The pandemic has forced all of us to pause our life for a bit. It gave us a rare chance to rethink almost every aspect of our life. More than ever, it put us in a situation where we explored our relationship with self. It may have driven many people crazy but on the other hand, it was actually a disguised opportunity for introverts such as me. By no means do I want to undermine the tough times that a large proportion of people have faced. I am highly disturbed by the inequalities and agony around. I have also gone through range of emotions in dealing with unpredictability and isolation myself. However, I am fortunate in the sense that I fared relatively better in this crisis. There is guilt associated with that as well, but that topic is for another day.
Not hoping to come across as insensitive, I wanted to write about the reflective and enriching experience during the pandemic. My experience was influenced by my introversion, in addition to my privilege. Being an introvert, I enjoy solitude. It brings me peace. Introversion is a very interesting topic for me and thought it is a good time to express my thoughts on the subject. I don’t intend to start a debate between introversion or extraversion; I just feel there is need to create more awareness and positive sentiment around introversion in our society. Over the years, I have been judged in many ways regarding my introverted nature. Mostly, it has negative connotations but lately it has been glamorized too – which frankly works for me (feels like my time is here now haha!) and that is why I am even able to write openly about it.
Through the pandemic, I realized that my introversion also helped me sail through the tough times better. I should confess that I have been actually enjoying the boundary-less time with my mind. Solitude is, in fact, quite beneficial to the human mind and has led to great ideas. There are several examples of that in history and current times. Many thought leaders have capitalized on their introversion (Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Obama, Einstein, Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Sadly, I cannot recollect any Indian example which points out to the stigma against introversion there or maybe just my lack of knowledge).
It would be fair to say that on an average, we are conditioned to think of introversion negatively. Mainly due to media and social pressure. It starts right from childhood where people think that something is wrong with a quiet kid. Early on, you need to make your presence felt in the room by charming adults. Otherwise, you will go unnoticed. People are rarely fascinated by a quiet child. I remember always pushing myself to be more outgoing just to fit in, to be liked by others. I distinctly remember a job interview in my undergrad that I was really excited about. There was an informal session before the interviews and one of the company representatives criticized to my face about my quiet nature. She commented why are you so quiet…as if something was wrong with me. Told me that if I am that quiet, there is no way I could get a job there. Flustered, I tried harder to be more chatty, to fit in. I did not get that job and in the hindsight, I am glad about that. It would be years before I learn that the field of business heavily favors extraversion.
An introvert woman in the Indian society faces a hard time too. Indian culture is generally loud and boisterous. It is fun but it is definitely not accepting of all personality types. Women constantly feel the need to be super agreeable, always having something nice to comment in every situation.
I experienced a new level of mental freedom and acceptance in the US. It is here that I found the space to be my true self, discover my voice and not get ridiculed as much. There is still significant bias towards extraversion in the US and corporate America. Many traditional processes are still biased. For example, interview processes naturally screen out introverts. But I am fortunate to be in a city and a workplace that is certainly much more inclusive than what I have ever experienced. I also came across people who are introverts and very comfortable with it. My university professor introduced me to the book, “Quiet” by Susan Cain which made a huge difference in my outlook as well (will highly recommend it). Introverts actually bring many valuable attributes. Being quiet does not mean that introverts do not contribute or speak up where needed. Much the opposite actually. When introverts speak with conviction, it is usually thoughtful and carries a lot of weight. While I have often struggled internally to fit in socially, I have done quite well in school and at work. While I have been on the receiving end of stupid comments, I have also been told that my listening and observation skills, thoughtful and detail-oriented approach, self-awareness and calmness have contributed to the success of complex projects. In my social life, my introverted personality has helped me develop close and dependable relationships. Perhaps, introversion was also a factor in sustaining our 6.5 years of long distance relationship (my hubby is an introvert too so not taking all the credit here haha!).
I want to reiterate that introversion/extraversion is a spectrum. We may display different dimensions depending on the situation. I feel it is more about self-awareness and identifying your needs rather than defining yourself with a label. There are different degrees of introversion and extraversion in each of us. People often tend to lean one way or the other. As such, advantages of extraversion are well-known. Through this post, I want to highlight that there are various advantages to the introversion qualities within us too and we should not discard those simply to fit in. On countless occasions, I have heard from people that they honestly prefer time alone but they are going to an event/party just for the social approval. I am not suggesting that seeking social approval is always a negative thing, but I am just validating that it is okay to feel a lack of interest in social events for no specific reason; it is okay to feel an urge to stay by yourself. The guilt factor arising from these feelings creates unnecessary self-doubt for introverts but need not be that way.
While some of you will relate with my writing so far, many of you may not. The concept of introversion/extraversion is not set in stone and has varying interpretations even by psychologists. So, I want to share my perspective about what introversion is and is not. I borrowed the following from an online community for introverts called the Introvert Dear (www.introvertdear.com). I found I could resonate with these quite well.
- An introvert is someone who prefers calm, minimally stimulating environments. Introverts tend to feel drained after socializing and regain their energy by spending time alone. This is largely because introverts’ brains respond to dopamine differently than extroverts’ brains. In other words, if you’re an introvert, you were likely born that way.
- Introverts would rather stay home most nights than go out to one social event after another.
- Introverts enjoy quiet, solitary activities like reading, writing, gaming, gardening, or drawing.
- Introverts will usually choose the company of a few close friends over a wild party.
- Introverts do their best work alone.
- Introverts are not necessarily socially awkward. Just like shyness, social awkwardness is a separate trait from introversion. Just to be clear, I don’t feel that even shyness or social awkwardness need to be derided.
- Introverts don’t hate people. An introvert’s lack of chitchat is often misinterpreted. The truth is the opposite. Introverts often avoid small talk because they consider it to be inauthentic. They crave more meaningful connections with the people they talk to.
To conclude, I want to share an advice that a mentor at work gave me. Sometimes, you need to be able to stay comfortable in silence.