Being an Entrepreneur When You're Not Extroverted

Harvard Business Review

"You really hate people," said an ex to me during intermission at the theater, as we discussed our weekend plans. He, as always, wanted to get groups of friends together. I wanted, in contrast, a night to ourselves. "I do not hate people," I said, angry and sad that it was this conversation again. "I just don't want to be around them all the time."

I'm an ambivert — both an introvert and an extrovert. As an ambivert, I also love being social and participating in social activities, but with active pauses for restorative personal time. Most of the population are ambiverts.

For anyone with introverted qualities, the above conversation (or some variant upon it) might sound familiar — your desire for alone time, one-on-one time, or a little peace and quiet, is met with misunderstanding and often judgment. I don't think the guy in question meant harm — it's just that our society, as Susan Cain underscores in her best-selling book Quiet, values extroversion more than introversion. But it's not that introverts and ambiverts don't like people. We just find large groups of them, well, a little draining.

This is challenging in personal life, but as an entrepreneur — the face of your company, consistently pitching your wares whether they be services or a product— it can be downright exhausting.

How is an introvert, ambivert, or anyone with introverted qualities to balance these social norms versus personal needs when it comes to owning your own business? And is there any way she can use them to her advantage?

As Cain explains, in our society, having introverted qualities are often met with shame. I didn't understand why a group vacation would make me anxious, or spending a day with a lot of people without any time to myself or in a smaller setting was unappealing. It's about wiring.
To shill your own business, you have to be outgoing, always "on." Endless networking, going to conferences, always being up for a dinner with people that might be able to propel your trajectory — this can be exhausting even for an extrovert, but it's even more so when you're not wired to be around people 24/7.

What is an entrepreneur to do? I spoke with Cain candidly about this very issue — when you're in the business of starting up, and getting yourself out there, how are you also able to do it in a way that doesn't overload?

To begin, Cain suggests a three-pronged approach:

Go deep, not wide. "You don't have to work the room," says Cain. "My career has taken lots of different turns, and it has all be en a function of not having the widest rolodex, but a really deep one. I think we do people a disservice when we tell people they have to get out there in a very wide net-casting way."

Find an extrovert. "Team up with an extrovert. Together you are greater than the sum of your parts. It's the yin and yang." If that's the case, why didn't my yin-and-yang like relationship with my extroverted ex work out? Cain says that even though introverts and extroverts complement each other, they don't always understand each other. "This is a really big one," she said. It's all about a "big misconception of what introversion is. People assume that the person who wants to stay home on a Saturday is antisocial or misanthropic. Introverts are just as warm and caring, but they would rather lavish those on the people they know well. There are still going to be negotiations [between introverts and extroverts], but it should at least be conducted from a place of mutual understanding."

Pace yourself. "Make sure to pace yourself." This is especially important for ambiverts like me. I happen to project an extroverted image that is only partially accurate. For people like me, Cain says that means "I"m out there presenting an extroverted face, and the more I present that, the more is asked of me. It's a great blessing to be an ambivert, but you have to be aware of pacing yourself."

Sometimes introverts or ambiverts feel a need to defend their behaviors. Instead, Cain suggests, just be graceful. "You can just say it gracefully, 'I'm going to my room but can't wait to see you tomorrow at breakfast !' People don't give it as much thought as you think they do."
But what if you're in an extroverted business, like PR or Sales?

As someone who started her own digital public relations company, it can feel hard to compete with those who have no trouble going out every night, who attend a constant stream of conferences or Instagram every industry party. (Yes, there is both actual and digital FOMO.) What if everyone is hanging out without you?

Cain chocks this up to perception. "You're really not alone, even though it looks that way. So many people appear like that to the world, and it's the most unlikely of people."

"Social media needs to be used on your own terms. There is nothing that says you have to constantly announce who your'e with. Maybe you present your life as one giant party, but you could be using it as a much deeper and more thoughtful way."

Finally, says Cain, introverts are everywhere, and appearances can be deceiving. "I expected that in my research I would find introverts clustered in more traditionally introverted fields. It's sort of true, but you find them in many professions where you least expect it. Many in media, many in public relations, it's all about developing the skills to function."

To borrow from the old adage, fake it 'til you make it. And then find some time for some peace and quiet.

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