Opposites attract. I learned this reality early in life when I studied magnets during elementary school. The positive and negative sides attracted while the same forces repelled each other. I could feel the attracting and repelling magnetic forces when I held stronger magnets, which fascinated me as a child.
Many relationships work like magnets. My mother and father had very different personalities. My mother was an extrovert who thrived on human relationships. She studied psychology at a small liberal arts college and loved to talk. She filled the room with energy and led a very active life. My father’s personality was more introverted. He was quiet and enjoyed reading thick books. He majored in geology and leaned towards the sciences, although he also enjoyed history and archeology. While my mother embraced debates and discussions, my father withdrew to more peaceful settings. Together, they attracted and enjoyed a long, harmonious marriage.
My marriage is also one of opposites, although we share a love of travel, family, friends, and community. My wife gravitates toward relationships and leans more toward her emotions. She is attuned to feelings and has high emotional intelligence. She remembers birthdays and other life events, talks or texts almost daily with family and close friends, and reads mainly fiction. I am more logical and factual. My strengths (and some may also say weakness) are detailed analysis and organization skills. I manage the household finances, keep the household repaired, and read mainly non-fiction and classics. Our relationship is strongest when we hear each other’s differing views and seek compromises. Conflicts arise when we ignore or undervalue the other’s differing views.
One of my former Shell Trading colleagues is Steve Friedman. We worked together trading refined products in the Houston office. Later, he was an ex-pat in London before my final assignment there. Traders are primarily high-energy individuals who thrive on risk-taking and seek the company of people. Until Steve retired, I assumed he was an extrovert. However, I learned after his retirement that he was an introvert. He recently published his second book titled The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence (Peavine Press LLC, Houston, TX, 2021) which gave me insights into his journey balancing career, family, and personal health. His book opened my eyes to introverts.
My outdated (1982) college dictionary defines the word ‘introvert’ as “1. To turn or direct inward. 2. To concentrate (one’s interests) upon oneself.” The same dictionary defines ‘extrovert’ as “an individual interested in others or in the environment as opposed to or to the exclusion of self.” I find both of these definitions inadequate as Steve is certainly interested in others and his surrounding environment. He related well to his co-workers and was highly competent as a leader.
However, Steve struggled to understand his introvert nature and how to be true to himself. “Spurred on by my drive to succeed and provide for my family, I aimed high in my career. For years I donned a mask so others wouldn’t see my fears and anxiety. I pretended to be more like others: outgoing, energetic, and a relentless ladder-climber. Yet I struggled to survive under the pressure to conform to the prevailing corporate culture and my own lofty expectations. I was drained at the end of each day. … Finally, late in my career, my relentless need to succeed and provide for my family became overwhelming, jeopardizing my health and my family bonds. At rock bottom, I challenged the paradigm that I must choose between work success and happiness. I was determined to have both. … I didn’t change myself; I just learned how to embrace and use my natural talents.” (page 10)
Steve’s journey resulted in two books about introverts that offer sage advice on how to leverage introversion strengths and minimize weaknesses to become confident, successful leaders. For the extroverts of the world, this book enables you to understand and form effective relationships with your introverted colleagues.
In Exodus 2:23–4:17, God summons Moses to take the lead in delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage. Moses is afraid and constantly tells God why he is unsuited for the job. “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) God tells Moses that He will give him the necessary gifts and talents to succeed at freeing the Israelites from bondage.
As I read the dialogue between God and Moses, I detect signs of Moses’ introversion. He simply wants to peacefully tend his father-in-law’s flocks. Introverts were made in God’s image just like extroverts. God uses introverts to accomplish God’s purpose. Steve learned that his introversion was not a curse, but a blessing. “Suddenly, I began enjoying my job a lot more because I was using my energy to apply my talents rather than to conceal my genuine strengths.” Moses also discovered his true strength because he was faithful to God’s command. Perhaps it is time to update my dictionary and define ‘introvert’ as one of God’s many gifts that should be successfully employed.