A lot of people share a similar idea of what an introvert is. You might say they’re people who shy away from social interaction, unlike extroverts, whose social lives are always thriving. It’s not an uncommon point of view, but it certainly isn’t accurate. For quite a while, the word “introvert” was synonymous with “boring” in my mind; a person who is quiet, shy, and timid, and never wants to leave the house. On the other end of the spectrum, “extrovert” seemed synonymous with “fun”. They’re the life of the party; loud, outgoing, and confident. They talk to everyone, they joke about everything, and above all, everyone likes them. But that idea is a profound misconception, and a damaging one at that.
In the time after I learned about the concept of introverts and extroverts, I viewed them as parts of a strict dichotomy; two types of people in direct opposition to one another. The qualities I’d subconsciously assigned to them gave extroverts a clear advantage in my mind.
If one person is quiet and the other is loud, surely the louder person would win an argument. If extroverts are naturally confident, that must mean that introverts are instinctively timid. So, you can imagine the anxiety I felt when I started to realize that I am an introvert.
As a teenager, I worried that I had to be an extrovert to be liked. My idea of an introverted person wasn’t all that different to my idea of a hermit; everything I thought I knew about introverts convinced me that they are socially awkward and perpetually alone. After all, how could someone who thrives in solitude possibly be a person whose company others would enjoy? I may as well slap a label on my forehead that says, “don’t talk to me”.
When I left high school, my concerns changed. Suddenly an introvert’s personal life wasn’t all I thought would be affected by their less-than-ideal characteristics. If they never want to leave the house, surely their careers couldn’t flourish either? In my mind, opportunity and success were things introverts must find hard to come by. Extroverts, with their seemingly superior social skills, must be presented with boundless opportunities; another false advantage.
These preconceived notions of what it means to be an introvert gave me an extremely unhealthy outlook on my own introverted tendencies. If I accept that I’m an introvert, would that mean accepting that I’m boring, or timid, or any of the other negative traits I thought all introverts shared? But not only were those fears misguided, they also didn’t account for the fact that a person’s identity is not shaped by a predetermined personality type.
Introverts share one similarity: we enjoy solitude. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t individuals, and it doesn’t restrict us to certain personality traits. Confidence, for instance, isn’t always loud and obvious, reserved for those who socialize more than others. It can be quiet and humble, content in its own existence. Timidness or insecurity can be brash and obnoxious in its determination to remain hidden. An extrovert, regardless of how much they love a social setting, might be mind-numbingly boring to talk to. An introvert could be the most entertaining person you ever meet, you might just see them a little less often.
I am an introvert. I’m not naturally inclined to be socially awkward or unlikeable. I just need to dilute social interaction with solitude. I’m selective about who I talk to, where I go, and how long I stay there. I enjoy my own company. That is what it means to be an introvert. If I were an extrovert, I’d be no more confident, outgoing, or fun than I am now. Being an extrovert doesn’t make you the life of the party. But it might mean you go to more parties.