In one of my classes, my teacher recently announced that our final paper was going to be done in groups instead of on our own. Seems like a harmless change of plans, right? Well then, you don’t know me.
After catching my breath and muttering something under it, people around me laughed. My teacher asked for clarification. I,
very diplomatically like a big cry baby, explained my strong preference for individual papers. I can do group projects where tasks can be clearly split, but with a very antisocial combination of perfectionism and introversion, writing papers was essentially impossible for me to do in a group. The only other time I had to write a paper with another person, I was paired with a young man in a Philosophy class who was incredibly smart, but there was no indication that he had any kind of work ethic. I lied to him and told him that the paper was due a week before it was so that it would actually get finished in time for me to edit it all, relying on his slack-offery to know that he wouldn’t know the actual due date. Like anyone would have done, right? In spite of appearances, the point of this story is not to show you what a control freak I am, but to tell you that I know myself well enough to know that I work best alone, especially when it comes to the expression of ideas.
With all of the viral videos, NPR segments, articles (from very reliable sources) and TED talks on introversion and being alone that have made their way across my computer screen, I can’t help but think that there is a greater power out there who wants me to think about this.
This is the video that got me started mulling things over months ago:
For you extroverts out there, this is how I work– I saw this, I thought about it, I stored it away as something to think more about. Then I added to that thinking when I first heard about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking on NPR and how she advocates for a cultural value of quietness and introversion. Most recently I heard Ms. Cain’s TED talk and thought to myself, “This is for me. She is advocating for ME!” Intermingled throughout this process, I read a number of articles on introversion and living and being alone which cited recent studies on the subject– some that supported it and some that warned against the inevitable loneliness. I allowed myself months and months to think about, revisit and rethink about it. And now I’m finally ready to talk about it. Introversion in action.
I have been conditioned through my education and work experiences to become more extroverted. Experience showed me that leadership positions were gained by extroverted people– I applied to be an Resident Advisor and an Orientation Leader in undergrad, but didn’t make it past the first round of interviews. For one thing, I don’t present as Ms. Personality in interviews, nor did I have the networking skills that come so naturally to an extrovert. As a young introvert, I was intimidated by the loud and busy staff people in the Student Life offices and normally steered clear of the whole office to protect my own sense of self. But through these experiences, I saw that extroversion was desired so I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. I became a student leader in other areas, things that I was more passionate about, but still deferred to someone who wanted the spotlight more than I did or who was at least more comfortable with it.
One of the most poignant parts of Susan Cain’s TED talk is when she cites historical leaders who self- identified as introverts, “…Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi… All these people described themselves as quiet, soft-spoken and even shy. And they all took the spotlight even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to. And this turns out to have a special power all its own. People could feel that these leaders were at the helm, not because they enjoyed directing others and not out of the pleasure of being looked at, they were there because they had no choice– they were driven to do what they thought was right.”
I am grateful for the experiences of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, trying new things, and interacting with different kinds of people; I have learned so much about the world and about myself that way. But I am ready now to return to where I started, harness my introversion and find the thing that is worth taking the spotlight for.
Until then, I’ll be in my room reading, listening, thinking and writing… and occasionally practicing guitar.