A taboo for some; introversion, or someone who is introverted, has become a kind of naughty word. In school we are now taught to work together and socialize. More and more single desks are being replaced by round, 4 person, open tables in 4th grade math class. Math, writing, and reading class are no longer solitary activities but rather group social environments. Work places encourage working as a team on any one task instead of as an individual.
For others it has become a kind of "cool" label to ignorantly place upon oneself or another person. These people do so without fully understanding introversion, and more importantly themselves.
The thing is, at least from my point of view, introversion isn't really understood on a wide scale. Even harder is to be able to classify someone as introverted or extroverted (or ambiverted) and I feel that many people classify themselves as one or the other incorrectly. Likewise schools and workplaces seem to misunderstand introversion as well. So much that it is often discouraged and labeled as "anti-social."
I don't really like to label myself as one particular thing or another but some labels are accurate whether you like them or not. At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I will confidently say that I see myself as an introverted person.
Introversion isn't a curse nor a gift. It's not a disease and it's not an endowment. Neither is it being shy, or anti-social. Shyness and antisocialism are often labels put upon people who are introverted for lack of understanding. They are different things regardless of whether or not they are often also experienced by an introverted person.
So what is introversion and what is it not?
Simply put, introverted people draw their energy to socialize and interact with others from within themselves. Extroverts,(extravert same thing different spelling) on the other hand, seem to gather their energy from those around them. For example, everyone is having a good time so your mood reflects that. If everyone around you is stressed or just not in a pleasant mood, you are quite sensitive to that and emulate these feelings to an extent. This isn't to say that every time someone is completely bummed so are you, but an extrovert would find it quite hard to be sunny and bright in such a situation. Extroverts are also seen as being very talkative and outgoing, often making conversation with anyone they meet. They do this because that's where their energy comes from. In my case I find it really tough to look and sound like I am sympathizing with a person. I do not normally feel gloomy if someone else does, and I can feel gloomy in the middle of a party. That is just an example... but the point is my energy, my chi if you will, is completely independent of the aura others are giving off. So often when people come to me for advice, my advice can seem cold and indifferent. I really do sympathize with people, but not in the way they are used to.
For those who are introverted it's a bit harder to speak to people because they are their own source of energy. Speaking to someone takes a lot of effort, and at least in my case, it's quite a daunting task to try and have a conversation with people. Because of that we are a little bit more reserved because we want to save that energy for the right conversation...so to speak. I have heard so many times, "I always wanted to talk to you before but you always seemed so stand-offish." Actually, however, it is more likely that I do want to speak with people, but starting a conversation is incredibly hard for me. Imagine if all you could do is speak to one person per day before you just absolutely fell over like you had ran 30 miles. That is quite extreme, but when looking at it like that, you can see why I would rather be very selective in who I speak to.
It's a double edged sword at times though. I can actually be quite a chatty person. I love to have long, deep, one on one conversations with people. At times I start to feel bad for the person I am speaking to. Either because they are too polite to end the conversation, or because they are actually quite into what we are speaking about, I have been known to keep people up way past their bed times. But it really is an exhaustive process. Okay, I am not sweating profusely after I speak to someone, (that happens because I actually do tend to be shy and nervous with new people and has nothing to do with introversion) but the energy expended in having a conversation with someone actually does make me physically and mentally tired. Because I choose to save this energy until I find the right person to use it on, I often end up not speaking to anyone at all. This is a bit disappointing because I am sure there are more introverted people like myself out there who enjoy having conversations, but we simply cannot find anyone to speak to. I am sure that more times than not our body language and quiet demeanor gives the sense that we don't wish to be bothered at all. Usually that is not the case at all and is quite far from the truth. With that being said, think twice about the quiet person sitting the next table over from you. It's more likely that they really do want to speak with you than you may think. Help them out and say, "Hello," you never know what kind of friend you will make. Introverted people can be some of the most intelligent people you will ever meet because we spend a lot of time thinking through things.
Back to the way we discourage introversion though. It's actually quite sad to discourage people who are more inclined to work on projects by themselves. I have a very hard time with this. Some of the best work a human being is capable of comes from being left to their own devices with an issue or idea. True, there is value in group work, but I am much more comfortable working a problem out by myself. I value other opinions and ideas, but at the end of the day I need to be left alone to concentrate. So why on applications and interviews are we forced to paint ourselves out to be the person who works great in a group environment? Why must we all be machines and think alike? Why must we assimilate into the workplace? Instead, let's learn to value a person who can solve a problem by way of peaceful solitude.
When I was younger I did not know I was such an introverted person. Looking back now it would make sense though. When I was in high school I only had very few friends even though many people seemed to like what I had to say about things. At lunches I would usually hang out with just one person and stay away from the crowds of people as much as possible. After I graduated so many people started telling me they always wanted to speak to me but I was "too quiet," or, "scary," whatever that meant. I think it just came from me being reserved which may have been perceived as arrogance. Now that I am older it has not gotten much better. In fact it has gotten worse because I am no longer forced into a whole class room full of chatty teenagers. Classrooms now are my worst enemy. I know there are so many intellectuals in my college courses I would love to have a conversation with, but I cannot simply gather the energy. If by chance friendships do form, they are often not kept because of my lack of socialization with said person. Not many people understand why I can't go out to the club every Friday night, or go out with a bunch of friends every night. My comfort is going out to dinner with just one person and having a long conversation. Even then, however, I cannot do that very often.
My first job out of high school was a call center. Now, saying what I just said, you can probably figure out that this was one of the worst jobs for me. I am not joking when I say that I had nightmares where I had to answer calls. That is a serious statement, the nightmares were so bad that they would wake me up at night. I didn't understand it, but now I do. For one I was forced to speak to hundreds of complete strangers in an eight hour day. We were encouraged to seek out help from coworkers we had never met before when we were stuck, and group events like potlucks were in some ways mandatory. I realize now that I was under a lot of stress in this type of environment. I was doing exactly what my body and mind were telling me not to do. I am sure there are plenty of introverts who have overcome this or do not feel the same, and to them I have to say, "You are much stronger than I am." I did try though, and not just once either. At first I thought it was just that particular call center. So later down the line I tried another... and another... all with the same result. Being asked to answer that phone was like asking me to stab myself over and over again. I'm really not kidding about any of this, it may be hard to understand but believe me this is all true.
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about the way I am. It has taken me a long time to arrive at this conclusion. I have only done so because I have learned a lot about myself and I am quite comfortable with the knowledge obtained. There are many people out
there who have overcome their introversion, at least enough to obtain
the relationships or status they need and want. I know I am no exception to the
case, I just have no need or desire yet to do so. Sometimes it is a little tough though. I like being inside my own head, but sometimes my thoughts need to be shared. That is precisely why I have this blog.
Thank you for reading.