Once, when I was in high school, someone asked me if I was a mime.
Needless to say, I have a slight reputation for being quiet.
OK, maybe more than “slight.”
“It’s always the quiet ones,” is a phrase that has often been teasingly tossed my way. It’s a phrase, I’m sure, that many introverts, like myself, know very well.
I use that phrase, too. For example, it wasn’t long ago I was in the kitchen with my mom while she was baking cookies. Jokingly, I said I was going to steal them before anyone else would have the chance for even a taste.
“Are you now?” my mom teased back.
“Sure,” I said. “You know it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.”
But how did being quiet become something “to watch out for?”
Over the years, being quiet has come to mean a myriad of things. Quiet people can be perceived as any of the following: shy, unconfident, depressed, rude, backward, socially awkward, snobby, or even dangerous.
The introvert, therefore, is almost like some sort of rare snake, best approached Crocodile Hunter-style.
In the very extroverted world we live in, people who prefer time alone, who have difficulty speaking up, and who shy away from attention are mysterious creatures.
I have been introverted my entire life. I can’t remember a time when I would choose a party over quietly reading in the corner, or when I would choose leading a conversation over listening intently.
But being an introvert is rarely an easy thing, especially when everything from television shows to friends tell you that, if you don’t want to be the life of the party, then something is wrong with you.
It took several years for me to become comfortable in my introverted skin.
The best description of an introvert I ever came across was in a book “The Introvert Advantage” by psychotherapist Marti Olsen Laney. In the book, Laney says that extroverts are like solar panels: they gain energy from social situations. In contrast, introverts are like batteries: social situations drain them, and they need to be recharged.
Also, Laney says being introverted is a genetic trait: some people are just programmed to be quiet.
That is not to say, of course, that introverts are loners, hiding away in dark corners like Quasimodo.
To the contrary, introverts can be social and successful. The only difference is that they have a limit.
Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” summarizes how an introvert reacts to social situations:
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”
Introverts and extroverts both have strong influences and places in society; however, in contrast to the naturally more outgoing extroverts, introverts tend to seem meek.
With a new year just beginning, many people hope for a new, better life, and society teaches us that there is only one way to do that: to become the social butterfly.
I have tried just that – and though some of my excursions into the world of extroverts were beneficial – what I have learned (and, in many ways, am still learning) is that there is nothing wrong with fitting into society in your own way.
After all, if every piece of the puzzle was the same, it could never be put together to reveal the bigger picture.
So, as people dive into new year’s resolutions, I hope that everyone finds a way to be confident with whatever it is they’ve been given – introvert, extrovert, and everything in between.
Oh, and, for the record … no, I am not a mime (black and white stripes just aren’t my thing).
Sarah Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.