We often get consumed in the idea that our expectations are the same as everybody else’s. Growing up, we have a hard time figuring out ourselves and what we’re comfortable to be deep down. It’s difficult enough to come to the realization that, “the more we know, the more we know we don’t know,” nevertheless accept that thought, and act proactively rather than passively. Right after we start getting the hang of it, we apply our experiences to others, and only our experiences, or the past experiences of those closest to us, the ones that have moved us the most. We also apply others’ experiences to ourselves if it’s new to us. We miss out on, not one, not two, but hundreds of other sides and stories.
I lived most of my life thinking I’m an extrovert. I enjoyed myself being a crazy, out-going, silly, loud person, and I thought I got most of my energy from the people around me, be it my friends or family. I only set aside 10% of my time for reflection about my life and experiences, and I always needed those 10% because that’s when my noisy life finally became quiet. But sometimes I forgot to set aside that alone time, and I ended up crashing and burning, sick for a few days in bed, or completely confused about my life and feeling gloomy.
Living an extroverted life gets you to meet more extroverts, get along really well, and it makes your extrovert circle bigger and bigger, making you think it’s the norm. You feel great because people look up to you, they want to be like you. However, extroversion is not the norm, neither is anything else. And that’s the problem. Being the way you are through the experiences saved up in your conscious and subconscious memories makes you forget that others don’t have to be wrong when they’re different, they can just be different. It also doesn’t mean you’re strange or not living life to the fullest if you’re the opposite. Yes, I know you know that, but I think you really don’t unless you’ve been through it.
A bit over two years ago, I met someone amazing. This personality was totally new to me. I admired his focus, passion and ambition. We got along so well from the very start, and it felt great, because I thought that this person was just like me. I didn’t know though, that this person would turn out to be my exact opposite (or at least what I thought was my exact opposite back then), a complete introvert. I also didn’t know that I would see that as a strength, and learn so much from it. Finally, I didn’t know that someone’s comfort in their own skin could inspire a person who viewed extroversion as the ideal, to come to terms and actually want to be more introverted, even if not fully.
The Extrovert Ideal:
I recently read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I’ve seen and heard great things about the book before I started, but a part of me always used to get offended by the phrase on the outside, “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” What’s that supposed to mean? Is the author implying that extroverts can’t be as intelligent as introverts? Is she implying that I can’t succeed if I wanted to? When I decided to start reading the book and not be cynical about what the cover said, I realized I had already learned countless lessons about both personalities and the things in between, and that was why I gave it a chance, two years after dating an introvert.
After two years of not reading the book, and after I’ve experienced being with an introvert, he and Quiet made me question my whole life, everything I am or was a part of. They made me think about how I deal with people at work, how I initiate learning experiences throughout my team. It helped me recognize why some people could respond to loving things I do differently than others. I’ve reflected on my time in school, university, student activities and workshops I’ve been to. All of those things had one main thing in common: everything is better when it’s more interactive. But now I know that this is what people think is the norm, even though half of them don’t feel good about that. I can’t conclude that my environment imposed the extrovert ideal on me, just like I can’t conclude that it didn’t. All I know is, what I allowed to influence me was very aligned to it, and I lived in fear of becoming anything different, whether it felt good or not.
I used to be terrified of being alone in public, not because of any dangers I might be exposed to, but because I didn’t want people to look at me and judge that I’m a lonely loser (even when I knew I wasn’t). My friends and many acquaintances were my shield, but I didn’t know it back then, I just felt more comfortable about having more friends, rather than closer ones. I did have a balance between both though, and I genuinely enjoyed my company with most of the people I hung out with.
Now, the extroverts reading this might think I am now rooting for introversion just like I thought the author of the book was doing. However, I am only encouraging self love and acceptance. You don’t have to be an introvert, just like you don’t have to be an extrovert. Also, you don’t have to put a label or a percentage at all, you could be a beautiful mixture of zestful solitude as well as the most popular person in that club. Just don’t miss out on your nature thinking that being the party animal is always better than the romantic book reader.
What I Missed by Aligning to the Extrovert Ideal:
- Feeling good about myself when I thought others judged me
I used to claim I didn’t care what others thought of me, but years after growing out of the need to prove that, I learned that I did. I knew I was genuinely nice and lovable, and I knew I had smart interests that could impress others. I just never trusted that part of me, and made myself feel bad if I didn’t know enough people, and didn’t go to all those outings/weddings I got invited to. I always convinced myself that I should go up and confidently introduce myself, even when I knew nothing about the other person. This was my view of working on myself and confidence. When I look back, I feel fortunate to have met great people in the process, but I shouldn’t have beaten myself up if I just didn’t feel like getting to know someone new. I thought I always had to want that.
- Focusing on my passions which are mostly done in solitude
Some people are so extroverted, they’re so good at focusing on people and jobs that require constant communication with everyone around them. This is their type of focus, this is where they excel, and this is what makes them successful. However, success doesn’t have to be set forth through popularity. Success could be translated by commitment, someone who shows up everyday, alone, writing that story or making that drawing. Someone who doesn’t need to be motivated by others to finish their work. It could also be a balance between both to someone who’s in the middle.
- Learning from my past projects by doing them more mindfully
I’ve always filled up my schedule with things I want to do with others, but never with/by myself. I never set aside the time to write, draw, paint, do calligraphy, or anything else I could do on my own, because that to me was a waste of time. I wish I hadn’t overlooked everything I was truly passionate about though, also only because I was fearful of others’ prejudices.
- Lots of places I could have gone to if I hadn’t forced myself into becoming sick
Over-worked and over-stimulated by the loud world around me, I always ended up depleting my energy completely and never sitting down to reflect on where I am or what I’m currently doing. I’ve missed a lot of nice places I could have gone to with others, and a lot of intimacy. I’m happy I’m learning to take breaks and remember I don’t have to show up to that birthday I don’t feel like going to.
Here I am again, reminding you as well as myself to be mindful and live passionately. You don’t have to be the expectation of others, but you don’t have to resist it either. Just let who you are fall into place, you will know you’re there when you feel comfortable. Do things you truly enjoy, whether you’re alone or with others, whether you’re part of a team, or prefer doing that thing alone. Don’t judge the person who wants to sleep at 10pm because they want to wake up at a time when they won’t get distracted by others. Live your life fully, whether that means you’re partying or working. Don’t be afraid of people, they’re just people who have the same thoughts and insecurities you might be feeling at the moment.
Oh, and, I noticed I’ve been trying to become an introvert, when I shouldn’t be trying, so my conclusion is, I’m something in between, and I admire everyone else who’s part of the spectrum.
A lot of the reflections here were inspired by Susan Cain’s Quiet, definitely a book worth reading.