. It is imperative to your well-being as an introvert.
3 . You need to be able to reflect — to think — before things happen in your life (so that you can prepare for them), after things happen in your life (so that you can reflect on them and see how you might want to change/improve them in the future), and even in the moment, as things are happening in your life (so that you can buy yourself even just a few seconds to respond).
You will often have to take this time and protect it — which is to say that it’s smart to actually put it on your calendar when you can, to prioritize it as a “task” you need to complete like any other.
4 . You need to be able to focus, in two contexts: 1) You need to be able to focus on one thing at a time instead of trying to multitask (which research has shown is a myth, by the way — “multitasking” is really rapid task switching, which drives the typical introvert quietly insane); and 2) You need to be able to work on something without constantly being interrupted and distracted (which includes, by the way, being distracted by technology … i.e., your damn phone).
5 . You need to pursue depth in your activities and relationships. Surface-level discussions, for example (e.g., “small talk”) will drive you nuts if they don’t already. And you’ll get frustrated if you don’t get the chance to really sink your teeth into what you’re doing in terms of activities, be it at work or elsewhere.
The visual I often use to describe what things look/feel like when you are not getting the depth you need as an introvert is that of a rock skipping across the water. You get bounced around uncontrollably for a while, and then you sink. You want to avoid that!
By the way: I have developed a handy, practical model for everything I’ve described here. It’s called The 4 Pillars of Introvert Well-Being, and it looks like this:
The 4 “pillars” of introvert well-being (solitude, reflection, focus, and depth) are built on a solid foundation (you having a positive self-concept of yourself as an introvert) so that your well-being (represented by the roof of the structure) is solid and sustainable — i.e., so that you are healthy and happy your own way, as the introvert you are.
How should an introvert navigate social relationships and networking, activities that are often touted as extroverts’ forte? Do you have any advice for introverts in these areas?
Just handle social relationships and networking your way, as the introvert you are, instead of trying to do it like an extrovert might.
For example, in your social relationships, you are very likely to have only a handful of true, solid, go-to-the-mat-with-you friends. You’ll have many acquaintances, perhaps, but maybe 3 true friends. No problem! Just let it be that way! You don’t have to run your friendship/social relationship life the way an extrovert might. Let extroverts have several hundred “friends” if they want to! You only need as many as you want and need.
On the networking front: Again, network your own way. Play to your one-on-one strength/preference. Do so-called “networking events” make you want to puke, for example? Me too! So don’t go to those! Meet with people one on one at the coffee shop instead. Or interact with them online for a while, via LinkedIn or Zoom or both.
It all boils down, once again, to doing things your own way as the introvert you are. Again, I realize that the messages you have heard for years or decades often say the opposite. You have to ask yourself, though: How has going against your own grain worked out for you so far? And how do you feel when you try to do that all the time?
The answers are probably “not good” and “not good.”
What are some practical tips you can offer to introverts who want to succeed in the workplace, which is often geared towards extroverted behaviors?
I could go on at length on this one, but let me focus on three key tips:
- Whenever and however possible, build time into your daily schedule to work alone, without interruptions and distractions (from either people or electronics). It isn’t always easy or practical to do this, I’ll concede. But when and where you can, it is crucial to both your productivity and your sanity. Put an hour of “deep work” on your calendar, and tell people (verbally, with a sign that you’re busy, something!) that you simply cannot be interrupted unless, say, the building is on fire or something. You desperately need this time to do your best work as an introvert, and to offer your best contribution(s). Sell it that way if you have to.
- Play to your strengths in both preparation and follow-up. Take meetings, for example. You may struggle at times to contribute verbally in the moment at meetings, because frequently you are processing what’s being said and your brain is busy with all of that. However, if you prepare for a meeting thoroughly beforehand — which might even include writing up some brief notes about what you want to say in the upcoming meeting — you’ll be better able to speak up and speak confidently at the right time during the meeting itself. That said: If you don’t get the chance to speak up during the meeting itself, you can follow up after the meeting, in writing, with detailed, well-thought-out observations and feedback. You are good at both preparation and follow-up. So flex those particular muscles at work!
- Take short, purposeful introvert breaks throughout the day, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a crack. Step outside and get a few gulps of fresh air. Go into a quiet conference room and just sit there for a few minutes, breathing. If all else fails, hole up in the restroom stall (without your cell phone!). No one — no one who’s normal, at least — will bother you there! These little breaks serve two essential purposes where introverts are concerned: 1) they re-energize your proverbial “batteries” just a little bit; and 2) they get you briefly away from the external stimulation that is draining your “batteries” in the first place. If (when?) people inevitably ask about what you’re doing in these situations, by the way, just say something like “I need to clear my head for a few minutes.” You shouldn’t have to explain! I get it. But for some reason people often seek an explanation, so just tell them something along the lines of “I just need a few minutes to decompress.” Most people will then back off.
Have you noticed any specific ways that being an introvert affects mental health or overall well-being? Any tips for introverts to maintain good mental health?
If you do not have a positive self-concept of yourself as an introvert — if you think, consciously or unconsciously, that “something is wrong with me,” or if other people seem to think that “something is wrong with you” — your mental health can be and is profoundly affected, and not in a good way.
The bottom line is this: You need to be the introvert you are. And you deserve, like everyone else in life, to just go ahead and be yourself.
If, like so many introverts, you (understandably in this culture, I’ll admit) try to act more extroverted than you are — or even become an extrovert — you are going to pay a heavy price.
You can’t do it, and I say “can’t” in two respects:
- You can’t pull it off, literally speaking. You don’t have the ability to do it. (No one does.)
- You can’t do that to yourself! As in, you don’t deserve that!
You also pay a price in terms of not getting what you do need in life to be healthy and happy — i.e., the 4 “pillars” of introvert well-being that I discussed before: solitude, reflection, focus, and depth.
If you don’t get these things in your daily life as an introvert, is it any wonder that you struggle — and I mean physically, psychologically, emotionally, even spiritually?
So, again: Begin building up your self-concept as an introvert: “I’m an introvert, and I have many strengths.” And then work hard on getting the 4 “pillars” of introvert well-being incorporated, purposefully, into your daily life.
I use The 4 Pillars of Introvert Well-Being model as a sort of checklist or cheat sheet for my everyday life as an introvert. It helps in terms of both diagnosis (what’s going on with me now/today to make me feel crummy? ) and prevention (how can I feel my best today as the introvert I am?). You can use the model the same way in your own everyday life as an introvert. It gives you something to use as a tangible, practical guide to daily decision making, action, and planning.
In your opinion, are societal views on introversion changing? If so, how do you think this impacts introverts positively or negatively? Can you please explain what you mean?
I think there has been some modest movement in the right direction over the last 10 years or so, thanks largely to the work of authors like Susan Cain and Laurie Helgoe. But on balance, I think we still live in an extroverted world with extroverted expectations and an extroverted power structure that decides what is “good” or “right” and what needs to be “fixed” or changed.
This, of course, has a negative impact on introverts.
That said: I am not a believer in whining about it and running around saying/thinking “Introverts are oppressed!” I simply think that we, as introverts, need to know the (extroverted) landscape we’re dealing with.
You do not have to change yourself as the introvert you are; don’t get me wrong! But you do have to assume that you’re going to be operating in an extroverted world, at least in Western culture, and that that is unlikely to change anytime soon. So that means you have to be proactive and mindful about identifying and playing to your many natural introvert strengths, as well as proactive and mindful about doing what you need to do to take care of yourself each day, so that you can be healthy and happy your own way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In the fall of 1998, I took a job that I knew didn’t fit my introverted personality. It was in the career and counseling center at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, the place where I had done my yearlong counseling master’s degree internship the academic year before.
The job I took was as a mental health counselor and alcohol and other drug (AOD) specialist. I had wanted a position in the career counseling realm, and I knew in my heart of hearts that taking this mental health counselor/AOD specialist position was a mistake. But I took it anyway, because the people I worked with in that office were (and still are) so wonderful. I thought that would be enough.
But it wasn’t, and I ended up — very long story short — having to leave the job after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depression.
When I went in to resign in late 1998, I met with George Heideman, my supervisor and the guy who had hired me. I wanted to resign in person, but I felt terrible about letting George down, as he was a mentor and friend (and still is!).
When I told him I needed to quit, he said something to me that has stayed with me all these years later — something I will never, ever forget, and something that drives my work with introverts now. He said:
“Pete, it takes tremendous energy to be someone you’re not.”
And then he added a three-word exclamation point:
“Too much energy.”
What he was saying is that you can’t be someone you’re not in life. You “can’t” in terms of you can’t pull it off and you “can’t” in terms of “don’t do that to yourself!”
Amen, George. Thank you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh my …
The one movement I would start (which I already have in my own way!) would be to remove — forever! — the sense of shame (yes, shame … as in “something is fundamentally wrong with me”) people often associate with simply being an introvert.
Often people do this to themselves (i.e., they themselves believe that “something is wrong with me” … simply and solely because they are introverted).
But far more often, people get this damaging message from other people in their life — important people, like parents, friends, teachers, etc. They get the message, from others, that “something must be wrong with you.”
No one ever goes around thinking or saying that something is fundamentally wrong with extroverts simply because they are extroverted!
Can you imagine?
- “You’re just too gregarious.”
- “You need to be less outgoing.”
- “Why don’t you do solitude more?”
But for whatever reason, virtually every introvert on Earth has faced the flip-side statements and questions (from themselves and/or others in their life):
- “You’re just too quiet.”
- “You need to put yourself out there more.”
- “Why don’t you go to more social events?”
I cannot begin to tell you how a) damaging this shame is to introverts, and especially b) how undetected it often goes among introverts. It’s a problem that is right in front of our faces, so much so that we generally don’t even see it. We don’t know how ingrained it is, in Western culture especially, to put extroverts and extroversion on a pedestal and to put introverts and introversion in the consolation (literally and figuratively) bin.
It needs to stop.
The movement I envision does not involve tipping the scales in the complete opposite direction; it doesn’t mean putting introverts and introversion on the pedestal.
It simply means balancing the scales — for once.
That’s what I want to see, for myself as an introvert and for all other introverts as well. Especially introverted kids.
Stepping off my soapbox now …
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can visit my website at IntrovertInsights.com. There you’ll find my monthly PDF newsletter, my blog, and lots more.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity!
Thriving As An Introvert: Peter Vogt of Introvert Insights On How Introverts Can Thrive & Succeed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.