All my life, I have felt a bit of an outsider. I was the odd one out in my family, then at school, then at uni, and I still am at 34. Growing up, I had always noticed that I wasn’t like other people, so I was convinced there was something wrong with me. I then discovered that I had a lot in common with a particular type of character in books, and then with a specific sort of silent, creative, somewhat deep and spiritual people. I wasn’t broken, I was an introvert.
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”
I read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain in 2013. Even though I had dabbled in books and studies about introverts before, this was the reading that I believe sums up perfectly what it is to be an introvert and how the world perceives them. It challenges social behaviours and norms that favour extroverts. It offers advice for people like me who are highly introverted, and it was the book that finally convinced me to stop trying to act more like an extrovert (something I was doing without much success, might I add) and accept myself for who I am.
“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”
This paragraph is a very accurate description of what it feels like to be an introvert. If you’re not one of them, it may be difficult to comprehend how the world around us puts a strain on our wellbeing, simply because we’re offered fewer opportunities to reach our true potentials.
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
Most of the people who ever knew me noticed how little I talk. It’s not something difficult to notice because when small talk fills you with a sense of desperation, you don’t find gossiping particularly attractive, you don’t like to talk on the phone, and generally only open your mouth to communicate what needs to be communicated in as few words as necessary, people will indeed feel the need to hear your voice more often. Except I don’t feel like using my voice more often. Give me a blank Word page and I’ll tell you my opinions, but otherwise, no thank you.
“Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
There are people who can’t express themselves orally, and it’s not fair for society to treat them as less than. It’s not that we don’t have opinions or we’re not funny (some of us will crack you up actually), but since introverts don’t find it comfortable to speak too much in general and dread talking to people they don’t know well, the general consensus is that we’re boring individuals, wallflowers whose existence is rather pointless. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and Susan Cain elaborates on the subject brilliantly.
“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”
Introverts have a hard time dealing with the fear of missing out. For example, I have only been on a night out to the club once in my life, and it was a horrible experience. When I travel, I only go to museums and other attractions where they sell tickets, and eat street food and very rarely muster up the courage to try a restaurant where you have to talk to people and have your food brought to the table. I don’t interact with locals if it’s not necessary, even though I find foreign cultures fascinating. I don’t have what you’d call a social life, and I have never stopped to pet a cute puppy in the park, even though small dogs melt my heart.
You would see why from time to time I’d panic over the fact that my life goes by and I am a mere spectator. The thing is, I am actually comfortable and happy the way I am, but society taught me that you’re supposed to do things a certain way, and I don’t always have the strength to ignore the noise and enjoy being myself. “Quiet” taught me that it’s all right to feel like this – accepting who I am is a process, and it involves dealing with a mix of fears and emotions that are often difficult to juggle. Being hard on yourself never helps. The quote below should be pinned to every introvert’s fridge:
“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”