OyChicago blog

The Woes of Being an Introvert Part 2

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10/15/2013

Abby Cooper photo

Ughhh, Adam stole my idea.

Before I read his whole introversion revelation, I was going to do an introversion revelation. So now I’ve got nothing. Goodbye.

Just kidding, I’m back – I thought of something to write about. Nobody worry. It’s under control.

When I started writing about anxiety way back when, I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go with it. It’s hard to explain something to others that you’re still learning about yourself, but I wanted to try. As we know, anxiety takes many different forms and has many different causes. After reading Adam's post (you know, the one he stole from me), it occurred to me that a lot of my anxiety comes from being an introvert. Also, from people stealing my article ideas, but I digress.

Like Adam, I enjoy talking to myself and not talking to you. (And no, there will be no Oy!mance here. I am not the elusive “Adamantha.” Although maybe if he and I had known that we both hate small talk, we could’ve skipped to the huge talk and that one super awkward date we had would’ve only been slightly awkward.)

I usually pretend I’m on the phone to avoid you, and after a few “oops” moments I’ve learned to turn the ringer off before I do this so you don’t know I’m getting (and ignoring) an actual phone call during my fake phone call. It’s not that I’m anti-social – I have a lot of friends and I’m not even including my mom in that – it’s just that I really like being alone, and sometimes I’d rather talk to no one rather than to my best friend. While extroverts happily unwind after work with some friends at a bar, I’d much rather sit outside by myself with a book. To an extrovert, this may sound like self-inflicted torture, but that’s what their happy hours sound like to me.

The problem is I often feel like I’m in the minority. This might have to do with how I really am in the minority; introverts make up only about one third of the U.S. population. (It’s different in different places, interestingly enough. I’d fit right in in China, except for the whole not-knowing-Chinese thing.) And while I do have some introverted friends, I also have a whole bunch of extroverted friends who get frustrated when I don’t want to go out on Friday night because I’m too tired. “But I work more hours than you!” they’ll insist, as though their 8.5 hours of work are far more tiresome than my 8. It doesn’t matter. I’d still be tired if I worked two hours a day if those two hours were spent chitchatting with people, running around and generally being “on.” That kind of thing exhilarates extroverts, but exhausts introverts. This is why a lot of introverts have jobs in the arts. Freedom from set hours and small talk? Oh baby.

According to the amazing New York Times Bestseller Quiet by Susan Cain (highly recommended), our culture has been gradually developing an “Extrovert Ideal.” We’re increasingly expected to be vocal, outgoing, and a “people person" – and people who aren't like that should be. Children are being encouraged to play with others instead of by themselves more than ever before, as though there’s something bad or wrong with wanting to play alone. The mass opinion seems to be that there is something wrong with it – but as we’ve seen throughout history, sometimes the mass opinion isn’t the right one. What if Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling or Rosa Parks – all introverts – had been told by a teacher, parent or friend to quit hanging out alone so much?

Anyway, back to my introvert anxiety. Because of culture, friends, and my own expectations of myself, I tend to feel bad whenever I engage in more introverted activities, like doing nothing. I am so great at doing nothing. And I love it very, very much. And I need it if you want me to be the upbeat, perky person you often see when I’m out in public. But after a little while of doing nothing, I start questioning everything, which is not what you’re supposed to do when you’re busy doing nothing. I wonder, what am I missing out on by doing nothing? What if something super awesome is happening out in the world and I’m missing it? It’s kind of like FOMO to the extreme. Instead of just enjoying my nothing, I get anxious because I feel like I should be doing something. In reality, the only things I should be doing are things that feel right to me, but for some reason I also want to do the things that feel right to everyone else, even though I don’t really want to do them – if that makes any sense at all. It’s like peer pressure, only it’s mostly coming from me … to me.

What it comes down to is I probably just need to tell myself to shut the eff up. You can help, if you want, by telling me to shut up if you ever see me on the street. It doesn’t matter if I’m not talking to you; my inner monologue is probably going a mile a minute and it’s probably being annoying.

In all seriousness, I think introversion needs to be redefined in our culture. Just as sensitive doesn’t describe a lowly person crying in a corner, an introvert is not a super shy person hovering under a rock at all times. We’re powerful and important, just in different ways than extroverts. Recognize it, world. And read Susan Cain’s book in the meantime.

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