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What Steve Martin Taught Me About Introverts

Introvert Steve Martin acts out wildly on stage pulling his mouth open with his hands

By John Millen

Long ago and faraway, as a college newspaper reporter, I had the chance to go backstage to interview actor and comedian Steve Martin in Orange County, California. It's where he had grown up and where I went to school at Cal State Fullerton.  

Martin had just finished a raucous comedy show where he was out-of-his-mind energetic and loud or, as he termed it, “wild and crazy.”

When I met Martin backstage standing in his thick, white bathrobe, I had expected to meet the super-outgoing character from the stage.

Instead I met a super-quiet, introspective person –– in short, an introvert. I could hardly hear a word he said and often had to ask him to repeat himself.

The Myth of Introversion

My misconception about introverts not being public outgoing is shared by much of our society. Many people believe that introverts are simply “shy” and don’t like social interaction.

The truth is that the difference between introverts and extroverts is how they draw their energy: extroverts crave stimulation, drawing their energy from being with others; introverts restore their energy alone in quieter surroundings.

Rewarding Extroversion

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, reports that about one-third to one-half of the population is introverted, yet our culture caters to and rewards extroversion--often devaluing the contributions of introverts.

She notes that our schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts with little privacy and forced collaboration even on work that would benefit from individual attention.

Cain, an introvert by nature, has forced herself to be a public advocate bringing awareness to our cultural bias toward extroverts. In her book and on her website, Cain does great work in highlighting the incredibly valuable contributions of introverts throughout history and today.

What are you? Take the 10-Question Quiz

Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Ambivert? You can find out by taking a simple 10-question quiz on Cain’s website. I took the quick quiz. (Extrovert, for sure ;-) I have the link at the end of this post.

In my coaching and workshops for presentations, I use the example of Steve Martin and others to encourage introverts to share more of themselves and their ideas with their colleagues and the world.

I also encourage extroverts to talk less and listen more to their introverted associates.

If you're a leader, you should be proactive in understanding the needs of both introverts and extroverts on your team.

As Cain says, the world needs the contributions of all of us.



Quiet Revolution 10-question quiz

Susan Cain’s book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Susan Cain also gave a great TED Talk in 2012, which you can watch here: Susan Cain Ted Talk. 


Photo credit: Jim Summaria via Wikimedia

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John Millen

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