Some of Us Were Awkward in High School (and Other Truths About Extroverted Entrepreneurs)

By Chris Olsen

An introverted business founder friend and I recently debated which personality types were better suited for entrepreneurship. She wondered aloud if it was easier for extroverts like me to thrive in the business world.

While I was born an extrovert with a gift for gab, it has not always served me well. Elementary school report cards noted that I talked too much in class and distracted other students. In high school, I struggled to regulate my volume, and teachers and classmates admonished me for being loud. As I entered the business world, I learned to adapt. I worked in industries where my outgoing nature was more acceptable, but also environments where I was told my direct communication style made others uncomfortable.

The conversation with my friend prompted me to rewatch Susan Cain’s TED Talk from a few years ago on the power of introverts. The popular talk has been viewed more than 20 million times and suggests that the world is biased against introverts. She challenges her audience to inspire dramatic change in academic and business environments, which she says are geared toward extroverts and their need for stimulation.

It’s true, the world is sometimes a big loud ball of chaos. But I’m here to tell you, it’s not always a warm and welcoming place for extroverts either. With input from a few of my extroverted friends, here are a few truths about us that might surprise you:

Some of us were awkward in high school … and still are.

The majority of us were not class presidents, homecoming queens or star quarterbacks. We struggled to fit in, we were rejected and teased by our peers, and at times we wished we were invisible. We experienced many of the difficult things introverts did—and still do—just in different ways.

We are not always as confident as you may think.

Just because extroverts are vocal and assertive does not mean they are so sure of themselves. We desire input and validation to help make decisions and build our confidence, just like introverts do.

Some of us suffer from OEF (overly expressive face).

When extroverts are “in the moment,” it can be a challenge to mask our emotions. Our facial expressions can be misinterpreted and give others the wrong impression. Introverts would probably agree that it is hurtful to be unfairly judged by others. You know what they say about books and covers.

We do not always excel at interviews, presentations and public speaking.

Many articles on the subject suggest that extroverts are often top job candidates because they engage quickly and energetically in the interview process. While it may be true in some cases, I have seen plenty of extroverts bomb interviews, lose their cool during presentations or experience major jitters while delivering speeches. Our nerves get the best of us, too.

We didn’t achieve success by being popular.

Does personality and likability influence success in the business world? Absolutely. But plenty of extroverts have been passed over for promotions despite being well liked within their companies. As is the case with introverts, extroverts who want to achieve success do so by being smart and working hard.

We don’t always want to be the center of attention.

Being “on” all the time takes a lot of work and can be exhausting, even for extroverts. We are often counted on to be the leaders, storytellers or entertainers of the group and there are times when we just want to hang back and be an observer without any expectations of us.

We really don’t mean to interrupt.

Often extroverts think and process information out loud. Occasionally we get so excited to share an idea that it just comes out. This also happens when we are nervous. Please know that our intentions are usually good and we aren’t trying to be rude.

We are sensitive about how we may be perceived in a group.

Extroverts sometimes feel vulnerable when sharing or giving feedback in a group setting, especially if others comment on how quickly we process information and respond. Our intent is not to dominate—we care about what others think and feel. Extroversion doesn’t equate to being oblivious to those around us.

We enjoy quiet time alone.

Not every extrovert enjoys working in an environment with lots of people and noise—it can be a huge distraction for us. Like our introverted friends, we also enjoy solitary activities and have even been known to forgo a social event for an evening at home with a good book.

No doubt about it—introverts and extroverts thrive in different types of environments. And everyone deserves an opportunity to study, work and just be in what Cain refers to in her TED Talk as the “zone of stimulation” that allows them to flourish. While we might not agree on what that looks like, both my introverted and extroverted founder friends agree on this: The ability to adapt to different surroundings and situations is essential to entrepreneurship, despite your personality type.

About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.

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