It’s common to associate success with “putting yourself out there,” but garnering attention isn’t a telltale sign that someone will be successful. Thanks to a newfound appreciation for quieter success stories, famous introverts can teach you three impactful lessons. First, there isn’t only one type of personality that can attract success. Second, introverted characteristics hold their own power. Third, it’s possible (and suggested) to recognize the traits that may be holding you back and figure out how to change them even a quarter-turn to get out of your own way.
On Being an Introvert
Before we get into the list of famous introverts and what they can teach us, let’s clarify that there’s, of course, nothing wrong with being an introvert. However, introverts are often (and mistakenly) thought to be any or all of the following:
Truthfully, anyone can possess any of these qualities at some point, introvert or not. You may also feel that you’ve become more of an introvert as you’ve gotten older. This may be because you’re more comfortable spending time alone. Or, maybe your social circle shrunk after college or you have a solo job and you’re secluded during work hours. Whatever it is, strike that list of misinformed qualities from your mind. Focus on the following qualities instead, because loners tend to:
- Decide quickly what needs to be done and adapt to the circumstances
- Enjoy their alone time instead of feeling lonely during it
- Focus on the task at hand without distraction
- Handle situations independently and responsibly
- Have fewer friendships, yet they’re deeper, long-term friendships
- Listen well when others need to talk about something that’s on their mind
- Need a break and some “me time” after outdoor and/or social activities
- Prefer modes of communication that are indirect, like texting instead of a phone call
- Seem unflappable, calm and in control
- Thrive in one-on-one relationships
- Think and consider their next move before they act or speak
- Understand the big picture and how elements connect
Some of these qualities are positive, while others are simply self-aware. None of them are particularly negative, though, or something you should feel like you need to change.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
Business success is about being able to make smart decisions and knowing how to solve problems. For celebrities, success may be about natural talent and a great promotional team behind you. Neither type of success requires a person to be outgoing or even sociable, at least not all the time.
Most people are on an introvert-extrovert spectrum, having a combination of strengths and weaknesses from both categories. Which way you lean has to do with where your energy comes from and what zaps it, though, not how shy you are or how comfortable you feel walking into a room of strangers. Introverts get more energy from being alone than from being with people. Spending time with others can drain that energy and alone time is required to refill the tank. Extroverts are the opposite – they get energy from being around others and start to feel their energy drop when they’re alone.
8 Famous Introverts and What They Can Teach You
It’s surprising to learn that some of the most famous faces are actually introverts at heart. You’d assume that to perform in some way, you’d need an outgoing, extroverted personality. Turns out, that’s not true. Here are 8 famous introverts and the lessons you can learn from them.
1. Albert Einstein
Not only is Einstein one of the most famous scientists in history, but he was also a known introvert. Leaning into his introverted nature, Einstein believed that his creativity and success came from keeping to himself. He said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
The Lesson: Time spent in solitude may provide the space you need to create.
Your Turn: Carve out time for yourself where all that’s on the agenda is creative thinking or working. If you don’t know where to start, meditate to see where your mind wanders or set a timer for 15 minutes of freewriting.
2. Bill Gates
Bill Gates has said that introverts can be successful by recognizing and taking advantage of their particular strengths. For example, take time to yourself to think and come up with ideas. Then, by combining those strengths with what extroverts do best (such as by hiring extroverts at your company), you can tap into both sets of skills to thrive. It’s also interesting to note that Gates is an introvert, but he’s not shy, which is a reminder that most people have some introvert and extrovert qualities that exist simultaneously.
The Lesson: Extroverts are not better than introverts, and vice versa. Instead, both personality types have their pros and cons, and businesses need both types of people to be successful.
Your Turn: Pinpoint a weakness that’s standing in your way, then create a plan of action to fix it. That can mean outsourcing work, like marketing or sales, to someone who does it better or figuring out how to improve that weakness in yourself, like by taking public speaking classes.
3. Eleanor Roosevelt
Since she’s known for being a public person thanks to her entertaining, lectures and press conferences, it’s surprising to learn that Eleanor Roosevelt was actually an introvert. Roosevelt believed that having a friendship with yourself is important, because only then can you be a friend to others.
The Lesson: An early life that forces you into solitude can lead to growing into a compassionate adult who’s sensitive to people’s differences.
Your Turn: Pick out three introvert characteristics you like, then make a point to compliment three people for possessing those same traits. You’ll see how being an introvert can actually connect you to others instead of keeping you in seclusion.
4. Elon Musk
Elon Musk said that it took him a lot of time and practice to get comfortable with going up on stage and speaking clearly, but that as the head of a company, it’s something you have to learn how to do.
The Lesson: Similar to the Bill Gates lesson, Musk’s experience as an introvert provides encouragement to unearth the introverted quality that’s standing in your way and do your best to change it.
Your Turn: Research the problem you’re facing, whether it’s public speaking, making one-on-one conversation with strangers or appearing approachable at networking events. Arming yourself with knowledge is an essential first step out of the problem.
5. Emma Watson
In an interview with Rookie, actress Emma Watson talked about how people applaud her for not being a party girl, especially in such a party-centric industry. Her response is that she’s not trying to be known as a non-party girl, but instead she’s just a natural introvert who isn’t into that scene. She also talks about how she once thought something was wrong with her because she wasn’t an extrovert. Eventually, though, she realized her introverted-ness wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
The Lesson: Embracing your introverted qualities can lead you to be the person you want to be, and without much effort.
Your Turn: Think about one of your introverted traits you’re ashamed of or embarrassed by, then list all of the ways it’s actually benefited you. Brainstorm how that trait can help you succeed moving forward.
6. J.K. Rowling
Introverts are often their most creative when left alone. J.K. Rowling is a great example of this – it’s well-known that she dreamt up Harry Potter when taking a solo train trip. Plus, her pen wouldn’t work, but she was too shy to ask a stranger to borrow one, opting to compose the story in her head.
The Lesson: Even being painfully shy around others doesn’t have to get in the way of your ability to move forward. Actually, it can be helpful, allowing you to hyper-focus. Rowling has said, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
Your Turn: Instead of throwing in the towel when one thing stands in your way, keep going with the work that’s most important. You’re allowed to avoid the thing that scares you, so long as you can still succeed without it.
7. Meryl Streep
More actors than you realize are introverts, including Academy Awards winner Meryl Streep. To get through occasions where she can’t keep to herself, she uses visualization and tells herself that her mother would be able to get through the situation. When speaking with Michelle Obama, Streep said, “It’s a good thing, to imagine yourself doing something you think you can’t.”
The Lesson: You’re not chained to the introverted qualities that hold you back, and fear is sometimes there to be pushed through.
Your Turn: Play pretend. The next time you’re in a situation that feels threatening, like having to collaborate with coworkers, act as though you’re someone else, a person you admire who performs well in that type of setting. It will feel uncomfortable, but you’ll show yourself that nothing terrible happens when you’re a bit more outgoing, especially if the situation requires you to be.
8. Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the world and a highly respected leader in the financial industry, had to put extra time and effort into figuring out how to connect with people. Part of his success is due specifically to his preference for solitude, though – it’s given him the focus needed to become an expert. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Buffet’s introverted personality, namely his ability to think clearly and act wisely when other people often panic, is what has kept him on top.
The Lesson: Being an introvert may put you in a better position to recognize a warning sign of failure and act on it appropriately. Cooler heads prevail.
Your Turn: When a problem is looming, don’t join the masses in their panic. Retreat to think the problem through and to make a smart decision – this is where introverts shine their brightest. Adam McHugh of Quiet Revolution agrees, writing, “Because we do our best work in solitude, creative introverts may be less reliant on established norms and more able to see and hear new things.”
There’s no reason for an introvert to force themselves to become an extrovert (and it probably wouldn’t work, anyway). What you can do is take note of extroverted personality traits you admire. Then, work on developing them more, possibly even turning to your introvert-specific traits to help you. For example, if you know you need alone time after a social gathering, allow yourself that alone time to recharge. You may then feel energetic and confident enough to be open, warm and talkative the next time you’re surrounded by people.
Overall, remember that people aren’t all one thing – you’re not all introvert or all extrovert. You can accept or adapt whatever characteristics you want to create your own personality, regardless of how it’ll be labeled.
How has being an introvert helped you succeed? You may also want to check out this article about Why Being Resilient is Essential to Success.
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