My co-worker and I are the same age and always joke about being the “old farts” in the office as we will both be turning 30 within a month of each other in 2017. It was suggested by another co-worker that we go on vacation somewhere to celebrate. I love to travel and explore new places, so I considered it, until my two extroverted co-workers shouted “Las Vegas!”
This was just another moment where I had to question myself: “Why am I such an outcast?” I prefer silence over chatter at work. My nerves are on overdrive when my boss assigns me a speaking role in a meeting without any details of what to say while my other co-workers can “wing it” without any preparation or practice. Now I couldn’t even agree on Las Vegas. Everyone is supposed to love that place.
Here I was, preferring a place of seclusion, such as my parents land up north that they recently purchased, or the solitary Yorkshire moors in England, or the breathtakingly beautiful Alaska. Las Vegas was the last place in the world I wanted to visit again. My one-night stay in 2010 was enough for me to know it wasn’t my kind of city. I couldn’t justify sitting in a casino to just watch others gamble away their money. There was no way I’d gamble even a dollar to lose on bad luck.
There is this cultural ideal in America (and in most of the world) that extroversion is what people should strive for: at our jobs, in the classroom, with our friends and romantic partners. Extroverts are known as the more “likeable fellow,” as author Susan Cain puts it in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” But what’s so wrong with the introverts? The answer, you will find, is nothing. We are just programmed a little differently, and you need to learn to respect us, too.
“Quiet” covers every aspect of introverts vs. extroverts from biological to cultural. Susan Cain has written a section for everyone: parents, teachers, children, lovers, scientists, psychologists and anthropologists.
Since high school, I have forced myself into being more extroverted over fear I’d never succeed in life without an outgoing personality. Over the last 15 years now (man, I’m getting old), I’ve worked myself on overdrive to be the best extrovert I could be for the sake of my career, friendships, romantic partners, and good grades.
I’d beaten myself up for worrying too much about EVERYTHING: nervous shakes before interviewing a source for an article, stomach flips when a professor puts me in the spotlight, unsure how to respond properly to a compliment, etc. Why couldn’t I play it off as though these things were easy for me to adapt to like everyone else? Because I am different.
I am an introvert.
By the end of my college career, I’d gotten used to lying to myself about who I was. I started drinking alcohol to enjoy an overabundance of conversation with a group of people in a small area, I took dance lessons to get over my fear of looking like a fool at parties, I convinced myself I preferred the bar scene with all of my friends over the stay-at-home-and-read-a-book time. While I genuinely did learn to love all of these activities, a part of me always felt a little lost. Sometimes I really did just want to stay at home and read, or binge watch TV, or lock myself in my bedroom and crank my music for hours and hours.
So why did I work so hard to convince myself there was something better I could be doing with my time?
I had forgotten my language of quiet, and the importance of it for my health.
Cain explains that introverts are the majority in Asian countries, while Europe and North America are overrun by mostly extroverts. In our society, we believe that being in the spotlight is the only way to get noticed and get ahead in life. But some of us are getting burnt out with this ideal, and we’re lying to ourselves.
This year I didn’t make a new year’s resolution, but I promised myself I would go back to doing the things I wanted to do, like take it easy on the weekends, enjoy my solitude with my cat and novels or go on thoughtful walks/jogs. I didn’t realize until after I’d read “Quiet” that I was taking back control of my true self.
I have always mentally divided my life into two parts:
1. Before high school
2. After high school
Sometimes I find myself saying, “Hm, I’ve been more of my high school self lately.” I never really knew what I meant by that, but I always considered my high school self as “the better me.” The kinder, careful, more relaxed and self aware version of myself. In college there were days I had to work extra hard to calm myself and avoid a full on panic attack. Now I realize I had been forcing myself into a social situation overload for so long that the stress of it all was finally catching up with me. I had stopped considering who I was and what my needs were. I was just doing what I had to do to succeed and survive in this world.
There were nights I would come home from an eight-hour day of classes (I was required to participate in, of course), followed by attending a presentation I had to write about for the campus newspaper, followed by meetings for student organizations I ran, and finally back home where I would collapse on my bed for a solid minute, only to get a friend’s text message to join them out at the bar (which I always did). Cheers to doing it all over again the next day!
Susan Cain’s book has given me pride in the introvert I am:
- I get my energy by being alone, not in large social settings.
- As much as I love the occasional party, it will leave me exhausted and I will need to take the entire next day to recover (sorry).
- I will always prefer gardening over hosting my friends at home or reading a novel over answering your phone call or returning your text message (but you’re still important to me).
- While I will never turn down a live music concert to support my friends (it’s an extrovert hobby I could never give up), I will only stay out passed my bedtime on the weekends.
- I will always want to choose my novel over your invitation, but I’m very happy to make an appearance for a few hours (I will leave when I’ve maxed out).
I have learned how to speak my language of quiet again, and I hope every introvert can find their way back, too.