My name is Mark and I am an introvert.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means to me and to those around me. There’s a definite stigma attached to the term introvert, and for years I fought against the notion that it was a term I should be associated with – I was dead wrong. I can’t really remember how it happened or when it happened, but at some point along the way, I realised the idea that being an introvert should be seen as a negative is completely ludicrous if for no other reason than about half of the population probably falls into the introvert bracket.
Granted, being an introvert isn’t without it’s problems but the same is true for extroverts as well. The idea that introverts are scared, lonely, and sad types is just as false as the idea that extroverts are confident, sociable, and happy types. These are external characteristics and emotions often displayed by their respective associated group, but to me they have nothing to do with being introverted or extroverted – they are merely the natural outward portrayal of being one or the other.
So what does introvert mean internally? How does it really make me feel? Not how do I make it appear to make me feel to those around me. The best way I can describe it is that spending time with others slowly drains me, it saps my energy. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the company of others (quite the opposite actually) it just means that I find socialising mentally taxing, even when I’m enjoying myself – that may seem like a paradox but it really is the best way to explain it. Whom I’m spending time with is irrelevant, at a certain point I will feel completely and utterly mentally drained. With strangers this point can be reached very quickly, I find the process of meeting new people completely and utterly exhausting. With the people I know best and hold dear it takes much, much longer for this to happen but nevertheless, the end result is the same. I’ve found that there is only one cure for this: rest. What I mean by rest is uninterrupted time alone, it doesn’t even matter too much what I do with that time so long as nobody else is around me. As a consequence I find that I watch a lot of television and listen to a lot of podcasts, this keeps me entertained during these necessary periods of alone time. I’ve also found writing to be a good way to pass the time during these moments too. The act of spending time alone recharges me and fuels my desire to go meet my friends, spend time with my girlfriend, or even just pop out to the pub for a few hours.
Desire is not a word I choose lightly, I genuinely have a great desire to socialise and I suspect most introverts do. It’s a complete misconception that we’re all socially inept loners, most introverts have just as much need to socialise as extroverts do, the only difference being the amount of time spent doing so. I think it’s an Interesting point that I actually pride myself on my ability to be able to get along with a diverse mix of people. I have good friends often with very different interests from each other, some of these friends might be able to talk to me endlessly but they struggle if they’re left to talk to each other – even the extroverts among them! In that sense, you can argue that despite being an introvert my social life is actually more diverse and richer than some extroverts. This ability to connect with wildly different people is something I use pretty much every day for my job. I work with clients from very different fields that have very different needs and I have to cater to those needs as well as build a friendly relationship with them too. In order to succeed with both of those, I need to utilise my ability to connect with diverse personalities and professions, before any of my technical or product knowledge even enter the fray.
I get a great deal from spending quality time with others, and the vast majority of the best memories of my life to date involve other people, but once I hit that wall and I’m exhausted, I check out. Over the years I’ve become very good at hiding this, it’s a necessity. I’m very good at feigning interest in topics that I find dull and when I’m amongst people I don’t know so well, I’m good at keeping my mouth shut when they say things I completely disagree with. My friends will tell you that isn’t like me at all. I’m a very opinionated personality, often with deep passion for what I believe in, and I will argue with people I know well when I feel it necessary. With friends this is no big deal because I know we can have fun with our arguments and discussions, but with people I don’t know so well I’m acutely aware that it could lead to serious verbal confrontation. As an introvert confrontation is my mortal enemy, I avoid it at any and all costs, it is my kryptonite. Nothing mentally exhausts me more than confrontation and this is a huge problem for me because oftentimes confrontation is a necessary thing. For me, this aversion is the single most frustrating thing about being an introvert; rather than get things out in the open and have an awkward situation in order to ultimately improve things, I will instead let things fester and get worse. It’s a huge character flaw and something I constantly battle with, sadly losing more often than I win.
I can only imagine the subset of problems that come along with being an extrovert, but something I feel like I can say with a degree of certainty is that the whole phenomenon works in reverse for extroverts. Just from observation and asking people, it’s clear to me that extroverts feed off social interaction, it powers and energises them. That energy is expended during moments of being alone, again it’s not that extroverts don’t like having some time to themselves, just that too much of it causes them stress and anxiousness. It’s the 180 polar-opposite scenario that introverts find themselves in.
“We’re not so different you and I” is a phrase that simply doesn’t apply here, in reality some of us couldn’t be any more different. But that’s okay, it’s immaterial because we both enjoy our alone time and we both enjoy the company of others; what’s important is that we get the balance right for ourselves and be cognisant that everyone’s balance is different. So long as we all realise that, put aside common misconceptions, and throw out all of the completely unfounded stigmas, we can all coexist in harmony.