If you read the title, yes, this will be about introversion. For those who know me well, it certainly comes as no surprise that this is the topic for today. I am more introverted on the spectrum, though I do concede that this is not a black and white topic. In fact, most folks experience a bit of both worlds in everyday living.
My interest in this topic is nothing new, though it rose from dormancy after watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts,” while on the plane over here. Cain is the author of Quiet (where is the underline tool?), a book that explores the personality of an introvert. If you are interested in the talk, this is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4 .
After five days in Bordeaux, I can say with all honesty that I am mentally exhausted. See, as an introvert, my thoughts are most stimulated, and I feel most alive in peaceful environments. I gain a lot of energy from reading, writing, or even going for a run, as I am free to be with my thoughts. This is, in a sense, how I re-charge my batteries. Being in large crowds is something that is usually overwhelming to me, and being put in the spotlight is not something I covet. Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not that I will never attend a social event or avoid putting myself out there to show the world what I have to offer. It just requires a bit more effort than the average person. For extroverts, this is very difficult to understand, as it is social stimuli that give them their boost of energy. They enjoy social interaction and need it to remain strong. I totally get it. Yet, I draw this comparison. Their desire to attend a party is usually as strong as my desire to curl up on the couch and watch TV, or go for a run through the city.
However, there is a problem. When starting in new places, it is typically difficult for me to get acclimated with my surroundings. This was no different in Bordeaux. I showed up, and seemingly every other international student wanted to strike up a conversation. Of course, having the opportunity to meet someone from Germany, Canada, or Australia was a unique experience, and initially, I relished the chance to do so. Yet, as time went on, I started to become exhausted, and was unable to give every new student I met 100%. I needed to relax, and reflect on my experience. Yet, this was not possible. There was a day full of orientation activities, a new bank account to open, social security to register for, class schedules to figure out, transit passes to buy, groceries to get, and not to mention a whole new place to move into for a while. To pile on, the majority of interaction required to accomplish these tasks had to be done in French, a language that while I am familiar with it, is not a form of communication I am fluent in right now.
Consequently, I became flustered at times, but tried to remain as open as possible all while desperately seeking out moments of peace and quiet to relax. It is here where I realized the harsh realities of what Ms. Cain was talking about in her video. We live in an extrovert’s world, and I, as an introvert, was forming a mold in peoples’ minds as “shy,” or perhaps worse, “anti-social.”
Think about the world. What defines being “popular?” In today’s world, it has to do with how many friends you have, and who seems to take charge and be a prevailing voice within a group. As introverts, we typically have fewer friends, but deeper relationships with them. The point is, however, that we will not usually assert ourselves in a crowd of people, nor do we find much value in having a large quantity of friendships, but rather, prefer quality in a few of them.
In the video, Cain also talks about schools and workplaces. Look at elementary schools. Rows of desks are no longer the norm, but rather, tables with chairs that face each other, encouraging interaction. The trend goes all the way up to college. At Carlson, the primary way for getting things done is via group work. To be honest, nothing discourages me more than group papers. To me, writing is a work of art that best accomplishes its purpose when the creator’s idea and plan for the work is thoroughly woven throughout the composition. Perhaps the greatest assault on the workings of an introvert is a little thing teachers call “participation points.” Stay with me here. I understand the necessity to maintain student engagement, but defining participation as raising one’s hand to comment on the topic discussed in class is tipping the scale largely in favor of the extrovert. If an introvert ran the system, students would individually write a reflection on the ideas covered during class time.
Look at the workplace. Cubicles are disappearing, as companies now favor open environments with constant interaction. Shoot, look at how folks get jobs these days. As a business student, I am constantly told to “network, network, network!” as jobs these days tend to be awarded based on previously conceived relationships, if you can call them that. Moreover, I was required to take a class (Yeah, a whole class!) on how to network, and interview effectively for a job, whereby I was given a blueprint that essentially stated that projecting an extrovert’s personality would give you the best chance to get a job.
Why do these notions exist? Cain points to our history as a people for an explanation. In the 19th century, the majority of Americans lived on farms, and developed strong relationships with their neighbors and few working partners. However, when cities began springing up throughout the nation near the turn of the century, people flocked to downtown areas as there were plenty of new jobs to be had. Yet, in a crowd of strangers gathering in cities, it was “the man of action,” the extrovert, who would be the prevailing voice, and land the position. Today, as society becomes more and more connected, we are constantly placed in new situations, are meeting new people, and are perpetually being put in the social spotlight.
Extroverts, I love you. I really do. In fact, I think that both personality types, and a wide range of them, are necessary for us all to push forward as a people. I recognize how essential group and other social interaction is in accomplishing tasks, but I seek a better balance. In other words, I would just like the world to recognize that folks can be like a turtle. Sometimes, there is a need to go in our shell for a bit. Yet, having a shell seems to subject many to the judgment of their peers. It’s not shyness, and it’s not being anti-social. The first reflects a fear of social judgment. If I had that, I don’t think I’d write this. The latter describes a lack of desire for any interaction. I love having deep conversations with people, and I really enjoy being in the company of people I love. Constant chatter just tires me mentally more than a 10 mile run!
With that, I think it’s bed time. I’ll try and keep the next one a bit shorter.
Warm wishes to you all,