The other night I went to an entrepreneur meet-up here in San Antonio, led by a man named Rick, who has built and sold multiple 7-figure companies. He has been a leader and entrepreneur here in San Antonio for over a decade.
You could tell Rick was a natural extrovert. He was clearly in his element being in front of a big crowd of people, and he was undeniably charismatic. He could have been selling water to fish, and the fish would have seriously considered the proposition.
I chatted with him briefly afterward, and we arranged to get coffee the following day.
Although my intention mainly was to pick his brain and understand his background as a business owner, it wasn’t until two hours into our conversation that I found myself taken aback by what I learned.
“I don’t usually talk this much,” he said, almost sheepishly, after realizing how long we had been talking.
“You’re kidding, right? I saw you get in front of an entire room and speak comfortably and eloquently yesterday evening. I honestly don’t believe you.”
He continued to explain that he was actually very much an introvert, preferring his books, thoughts, and headphones on any given day.
I was shocked. How did he fake it so well?
I learned this, among other things over the next hour. Although the topic of introversion was hardly the reason I wanted to grab coffee with him, as a fellow introvert, I took away so much insight from that conversation on the introverted personality type alone.
It was reassuring to see someone so clearly successful, who struggled with the same self-identified “weakness” that I had.
Also, in pondering and observing his journey as an entrepreneur, I was able to quickly see why introversion wasn’t a weakness of his, as he used to think when he was much younger, but was actually a real, rare strength.
What is introversion?
Accordingly to the dictionary, introversion is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.”
I start with the textbook definition of introversion, because in our society, there are many biases for and against different personality types. People oftentimes gravitate toward extroverts and use “introvert” as a four-letter word when describing others. Susan Cain refers to this social norm as the “extrovert ideal” in her book Quiet.
Introversion is not necessarily how you engage with the world around you – it’s how you recharge from it. That’s the most basic way to understand the difference between the two personality types: extroverts are rejuvenated by their interactions with people and introverts are rejuvenated by one-on-one interactions or their inner worlds.
This is why, as in Rick’s case, you can’t always tell when someone is introverted or extroverted. Because regardless of how you see them interact with the world around them, you have no idea if they are being rejuvenated by those interactions or need recovery from them.
Now, what are some hidden strengths of introverts, especially as an entrepreneur? Here are just a few:
1. Driven by conscience
“When I meet someone, I can immediately tell if that person is a good person or isn’t.”
Introverts have a natural connection to that gut instinct, but more importantly, they listen to it. Being very comfortable in their inner worlds, introverts do not question their intuition that guides them, telling them when something is right or wrong.
Because introverts are very connected to their sense of what’s right, they are more often driven by their conscience than by confidence, unfounded or not.
Along the same lines, many introverts identify with being “highly sensitive.” This is a personality trait common to many introverts that can “promote future altruism, personal responsibility, adaptive behavior in school, and harmonious, competent, and prosocial relationships with parents, teachers, and friends.”
As a gym owner, you are the gatekeeper for your culture.
As an introvert, quickly and accurately understanding who is a good fit for your gym and who isn’t is going to allow you to protect your culture and also your sanity. Whereas some extroverts might choose to “win them over,” many introverts avoid that heartache (and time sump) off the bat. They can quickly discern if someone is a good fit, and they won’t waste their time forcing someone to be someone they simply aren’t.
2. Speaks deliberately
“You’re a kung-fu ninja. You don’t say much, but when you do, it’s a kick in the balls.”
An introvert doesn’t use words as a gesture, s/he uses words to deliver a message.
As described in Quiet, when in group settings, introverts “contribute only when s/he believes s/he has something insightful to add, or honest-to-God disagrees with someone.” So when an introvert decides to finally say something, s/he has already determined that whatever s/he has to say will provide insight and be useful.
In the fitness industry, there’s a fine line between the business side and the personal side. This is one of the biggest challenges in our industry. When dealing with people on a personal level or when coaching, it’s important to have that emotional intelligence and deal with situations on a case-by-case basis, fundamentally appreciating that no two people are alike.
However, when running a business, it’s completely different. Dealing with clients on a case-by-case basis, offering unique solutions (and prices) for individuals is a recipe for disaster. If you’re more concerned about making people feel good than you are taking care of your business, the integrity of your business will eventually erode.
As a business owner, what you say goes.
I get it. Some days it doesn’t feel like that. 🙂 But at the end of the day, it’s your gym and your product. Getting very clear on who you are and what you stand for will make it undoubtedly clear to your clients.
3. Acts deliberately
Once an introvert decides to act, it is after much consideration and objective thought.
In Quiet, Cain describes the difference between introverts and extroverts, generally speaking.
“[E]xtroverted clients are more likely to be highly reward-sensitive, while the introverts are more likely to pay attention to warning signals. […] They protect themselves better from the downside. […] Introverts, in contrast, are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward–to kill their buzz, you might say–and scan for problems.”
University of Wisconsin psychologist Joseph Newman elaborated, “As soon as they get excited, they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases.”
Part of the reason why this is the case is because introverts are better “at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.”
Success as a gym owner is 100% about the long-game, not the short-game.
I’ve seen many gym owners get carried away with ideas that are awesome in the moment but not sustainable in the long-term. Whether it’s dropping your hard-earned profit on equipment you don’t need (yokes) or thinking that coaching more classes make you a better gym owner, these short-term decisions are a recipe for burn out.
Finances, projections, metrics, processes, sustainability…. it’s all the boring stuff right? Like it or not, the boring stuff is crucial, and introverts inherently understand this. Growth doesn’t happen overnight, and those who lose patience will bow out of the game before they even get a chance to live out the vision that brought them in the game to begin with.
So now that we can understand some of the strengths introverts bring to the table, the real question is…
How does he “do” it?
How does Rick come off so charismatic and vocal, when really, he would prefer not to be?
Rick shared a story about how, years ago, he completely bombed a speech he gave to students at the Cox School of Business at SMU.
When a mentor later checked in with him to see what happened, Rick shook his head, “I just was off that day for some reason. I don’t know why.”
His mentor told Rick, very frankly, that his “veil of humility” wasn’t serving anyone.
This was a wake-up call.
The students in that class came to listen to Rick speak because they wanted to hear about his years of experience as a business owner and educator. He had so much knowledge to offer, and predictably, they wanted to learn from him.
Underselling what he had to offer because he was afraid of bragging was doing everyone a disservice.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, there’s something to be said for embracing who you are while gently pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in an aim to better yourself, especially in service for the world around you.
As Marianne Williamson said,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Why are you here?
You didn’t decide to become a gym owner because it was a particularly lucrative endeavor. You came here, more likely than not, because you wanted to make an impact on others. You need to understand what that impact means and what it really looks like, particularly when it comes to what you have to offer.
Along the way, who have you learned from? Who do you look up to? Which gym owner/entrepreneurs do you follow on social media?
Is it because these people refused to share their stories with others that you look up to them? No, it’s the exact opposite. These people humbly acknowledged that the experience and wisdom they gained over the years put them in a position where they could help other people, by offering both their mistakes and successes.
Introverted or not, remember that you are learning and contributing just as much as those around you, and because of that, you have an immense amount to offer both in and out of the gym.
So embrace the quirks.
Know that although you may never be Tony Robbins (because that sounds exhausting), you have unique, natural-born strengths that many others don’t and wish they had.
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