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My bumpy road to discovering I am an introvert

Woman reading

From an early age, I knew there was something about me -- my personality, my temperament -- that differentiated me from my peers. I just didn't know what it was. I sensed I was more retiring, less hungry for attention, and more at ease in solitude than most people. 

Now that I'm an adult and comfortable in my introversion, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm proud of my uniqueness, and every introvert on this page ought to be as well. 

That isn't to say the road to self-awareness has been an easy one. 

Whether at school or work, I've lost count of the number of people over the years who've either questioned or criticized my quiet, unassuming disposition. 

In the workplace, supervisors and co-workers have pulled no punches with their biting sarcasm, saying things like "Hey, keep it down over here. You're too loud!"

For whatever reason, it makes some folks uneasy when there's someone at work who keeps to themselves. They might suspect they're hiding something, or assume the person doesn't like them. 

What they might not realize is that introverts tend to be quiet across the board. It isn't as if we're chatty and boisterous with Mark from accounting while volunteering only a few words with those in our own department. We, in fact, tend to be consistent in our introversion, at least until we grow to trust the person. And even then we might still keep our distance.

The same dynamic plays out in school. Quiet, introverted kids might as well slap a bullseye on their backs because teachers and fellow peers alike have a knack for singling out children who'd rather quietly focus on their work than chit-chat the afternoon away.

I'll never forget the day that my 10th grade Spanish teacher asked if I wanted to participate in a study that her colleague was conducting. I don't remember the specifics, but they were apparently studying depression, antisocial tendencies, and other conditions in children. 

Had I done anything to give off a "I am depressed" vibe? Not at all. I frequently socialized with several kids in the class. But because of my introspective nature, I suppose she thought I was more likely to suffer from mental health problems than my more extroverted counterparts. 

Sadly, the Spanish teacher's assumptions were hardly unique. Other people over the years, too, seemed to infer that because I enjoyed my alone time and was less reactive to or stimulated by stimuli around me that I must be troubled in some way.

But what they didn't realize -- and, mind you, what I failed to realize for a long time myself -- was that I was more stimulated by what was happening inside of me.

I observed that I had far less of a problem being left to and alone with my thoughts than others around me. I could work up scenarios in my head -- some realistic, others less so -- around anything from the girl in school that I liked to my favorite superhero cartoon.

In school, I enjoyed delving deep into the subject matter. But what set me apart from some of my classmates was that I also enjoyed learning new things in my spare time -- a habit that continues to this day. When I was in elementary school, it was primarily dinosaurs. Now it's psychology and history. And it isn't as if I had a mentor per se who instilled this in me. While my mom has always encouraged me to excel in my studies, this passion for learning on the side was cultivated on my own. 

As I grew older, I began to feel more comfortable in my skin, especially after I learned what introversion meant. No, I wasn't awkward, antisocial, snobby, or any other of those tired labels people attach to us. 

I was simply wired differently. As an introvert, I drew energy from within -- from my thoughts. This explained why I became so exhausted in crowds. Why, after a day of heavy social interactions, I would have to retreat into a world of silence, at least until I felt my batteries were fully charged. 

It isn't that introverts don't enjoy conversing and having a good time with friends and family.  We just rather do it in smaller chunks. This means smaller groups of 2-3 people, with a few breaks in between. And if it's a lengthy social function, we may be calling it a night a bit early. 

I've never been one to have lots of friends. But that is also characteristic of introverts, as we value quality over quantity in virtually everything. Two to five close friendships more than suffice for us. We realize that the more people in our lives, the more likely it is that some of those relationships will tend toward the superficial. 

And when it comes to romantic relationships, we can often be slow to disclose our feelings, whether because of shyness or the fear of getting hurt/rejected. But once we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, we give it our all. I can't speak for every introvert, but I have always been a huge romantic, going so far as to write poems for my love interests. 

Sadly, our society makes introversion out to be something that needs correcting. In the workplace, it's the extroverts boasting of their skills and accomplishments who land the coveted promotions. Take note of all the job listings that pepper in keywords like "team player" and "outgoing." Introverts would much rather sit in their corner and let their work do the talking. 

At school, the outspoken kids who are heavily involved in extracurricular and social activities tend to overshadow the introverts, even if the latter have higher academic marks.

But none of this means introverts need to fix anything about ourselves. We simply bring a different set of gifts to the table. We're deep thinkers, armed with a sharp eye for detail. We're inquisitive and research-driven, great with words and numbers. And we can hatch some of the most creative ideas you've never heard. Just ask self-admitted introverts like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. 

Both introverts and extroverts can co-exist in a world that seems to favor the latter. But it's time for schools and businesses to reassess what they prize in pupils and candidates. It's time for them to stop peddling the notion that everyone needs to aspire to extroversion, as if it were the blueprint for a happy life.  It's time to stop using schmooze, bluster, and braggadocio as benchmarks for success. 

As an introvert, I embrace my inner "wiring" wholeheartedly, and I encourage all other fellow introverts to do the same. Celebrate the fact that your temperament makes you unique. Even if you're not the life of the party, you can still engage in deep conversations, put out great work, and cultivate enriching relationships. As long as you're happy with who you are, who is anyone to tell you to change? Take pride in your introversion - Introvert Pride. 


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