The Power of Introverts

I haven’t thought of myself as an introvert in more than a decade…until recently.

When I was young, my personality was shy, quiet, dependent and you could typically find me physically attached to my mother when she was around.

Even going to the bathroom alone in a crowded Chinese restaurant caused me anxiety, which resulted in either my mother or grandmother accompanying me.

Up to the age of 10, I would choose to sleep in my mother’s or grandparents’ bed just to heighten my sense of security and make sure none of the darkness monsters came out in the middle of the night to snatch me away.

My grandfather, one of the most calm and loving men I have ever met, would walk me to the bus stop (just down the road) and pick me up everyday when I had school just to reassure me of being safe and taken care of.

The first time that my sheltered life bubble was popped was when I attended an all girls boarding high school in upstate New York, two hours away from my childhood home.

When I first arrived, I retreated to my room every chance I got and silently (and embarrassingly) cried in public because I missed my family, hoping that none of the other girls would notice.  For the first 2 months, I tried to avoid contact with my hallmates just in case they didn’t like me or I couldn’t find common ground with them.

During class time, I was hesitant to speak up, read aloud and even ask questions in fear that my classmates or professors would judge and ridicule me.

Little by little, I gradually opened up and began to assimilate into the loud, boisterous crowd that my class seemed to be.  Of course there were “shy” girls like me- ironically mostly asians from international backgrounds- but I was drawn to and admired the most outspoken, sociable ones.

I quickly got my hallmates’ attentions by offering them my hoarded snacks or offering to help them with homework.  During hall bonding time, I always strategically sat myself close to those that were most popular just in case they wanted to start a conversation.

Soon, I became part of the “cool crowd” yet I still made an effort with the more reserved girls.  I spent a lot of energy trying to get to know everyone on a personal level whether it was making small talk during lectures, joining clubs and sports teams, or even just having one on one late night conversations after our dorm’s lights out.

After a few weeks of settling in, accepting my fate of being away from family, and forcing myself to be social, everyone knew me by name and my weird quirks, such as planning my outfits 2 weeks in advance.

Instead of hiding in my room and calling my mother every chance I got, I ran through the halls with friends, knocked on acquaintances’ doors and explored the Hogwarts-like campus that I then called home.

Each year at boarding school, I subconsciously developed my personality by trying something different and learning as much about myself as I did about my course subjects.

When I received my first C ever in geometry my freshman year, I cried and believed it to be failure but soon realized that solely my grades don’t reflect my achievement.  When I joined rowing and field hockey, I had never before experienced being part of a team sport and never knew how fun yet painful they could be.  When I signed up for my first photography class, I was actually preparing myself for tackling my fear of the dark by spending countless hours developing film.  When I took Neuroscience, I cultivated my love of learning about the human brain and even had the chance to dissect a sheep’s brain.  When I pushed myself to take AP English my senior year, I tried to overcome my abhorrence of public speaking by reciting Shakespearean monologues with my class as an audience, which then led to me giving a speech in front of the entire school about how socially awkward I am.

By the time I graduated, I was senior class president, crew captain, part of the comedy club, a columnist in the school newspaper, and known as a dependable class clown.  During my high school years, I became a junior peer educator, choir singer, piano player, athlete, photographer/film editor, competitive student, and above all, sister to my classmates.

With all of our families far away and boys out of sight, the boarders had each other as support systems and could blossom however we wanted- especially if we began as quiet, socially awkward, timid girls, much like myself.  In the 4 years of attending high school together, my classmates and I laughed, cried, matured and enjoyed life in every possible way.

 

Throughout my 4 years of college, I further flourished as a “social” individual by again joining sports teams and clubs.  Nicely harassing people into being my friend was a forte of mine while minor social media stalking/researching helped me target potential friends.  I prided myself on “collecting” friends/acquaintances on Facebook and recognizing people on the busy streets of Boston, in communal hang out spots, or just at BU’s huge gym.

By noticing strangers then gradually getting to know them and finally becoming friends gave me a strange sense of security.  With 18,000 undergraduate students at BU, it was easy to get lost in a crowd, become irrelevant and not feel like you matter at all.  However, through my method of madness, I not only survived but I thrived and made a name for myself yet again by forcing my inner extrovert to take over.

 

When I first moved to London for my Masters, I struggled immensely with the lack of constant community as I had in both high school and college.  Not only did I miss walking upstairs to see my best friends in their dorm, I even missed being able to freely text them without the imminent roaming charges that would incur.

In the first few months, I had massive FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome.  Some of my best friends were still living in Boston, which made me wish so much that I were part of that sheltered life again.  While I struggled to move into my new apartment, make new friends at a truly international school, find my place in an unfamiliar city, and establish a new life abroad, my friends were back home partying like they did in college and basically continuing to live the glory days.

Little by little, my inner introversion self fought with my learned extroversion.  When my Masters friends asked me to go out for drinks, I attended to “save face” then left early because I didn’t actually enjoy it.  When my London rugby team had socials or parties, I again attended to be friendly and part of their community but still felt as if I didn’t fit in.  When my old British friends invited me to meet up, I would go to catch up with them but at the end of the night, I realized we didn’t have so much in common anymore.

More and more, I found myself retreating to my comfort zone.  Though I didn’t cry as much as I did in my high school years, I did find myself drenched in tears a few nights, feeling lonely and depressed.  I no longer found enjoyment in the things that I used to pretend to like.  I no longer wanted to force myself to be someone that I inherently wasn’t.  I no longer wanted to be dishonest to myself just to be seen as “fun, social and cool.”

Even when I went to job interviews, I received feedback saying that I wasn’t “enthusiastic” enough- on more than one occasion.  Though I did want a job, I had forgotten how to express my outward personality and withdrew into my childhood reserved self.  Awkward interview after awkward interview, my self esteem started to wear while the pressure and nervousness increased.

Finally, I found a job description that I felt that I (and my new personality) could succeed in: a social media research and insights role at an American PR company.  I put on my best game face and went to the interview prepared.  At first, I thought to myself why the interviewer was “unenthusiastic” as I was deemed many times.  Then, after speaking a bit, I realized he was like me- a normal human being but just slightly self-contained.  There was nothing wrong with him nor should I dismiss him immediately just because he didn’t act 120% overzealous the entire hour that I spent with him.

I tried to make a joke by saying that previous interviewers have said that I’m unenthusiastic and he responded that perhaps I am just introverted, like himself, which gave me a definite, scientific reason for my current nature.  As soon as he said that, something in my mind clicked and I felt almost epiphanous.

On my way home, I started researching introversion and made a note to watch a Ted talk that the interviewer recommended (at the end of this post).  I remembered all those times when I was young when I chose not to speak on purpose for wanting to listen to other people.  I began correlating myself to the “typical introverted person” who tends to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups, often takes pleasure in solitary activities (like writing this blog), enjoys spending time alone or close friends rather than big groups, likes to observe situations before they participate, and are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement.

After little consideration, I recognized that all of these “symptoms” apply to me and for years, I have ironically ignored my true self in order to be noticed and taken seriously in the extrovert world.

 

Now, as a newly reestablished introvert, I am weirdly comfortable being a quiet, unsociable loner living on an island far away from family and friends.  Although there are times where I miss my overly social past, I am completely satisfied with swapping that lifestyle for my husband and a handful of genuine friends.  I realize that my past is a significant part of who I am but now, I don’t need constant social interaction to make my life seem worthy.

I am as capable, deserving, and qualified as anyone else- even if they are more “enthusiastic” or fake polite- and others should appreciate the fact that I am honest to myself.

Blog Inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4

 

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~ by pandaextraordinaire on May 2, 2014.

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