On Being An Introvert

The problem with placing people into broad categories is just that. It is conceptually easy to attach a label to someone, or even yourself, and allow that label to define. Often a group category has enough merit to grant this deception to occur, but it is limiting to define anything or anyone based on criteria of 5 to 10 facts.

Categorizing a person, or group of people can also have a very dark side. Negative connotations have been assigned to groups for millennia, typically in an us versus them mindset. In the land of the free, there have always been different rules for different people. Gender, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, weight, religion; these are just a few of the categories where it has been acceptable practice to attack and denigrate individuals who are different. Dear reader, it can be easy to place someone in a box, and define who they are based on that box. Remember, a box is just a container, and containers can hold many different things.

I have placed myself into categories many times. One group that I have identified with is the introvert group. Indeed, I can check off many of the canned introvert characteristics. However, I’m am more than a list of 5 to 10 elements. You can put me in a box, but to know who I really am you need to look inside that box.

I have always been comfortable being in my head.

I can get distracted easily by noise and other abrasive stimulation You may find me sitting in a dark room thinking. Thinking seems to energize me, and the process itself seems to serve as its own end. I have come up with a number of good ideas thinking, but the majority of that effort is simply done for the pleasure of the activity.

I don’t want to impose on you.

I’m not sure if this characteristic is part of my introversion, or if it reflects a childhood where I felt that I was more of a burden than a blessing. I almost always let people come to me. This is not out of conceit, rather the opposite. I would never want to take up someone’s time. When someone engages with me I am more certain that they want to make the connection. Are there exceptions to this rule? There have been very few, and I believe that those exceptions were the result of forces outside myself.

I am a loyal and true friend.

I have many acquaintances, but only a select group of deep connections. I have never needed to be the most popular kid on the block. To be clear, I have avoided such aspirations as they would compromise my integrity. With that said, when I make a friendship it will often last for decades. Ed note: I was tempted to use the phrase, “for life” in the last sentence, but that phrase would assume that I could foretell the future, a capability that I have not acquired. A great advantage of having a select group of connections is that you have more time and energy to devote to enriching those relationships. I am sure that this latter fact is one of the reasons that my friendships tend to be meaningful and tend to last.

I don’t mind small talk.

I like having light conversations, but I often have to recharge after attending a large group activity, like a party or conference. While many extroverts gain energy from many contacts, I lose energy. I recharge by getting back into my head, either by thinking or doing a solitary activity.

I think best when I am alone.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I have had many brainstorming sessions where new ideas and concepts grew with the help of others. In addition, there is a very select group of individuals who I love to think with. I feel so close to them that our thoughts seem to connect in a subconscious flow where the creation process is more akin to a Vulcan mind meld. Even with those individuals there are times when it is best for me to think alone. This is especially the case with technical problems, as I have found that I can process such exercises more quickly if I can direct all of my energy to the topic, and also allow myself to make mistakes as I acquire the solution.

I really like people.

You may want to categorize introverts as antisocial. If so, this does not apply to me. I love connecting with people, and I find them endlessly captivating. I like the fact that we are a varied species with a wide variety of interests. I’m am always learning from others. Important facts to trivial information, it is all interesting to me. I feel that it is a great privilege when someone trusts me enough to share a part of their life with me.

I like public speaking and have no fear of talking to a group of 100.

People have told me that I am a natural teacher, and it excites me when I can expose someone to a new idea or concept and have them jump on board. Giving a lecture, or teaching one-to-one has always been pleasurable.

I am never bored.

One of the benefits of being comfortable in your head is that you don’t need a lot of external activity to feel content. Thinking, taking a bike ride, walking in the woods, taking pictures, figuring out the problem of the day, these are just a few of the many activities that keep me company.

I have a child’s heart.

Small, common things make me happy. A beautiful day, a sincere hug, a new adventure. I’m not sure why my decades of existence hasn’t calloused me to such things, but I often view life with the excitement of an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. I get immense joy from simple things. I’m happy to vacation in Paris, but I’m also happy riding a bike along the lakefront.

Since I tend to be quiet I sometimes am afraid that I will easily be forgotten.

I went to the funeral of a relative who was very extroverted and popular in his community. The condolence line was so long that it extended out of the building. It is likely that hundreds of people offered their sympathy to my cousin, who was his wife. I sometimes wonder who will come to my funeral. I sometimes wonder if my presence will just fade into the ether once I am no longer providing a service to others. I believe that this fact drives me to attempt to be a positive force, no matter how small. We are all just grains of sand on an immense beach. With that said, this grain of sand wants to stop erosion, not contribute to it.

I need to constantly create and constantly learn.

I get joy from acquiring any knowledge. I get joy from taking any knowledge and turning it into something. A thought, a lecture, a photography, a video, a blog. The creation process itself is as exciting as any acknowledgment that I may gain from the end result.

Dear reader, I am more complex than the few paragraphs above. But I hope they define me outside a canned checklist found on Facebook or in “Psychology Today.” I wrote this piece with the hope that you would look beyond any person’s categorization. When I have made efforts to do so I have almost universally found that I have more in common with them than I have differences.

Today my goal is to celebrate who I am.
Today my goal is to celebrate who you are.

Even in a large group I often live in my head