published Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Kennedy: Don't be shy about strengths

Being an introvert is no picnic.

Best-case scenario, other people will think you are dull. At worst, they'll think you're sullen.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw last week's Time magazine. The cover story is titled, "The Power of Shyness." The cover art, which features a tiny boy backed into a corner while holding a megaphone, foreshadows the main point of the article: Introverted people have undervalued life skills.

For context, the article points out that there's a difference between being shy and being introverted. Shyness is a blend of fear and anxiety, while being an introvert simply means a strong preference for solitude. It's an important distinction.

Sometimes it seems like the whole American success narrative is built on loud, extroverted behavior. George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich come to mind.

Meanwhile, famous introverts through history, according to Time, include Gandhi, Moses, Warren Buffett, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Gates. I'll take Moses and the boys as my personal board of directors.

According to the time article, an introvert's undervalued skills include:

* Deep friendships.

* Thoughtfulness.

* Listening skills.

* An ability to focus and, thereby, master new skills.

Not a bad tool kit for building a better person.

The notion of an introverted nature being an asset instead of a liability has changed my whole frame of reference. For most of my 53 years, I've thought of being introverted as a headwind, sort of like a mild learning disability.

Interestingly, I picked a career, journalism, that requires a certain amount of extroverted behavior; call it bravado. Clark Kent may have popularized the "mild-mannered reporter" stereotype, but he could look for a phone booth when he needed to summon his inner Superman. Introverts in journalism learn to be actors, too.

Rethinking the mind of an introvert might also help me be a better parent. Because of my own insecurities, I've always thought it was my duty to coach my two sons out of their reticent behavior.

That will change now.

When my 5-year-old son puts a bear hug on my leg rather than drift easily into his Sunday school class, I'll remember his intense concentration while building intricate towers out of Legos.

When my 10-year-old son begs to stay at home instead of joining a family adventure, I'll remember how deeply he empathizes with anyone being treated unfairly.

"It may be time for America to learn the forgotten rewards of sitting down and shutting up," journalist Bryan Walsh writes in the magazine.

Fellow introverts, can I get an amen on that?

Oh, right, we don't do that.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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