“We're told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts -- which means that we've lost sight of who we really are.”
In this quote, Susan Cain has so skilfully managed to present the problem that every introvert faces today: Living in a world that sees introversion as a thorn, meant to be plucked and thrown away. In other words, a flaw.
If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably had to make peace with the incessant social interactions that eventually end up giving you a migraine. Be it early morning brunches that precede unproductive luncheons, or mid-day tea parties, which are then followed by literally mind-numbing cocktail parties, extroverts have managed to colonise and contort every time of the day into an unnecessary social hour.
While this may be an extrovert’s paradise, it is just a dreaded obstacle in the introvert’s calendar.
Now, the critic in you might be wondering, if it bugs you that much, how about you just, don’t go? And that my friend, is where the catch lies. We can’t just not go. More than recreation and mindless gossip, parties mean networking.
The brutal, albeit unfortunate truth is that playing extrovert is inevitable if you want to succeed.
And so we’re made to choose between a quiet reading hour and a dreadful dinner with our boss, between spending time with our cat and going to a cafe with our colleagues, and essentially, between our mental health and our fierce ambition to succeed.
It is a common misconception that introverts either a) hate people or b) are afraid of them. As an introvert, I can attest to the fact that neither of these ideas are true.
Introversion is a personality type, where people tend to face sensory overload from being in social situations. It depends on the amount of stimulation a person can crave or handle, and has little to do with our said dislike for people, but more with our ability to handle social interaction. Being an introvert, you can love people and have a fondness for them (although that’s definitely a recipe for chaos)
This basically translates to the fact that talking to people can literally be exhausting and draining for some of us. Introvert ‘burnouts’ are a common phenomenon, which is a similar experience to listening to blaring rock music after chronic sleep deprivation. We almost entirely dissociate from our peers, slipping into a hazy half-life where nothing makes sense.
While I see how this can so easily be perceived as a flaw, it has its share of perks. A Yale study proves that introverts are better ‘natural psychologists’, and are usually found to be smarter and more observant than their extroverted counterparts. Susan Cain craftily talks about this issue in her ted talk here.
Shyness is another issue altogether. Though it is often seen as being synonymous to introversion, the two have their share of differences. While shyness is a common emotion found in introverts, it is a milder term for social anxiety. Where one is a fear of judgement, the other is a wilful exclusion from social interaction. Where one can be ‘fixed’, the other is how people are biologically built.
This may justify why your introverted sibling prefers going to a quaint café with you instead of crashing a crowded party, and why some people seem so detached in social situations.
For an introvert, daily life is a reminder that we live in an extrovert’s world. We live in a society that has stigmatised our personality and constantly tries to coax us into moulds that they deem fit. If you can relate to being told to ‘speak up’ in class year after year, and having to change your entire persona for the sake of a job or position, then well, welcome to the club.
With time, extroversion has turned into the ideal for success and joy in life. The lockdown ironically did bring whiffs of peace and quiet back in our lives, but it’s time that we speak up (or quietly revolt) to remind the society that our introversion is an asset, not a flaw.