Do you know, are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you get energy from being alone, or being with other people? I am on the introvert side, definitely. I need my quiet time and my space. I thrive with a good amount of solitude, and time to think. I will always choose small group interaction versus a big party. Add to that a serious case of shyness when I was younger, and I always felt I didn’t fit. I felt that there was something wrong with me, because I didn’t quite meet up to the social expectations around me. I remember as a teenager, being parts of a group activity or mixer, and discovering later no one remembered I was there. I felt invisible. But I knew, deep down, there was more to me, if someone would just take the time to look.
This feeling extended on into college and the working world. Thankfully, I chose to go to a private university with small classes in general and a tiny, fledgling engineering program. I got to know my fellow engineering majors well, because there were so few of us and we spent so much time together. One of my friends from college described me in this way: “You’re like a red hot chili pepper in a cool green salad,” he said, “You think you know what you are going to get and then OUCH! You take a bite.” I loved that description, because it was as if someone had finally seen me. The real me, hidden inside the quiet, calm exterior.
But in each new situation I had to start again. I don’t think I said a word in a meeting my first year in the working world. Not one word. It’s amazing they kept me there! Slowly, slowly I learned to fit into this extroverted world I was living in. I gained experience, I gained confidence, and I gained a thicker skin. I learned to balance my alone time with social time, but I always felt a tension because I had the need for quiet time to think and recuperate. As if I was somehow less, for the need of it. I kept wishing that I could be the life of the party.
All of this comes up because I watched this TEDtalk from Susan Cain last week on the Power of Introverts:
I was in tears by the end of it. It felt as if she had finally validated who I was. That I was ok. That the quiet teenager and young adult I had been, the introvert I still am, is just a different kind of normal. That there is a benefit in being an introvert, not just a downside. There is a benefit to the time I need to think and explore. I can see that in my art, and here too, in my writing. I can see the time I spend in my head, the time I spend alone creating… that time helps my ideas come together into something bigger than myself. Something I can share with others.
Susan Cain gave this message to introverts in her talk, “The world needs you and it needs the things you carry.” I felt as if she were talking directly to me. Maybe the world doesn’t always need the life of the party. Maybe the world sometimes needs what comes out of the quiet power of deep thought. Maybe the world needs what I have to offer. As me, the introvert. I only needed to find a way to comfortably allow these ideas to come out. Which I have, through this blog. It allows me, bit by bit, day by day, to reveal the red hot chili pepper that resides within the cool green salad, which I’d never feel comfortable doing all at once with a big “ta-da!” There is a reason you don’t see me in video here or in my classes. It’s not just because I feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, although there is a little bit of that, it’s mostly because I love the time and space of writing and how it helps my ideas to form. It’s my medium, as much as photography. Both allow me to think and to process before I share.
Regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, I encourage you to watch the video. And think about how things play out in your life, your environment, your culture. In this age of bold personality, see if you can help encourage someone who doesn’t fit that mold to explore their quiet power. That someone may even be you.