As an introvert, there have been countless times when someone else got the job/attention/raise/praise/boyfriend because they were quicker on their feet, vibrantly outgoing, tireless and more aggressive than me.

If you lose out enough times, you start to feel inadequate or incompetent. There’s a fair amount of shame that goes along with feelings of incompetence.  I should be able to do this. Everyone else can do it. I must be slow/dumb/weak. 

I tend to steer clear of people and situations that make me feel incompetent but every once in a while a bout of inferiority surfaces.  Last week I finished 40 hours of training to become qualified as a Rule 114 Neutral (mediator). During those 40 hours I vacillated between feeling strong and confident and feeling intimidated and unsure. Strange how each day was different.  One day after class I skipped across campus  feeling like Mary Tyler Moore. I wanted to throw a beret in the air and shout, She’s going to make it after all! The next day I left the building with droopy shoulders and a rock in my stomach. No mood at all for a jaunty beret.

What caused the mood slide?

Introverts Working with Others

I had different team members every day. This could account for the lack of consistency in my perceived performance. I worked with an aggressive divorce lawyer and a district court judge and felt good about my effort.  You would think they would be the most intimidating and judgmental but no, they were the most willing to share knowledge and give feedback. I learned a lot from these wonderful resources and felt more capable after working with them.  Their encouragement enhanced my skills and boosted my confidence.

I presented with other professionals and felt inadequate. These individuals were excellent at making jokes and goofing off. They were confident with their facilitating skills and therefore wanted to do the bare minimum. I felt like the nerdy kid at the cool kids’ table. I’m all for having fun (so much easier than pushing myself out of my comfort zone) but I needed practice with the process. It was damn hard to ask them to turn their attention to me. It was clear to me that I was the weakest link in the group.  I had the least experience. I didn’t want my incompetence spotlighted so I went along with their choices and wasted a chance to improve. I disappointed myself.

Introverts Need Time to Think

Another reason for the fluctuation in confidence is the amount of preparation I got to do before each simulation.  The material I practiced at home, I did well on.  The times I had to wing it tripped me up a bit.

Being observed also makes me nervous.

According to Laurie Helgoe in Introvert Power, introverts do best with a cushion of time around activities.  We need that space to reflect and process.  By reading over the class materials and practicing my orientation speech out loud at home I was able to prepare for the course at my own speed and in the depth I desired.

In Introvert Advantage, Marti Olsen Laney, explains how the neural pathways to retrieve information are longer for introverts thus causing us to need more time to respond. Introverts are not quick with comebacks and instant answers.  We need retrieval and processing time.

I felt for President Obama in his first 2012 debate with Mitt Romney.  Everyone declared Mitt the winner based heavily on his quick responses and charismatic delivery.  Obama, a suspected introvert, appeared awkward and slow to respond.  Granted the issues were the primary focus of the debate, but there was no question that Romney appeared more competent and presidential, which gave him a distinct edge.

Trying to Keep Up with Everyone 

Years ago as a stay-at-home mom, I felt pressured to do more and more micro-managing of my family and my home. I ended up in over my head doing sub par work.  I was a living example of the Peter Principle.  I had risen to the level of my own incompetence.  I wasn’t producing enough happy achieving children. I wasn’t keeping up with other busy parents. My marriage was sucking and I was burned out. Dying flower #2

There was a time when I was great at my job (when I had one or two children, a smaller house, simpler lifestyle and lower expectations?) but I got promoted out of that level and now I was capable of just enough to not get fired or taken away in a straight jacket.

Feeling incompetent is rough on your self-esteem. Which is why I went looking for some redeeming qualities. I had to know I was capable of something.

Going Internal and Finding Confidence

Enter self-awareness and hours and hours of reflecting. Amidst the chaos I found salvation in any stretch of time where I could ponder what I had to offer the world.  I read whenever possible and began to feel the drug-like effects of learning and discovery.  I began to meet others on an inner-world journey.  I could talk with them for hours.  I felt like their equal.  My back straightened.  My smile widened. I began to glow on the inside. One friend described it as a dying flower receiving water.  I felt capable of carrying on and connecting with the world.

I slowly began to compile a new list of valuable traits:

Deep listener



Appreciate  beauty


Deep thinker/thoughtful


Create long-lasting relationships


Open Minded

They were different from extroverted skills which focus on social amplitude and constant doing. I uncovered softer qualities that I never saw as valuable but in truth are what keeps the universe in motion. I am conscientious and hardworking but I’m not the squeaky wheel or the crowd-drawing type.  I’m an observer and a listener.  I speak (a lot) when I adore the subject or when I have something significant to add. Introverts help others slow down and filter out the less meaningful.These contemplative counselor-like traits serve the world well particularly when paired with the gregarious warrior style of the other half of the population.

I may still get beat out by the more aggressive but I know I am competent. It’s just the introverted version of competent.

If you are an introvert do you  have any of the traits listed above? What/who makes you feel competent? Incompetent?

If this post spoke to you, please check out:

There’s Nothing Wrong with You.  You’re an Introvert (space2live)

Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me but Please Don’t Need Me (Too Much)– space2live

In Defense of Introverted Parents – space2live

What’s Wonderful? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking -space2live

Introverts Do It Passionately and Creatively: How It’s Possible to Love Solitude AND Be Popular – space2live