Introverted Not Incompetent:Validating Softer Life Skills

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

25 thoughts on “Introverted Not Incompetent:Validating Softer Life Skills

  1. Pingback: Ever Get Tired of Validating Your Introversion? | space2live

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  5. I can really relate to this post. I was always that person who could never quite measure up to other’s quick wit, confidence, etc. a lot of that had to do with being raised by a step parent who was always belittling me and telling me I was not good enough. I worked through some of it when I became a teacher and I had to learn to be quick witted and confident (I taught 7th graders!). Sometimes now I still feel less than than those around me, but the older I get the more I am learning about myself. That has resulted in me being more gentle with myself, more accepting of my attributes because I know they are the ones God gave me, and quite frankly I don’t care much what people think about me anymore. I am me. Take it or leave it. I think that has helped more with my level of confidence than anything. Thank you for your insight on this. I love reading your blog.

    • Yes, you have to be on hour toes when teaching 7th graders. I know. I am a mother to an 8th and 6th grader.
      Always know you are enough. You are whole. You arrive to every setting complete with your own set of gifts to offer, even if you offer them quietly, gently or two days later. I think as we get older we learn to give less importance to what others think. It’s wonderfully liberating. I’m glad you are comfortable in your own skin. A beautiful thing.

  6. Wow, you have really written exactly what I feel. Just yesterday at work (I’m in sales, and work with two strong extroverts) I was a little at the end of my rope – tired from the week, low on energy resources, and finding it hard to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and speak up, or even think clearly. Which is why most of the day I felt entirely inadequate and ten times more so after a brief meeting with the extroverts ( my boss and my colleague.) I am learning, though, about my own good, strong qualities that are different but equal to my co-workers’ strengths. I have doubts nearly every day that I’m in the right job for me, but the more I learn about myself the better I feel and the more hopeful I am about finding the right place. Many thanks to you and all the other introverts out there who are making themselves heard and giving the rest of us hope and relief that we are just fine!

    • Bravo for figuring out what you, as an introvert, add to the mix. We are the priestly advisors, the ones who can concentrate and the ones who form long lasting relationships. You are amazing and as Brenda Ueland (my writing hero) says, You are incomparable!

      Pay attention to that little voice questioning whether you are in the right place. You probably aren’t if you have constant doubt. Notice where your heart sings and where time flies then follow that energy to somewhere where you won’t feel inadequate. There is somewhere right for you.

      Thank your for sharing your experience. I can absolutely relate.

  7. I love you post and totally relate. I am in sales and I often felt inferior to my extrovert counterparts. I am just as good as they are but I struggle sometimes in impromptu role playing sessions. I do very well in planned presentations. Any advice?

    • As an introvert I bet you’re a good listener. I would play up that strength with your clients. I have learned that I am good at creating strong meaningful relationships. Relationships are the cornerstone of sales. Focus on building and gathering solid relationships rather than speedy, witty rapport. I had a hard time with impromptu role playing in my family mediation training course, so I understand where you are coming from. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts.:)

  8. I loved your post and could really relate. As a mature age student studying counselling the traits you listed were exactly me. Although it takes me some time to get through things I do get there. I tend to procrastinate and often spend a lot of time dreaming.One thing I do find fascinating are people and how they come to be who they are. I like to observe and take in my surroundings. Not often knowing where I belong and questioning myself as a person it is times like this that I need my space to think. Thank you for a fabulous post…

    • I applaud you for going back to school and studying counseling. I have thought about doing that many times but was too daunted by the time commitment. I also think people are fascinating. I could sit for hours listening. I also love to show people how they shine.

      Take your space and use it to be your best self. Daydreaming is the best! I think we get our best ideas when idle.

      Best of luck to you. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  9. Pingback: I’d Rather Not Compete With You:For Introverts or Anyone Who Prefers Excellence Over Dominance | space2live

  10. Fantastic post. You really struck a chord with me, especially the shift in feeling of incompetence. I’ve not read about introverts in this way before and helps to explain so much. Soft edges wins hands down for me. Found you through LifeRevelation. Best wishes, Rob

    • Thank you Rob. I am so happy you found space2live. Stephen at LifeRevelation is a great soul and I appreciate him reblogging my post.
      Over the last few years I have learned a lot about introversion. I feel like I have been given permission to be the real me. It’s ok to need solitude. It’s ok to need time to think before I respond. It’s how I’m wired and best of all, I’m not alone. Others get overwhelmed by too much stimulation just like me.

      If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s, Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Laurie Helgoe’s, Inrovert Power. They both highlight the gifts of being introspective.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting.:)

  11. Congratulations for getting through the program Brenna. Change and new vistas can be destabilizing for us but I’ve found slow and steady is deeper, more satisfying and ultimately a rewarding path forward. Thanks for your post.

    • Thank you David. I have a deep love for learning and like you, I enjoy taking it all in at a manageable pace. I like to savor the whole experience. We’ll see what I can do with my training.:) Gathering and studying knowledge is so satisfying for me but I know applying it is what makes me expand. Every time I stick my toe outside the comfort zone I get a little stronger. Here we go!

  12. Reblogged this on LifeRevelation and commented:
    Brenna has consistently written well thought out, intelligent, reasonable posts full of wisdom and just plain common sense. Throughout her many posts I’ve read I have found her to be gifted at saying what I feel. Her words not only strike an intellectual note, but they are carried on the current of Spirit and Soul. Please enjoy reading.

    Be encouraged!

    • Thank you Stephen. There is no better compliment than, “You say what I feel”. That is a writer’s goal, yes? To draw out the universal meanings and feelings, to connect us all in some way.:)
      I’m a big fan of Spirit and Soul and LifeRevelation. Keep on writing and I’ll keep reading your work Stephen. Thanks again for reblogging.

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