Monday, June 11, 2012

"Sure I can! and so can you"—the introverted artist imagines coping in an exhibitionist's world

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Certain livelihoods require that you maintain a high level of visibility. Maybe your aversion to self-promotion is what's stalling your career advancement or depleting your social cred. The exhibitionists have elbowed you into the shadows. Is it time to pull a chameleon? See their flamboyance and raise them some swagger?

This week I learned that sometimes you might need to let go and stop being so self-contained. Enough of this plodding deliberate approach to life 24/7. But suppose being reserved is simply who you are? Does insisting on "being true to yourself" come at a price? 

"When they're loud, be louder!" a colleague advised me when I muttered about my distaste for the spotlight and the personality types who hog it. My fellow introverts will understand when I say I don't crave the spotlight for its own sake. It's a necessary evil to achieve an end—more clients, buyers, readers and such.

Be louder, moi? Sufferin' succotash, no. It's the unrelenting loudness that irks me. Why would I want to become what I despise? On the other hand, I wasn't put on this earth to be the perennial spectator to someone else's unending performance, either. I've got a song and dance in me, too.

"This stage ain't big enough for both of us."

That's what I hear whenever I'm around the noisy horn-tooters. They may not be aware they're sending that message, but maybe their sensitivity muscles have atrophied from lack of use.

They would venture to say the quiet types are overendowed with sensitivity. And they might be right about us.

The recent exchanges I've had with a member of the Confetti Contingent have gone something like this:

Me: "Could you move your generous arse just a smidge so I can see the parade?"

She: "Dahling, I AM the parade...You know, you'd look attractive if you stood a little straighter. Here, let me show you. I do everything perfectly. Blah-blah-blah-me-me-me-blah-blah-blah. You're doing it all wrong."


She: "Look at me! Look at me! The universe lights up when I show up! It's not a party without me."
Me: (under my breath) "So that would make me, what, chopped liver?"

I am at a loss as to how to co-exist with these people without sustaining lasting damage to my ego. I try to limit my exposure to them if I can help it. Sometimes it's hard to spot them in time.

It's not something to take personally, I know. Plenty of spotlight to go around. The exhibitionist's niche is different from mine. She will draw the stargazers, the ones who want to be dazzled. I hope to attract the ones who can relate to me, who want to learn how to gleam without gold plating.

And even now, writing this, I just realized how hilariously, pathetically unhinged from reality the exhibitionist's my self-image is. The problem is mine. Nobody can be that self-involved. Or can they?

Still, if I could tweak the situation, the quasi-exchange would go something like this:

Me: (not talking. Absorbed in inner world, as usual.)
She: "I am just bursting with ideas! I'll have this place shipshape in no time. I can do this! Oh...and so can you. You have something valuable to contribute. Like, um, experience. Expertise. Jump in anytime."
Me: (still not talking, having been struck dumb)

Update This came out today (July 1, 2012) on Seth Godin's blog:
"Shine is fresh and new and it sparkles. Shiny catches the eye and it appeals to the neophiliac, to the person in search of polish. Patina, on the other hand, can only be earned. Patina communicates trust (because the untrusted don't last long enough to earn a patina) and it appeals to a very different audience."


  1. Great post! Extroverts can feel as invisible as introverts. That's often why they sing and dance, afraid no one will see them otherwise. On personality tests, I score about 50-50 introvert-extrovert. Some days I hide, craving quiet, exhausted by the madding crowd, wanting to create something that makes a difference without shouting "Look at me!" Other days, I sing and dance on stage, waiting until someone hears and replies, "Your song reminds me of my life. Thanks for singing, because I thought I was alone." If we have something to share, we find a way to share it. That doesn't require a loud voice, just a voice. And yours is lovely.

    1. This is what I needed to be reminded of, Cara. The reason we do what we do is never the spotlight, it's the connection. And we don't need a microphone to be heard. Thank you so much.

  2. oooo, love cara's comment ' doesn't require a loud voice, just a voice. and yours is lovely'.

    glad i stopped by. i'm probably on the side of the extrovert, but it's really not about being in the spotlight for me. it's because i love people and love to laugh.

    1. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love extroverts as much as I love dessert. It's the narcissistic exhibitionists that throw me for a loop.

      So glad you stopped by, Pam, and thanks for following!

  3. Scrollwork, I'm with you on the narcissistic exhibitionists. As for me, I plod along, then have moments of pay attention to me, then I'm back to plodding along.

  4. Hi, Donna. That sounds like something I do, too. We need to know we're heard, without having to try so hard. Thank you for visiting!

  5. I hear you. I totally hear you. I totally get every single word you wrote (and wrote so beautifully I might add).

    For a dash of irony: I'm at work right now and I'm wearing earplugs.


    1. Andrew, at 6:21 a.m. the only sounds you must be blocking out are birds, or possibly early morning vacuuming. : ) Oh wait, you're three hours ahead of us.

      Never underestimate how you can change a person's entire outlook in a flash with those powerful words: "I hear you." Suddenly the roiling waters go calm. It's as good as a secret handshake, reaching across cyberspace (and in this case, from your coast to mine).

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  7. It seems as if you added the "I can relate" button because you knew I'd be here reading this.

    I CAN RELATE! My face smacked into this wall when I started blogging. I'm an introvert converted into a 50/50 mix, but my introversion regarding self-promotion has largely remained. Introverts must understand that they have a LOT to offer the world, but that the world can't enter their world without being invited in.

    Self promotion can certainly be grating, but if anyone is going to do it right. It's going to be someone like.... oh.... YOU! :-)

    Great article!


    1. Well hey, Wise Guise, what a surprise! Nope, I didn't expect to see you here, but if you'd like to believe the button was custom-added just for you, I don't have any objections to that. None whatsoev.

      We have to invite the world in? Sure sounds like a lot of work. Hmmphh. Sounds exactly like all the work that just seems to come naturally to exhibitionists. I'm tired just thinking about it. I have no idea why you think I can do self-promotion right. But maybe I'm a little low on sugar right now, because your flattery is working. A little.

      I'm still a big fan of yours. For the benefit of my readers, I'm proclaiming to one and all that your website is....drumroll...

  8. Great post - love your writing style. I am kind of caught somewhere in the inbetween. I am very introverted in that I like to be alone and I will not stand up and shamelessly self promote BUT on the other hand I am very public, I do workshops and public speaking, and sing and so it is difficult for people to understand that even though I do those things, I still like my space. So thank heavens everyone does those posters and quotes cause now I know I am not responsible for any of them. I just have to worry about me ... huge relief ... LOL.