Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Introversion

(saved off Tumblr, home of the Introverts, and I've lost the source)

Everyone, I'm an introvert. I always have been. When I was a kid, I was painfully shy--like, to the point of being literally terrified of talking to people in authority, of being so nervous about things like talking in front of people that I never raised my hand in class and would let other pick on me without saying anything because being picked on quietly was better than being forced to say outloud, where people could hear me, what was wrong.

As I got older, I got less shy and more confidant. A part of it was a decision I made one day on the bus when I was in ninth grade: I no longer wanted to miss out on things because I was afraid, so I just decided to ignore the fear and act like I wasn't afraid. It had mixed results, but it did teach me how to control social anxiety somewhat by simply acting like it wasn't there. I'm smart. I know how things are supposed to go. Part of it was ICFA, and later Slayage, where people like me wanted to hear what I had to say, and where I learned I can read a paper with the best of them (even if the Q&A is still terrifying).

But I think another part of it was less in my control. There's this idea that I keep running into that there's something wrong with introverts, that they're not right to prefer quieter settings, time alone to think about things, working one on one to massive group things, and so on. I think, and TEDTalks (posted below) agree, that it's because of this shift in recent generations to an ideal of everyone being open and sunny and gregarious all the time. Everyone is supposed to be a TV newscaster at all times, and there's a near total lack of understanding that almost half the population would rather cut off an arm than be forced to network whenever they go out into the world.

But see, there's the problem. You can't change how your brain is wired. Well, if you can, I don't know how to do it, and decades of soul-searching and metacognition have only taught me how to cope, how to pretend really well, and how to function, somewhat, in an extrovert's world. But the older I get, the less I want to. I mean, there are so many books to read. And so many real, meaningful conversations to have with just a handful of people who I really know, rather than a roomfull of people I can't remember the names of, who already obviously have little in common with me. I went to a small college and a smaller grad school because big classes are just heartless distractions to learning. I have just a few close friends, and I keep them for years. And I firmly believe that the unexamined life isn't worth living, but that means I need space and time to examine things.

And you know what? That's fine. Coping and interface skills are necessary, but there is absolutely no reason why I should have to live in a way that gives me ulcers and panic attacks, and there's no reason why anyone else who would rather not has to either. Society needs introverts. We're the ones who write the books, who invent new things, who come up with the ideas that define our generations. Where would the grand American Dream of progress be without these things?

So I'm learning how to just be an introvert. How to not lose social interaction just because rooms full of strangers are horrifying--there are smaller, tighter ways to meet people, and I'm uncovering them. I'm relaxing the shell that I've built up around myself, and allowing myself to know that it's okay if I'm not smiling all the damn time, okay if I don't have anything to say and so just keep my mouth shut. And I'm slowly getting the idea that more people need to hear these things. Which would, eventually, maybe, put me in the spotlight again, but not until I do have things to say, and entirely on my own terms.

How about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

More info:
My Super-Charged Life: Five Top Misconceptions Introverts Battle
My Super-Charged Life: Introvert vs Extrovert

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