You want to change the world. You want to make a positive change. At your funeral, you want people to talk about how you made a difference (while showing charming pictures of you taken from a flattering angle). But what if you’re a huge introvert and the mere thought of going out makes you go: “Mehhh, I’d rather watch TED-talks in bed about how others are changing the world. Maybe next week.” Then next week comes and you are still on your couch/reading a book/knitting a scarf/thinking about how one day you will make a difference.
Well, first of all, I feel you. The good news though: there is hope. This post is for if you’re a unicorn (read: want to spread rainbows and glitters and make people smile), yet don’t want to lose your magic powers (read: energy) in your secret attempt to save the world.
1. Do most of the work by yourself
It’s not that you don’t like playing with the other kids. It’s just that it’s only fun to you when 1. They’re awesome people and 2. It’s for a limited amount of time. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
For my paper crane project, I folded most of the origami cranes in my home, over the course of a year. Almost all the work was done with little to no interaction with other people: folding, writing and cutting the notes, filming on top of my roof, editing, and leaving many cranes in public places rather than giving them face to face. Most of the work you’ll be doing doesn’t even feel like changing the world. It feels like playing with paper, drinking coffee while staring at your computer, and using your scissors. If you take on a project in which most of the work can be done in the comfort of your home, it can feel a lot less intimidating to actually carry out.
2. Leave your creations behind, rather than interacting with people
There are a million ways to create street art installations, do random acts of kindness or go on magical missions. There are tons of ideas in which you can actively engage with other people. Still, I find that with most of the projects I do, I prefer to leave things behind rather than actively engage with others.
For example I will doodle on bananas and sneak them back into the supermarket, leave secret peanut messages or write anonymous valentine cards. It’s not like I never look for ways to interact. I personally handed out many of my paper cranes and I rang the doorbell of my unknown neighbours to surprise them with homemade cookies. But, I am aware that the first examples come a lot easier and more natural to me than the last ones. One isn’t better than the other. They are simply different forms of sharing your gifts with this world.
3. If you do interact with people, write your core message on a piece of paper
Sometimes people come up to me on the street and ask me why I’m doing something. I never have a clear answer. Even though I have a clear and profound vision for why I do the things that I do, it tends to come out better when I write than when I speak.
Each origami crane I gave away had a note, saying: “I folded 1000 paper cranes. This is one of them. It is for you. Because sometimes it can be hard to show people you care about them, especially if you don’t know them. I hope you have a great day.” Partly that was just for practical reasons: being able to quickly hand out paper cranes, and no need to stop people in their tracks for explanation. Mostly it was because I wanted to be sure that people grasped my intention, even though I hadn’t talked to them. I wanted to make sure that they knew it was a heartfelt gift from me to them. I could have tried to verbally explain my project to every single person. That didn’t seem practical, nor fun to me. When I’m out on the street and a thousand things are happening, my introvert brain is on overload. I might not be able to find the right words in such a context. It felt as a relief to know that no verbal explanation of my project was needed to at least grasp the core. I’m pretty sure it was an introvert who invented writing. Use it to your advantage.
4. Scout your surroundings
If it helps you, you could scout the area before you actually go out with your project. You may discover that a certain crossing always has dozens of people watching your every move. Or a certain bus stop is practically abandoned at 10 in the morning. Especially when it’s one of your firsts missions, it might help to pick some spots where there aren’t too many people (but enough to find your creations). That way you can slowly build up your potential interactions to match your level of self-awareness.
5. It’s OK to not carry out all your awesome extrovert ideas
I have so many kindness related ideas. I had grand ideas for interviewing people and making movies while I was travelling through Asia, I still have this idea to build a compliment booth and position myself on a Tuesday morning somewhere between the vegetable guy and the fabric merchant on the market to give people free compliments. I want to take my golden chair outside and let people have their 15 minutes of fame and royalty. And I’m sure that you can come up with many ideas of your own if you try.
One of the reasons I haven’t done any of these yet, is because the mere thought of them makes my energy level go down. I still have hope to carry these projects out in a sudden burst of enthusiasm and energy. But I don’t beat myself up for not doing them. Taking an afternoon to spread some cynical motivational quotes is a lot easier. It also doesn’t require any extra help from others.
So it’s great to have many ambitious ideas. But don’t let them intimidate you to a point where you’re stuck. If your idea is too big and too scary, pick something smaller to start with.
6. Embrace the awkward
You are going to feel awkward when making street art or leaving kind messages, period. That’s simply the result of doing things nobody else seems to do. Feeling awkward isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sign of growth. It means you’re doing things that you don’t feel comfortable with. Virtual high five for that. I still feel very self conscious every time I go out on one of my magical missions.
7. Your introversion is not an excuse to not take action
By now you’ll know that this is not a post to give you leverage for inaction. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Your introvert personality can never be an excuse to not go out and change this world for the better. Yes, being an introvert may make a difference in what ways you choose to do so. But even then it can be good to break through your comfort zone every now and then. And if you’re sick and tired of hearing that, well, I’m sorry. I believe it’s simply part of your personal growth process. Part of trying to change things for the better will always cost you energy. You can try to reduce the energy it takes, but it’s impossible for it to take no energy at all.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you ever struggle with wanting to make a difference?
September 22, 2015 at 15:02
What an awesome post! I felt immediately encouraged to do some little streetart after reading. I totally understand what you mean by the uncomfortable feeling you have when you want to do something in the streets that not everybody does. I used to do pasteups a while ago but now I can’t really motivate myself to start again. But your post reminded me how much fun this actually is and the great feeling it leaves behind that you did some change – so thank you so much for that! :) Already looking forward to your next encouraging update!
Wish you all the best ideas
September 22, 2015 at 15:19
I’ve never done pasteups myself actually. Might give it a try some day. What kind of messages/images were you spreading? I’m curious to hear!
September 23, 2015 at 12:44
Such a great post! I definitely feel that I can oscillate wildly in how comfortable I feel doing certain things – I can dance and sing in the street for no reason if I’m with the right group of friends, but then get stressed about going up to someone and telling them I love their outfit. I always try to remember how lovely I find it to get compliments from a stranger (as long as they are not a lecherous man…) so I can have the confidence to do it.
Have you read “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”? It’s very illuminating, particularly in how it shows that people who are introverted can still be highly sociable and successful in their interactions with others.
September 23, 2015 at 17:39
Yes it can be strange to see the amount of confidence you get simply from being around people you like and trust. You can use that to your advantage in your adventures though. Quiet is still on my to-read list. My library has it but every time it is out (I already checked 3 times).
October 11, 2015 at 07:16
No one can do it better than you.
October 13, 2015 at 09:50
Ahh thanks. Although I think anyone can do this if I can ;)