I’m not sure if I was a shy child. I don’t think I ever thought of myself that way, but, looking back, I can remember times when I exhibited some serious social anxieties. Like the time my mom tried to make me say hi to the man behind the deli counter at Albertson’s but I hid behind her. Or the time, this time when I was in high school, when she wanted me to pick up my reading glasses from the optical counter at Costco and I refused because I didn’t want to have to talk to the lady working there.
At the same time, I hated being alone when I was younger. I begged my parents for a younger brother or sister so I’d have someone to be with while my older siblings had secret meetings “only for people born in the 80’s”. At school, I was involved in almost every extracurricular activity possible from grades 1 through 12, which my dad frequently cites when he calls me his most sociable child. I always had friends, though I never really went out of my way to make them.
When I started college, I, like most college freshman, felt awkward and left out and was sure that everyone else was making more friends than I was. My mom told me to stop waiting to be the person that was reached out to and to instead reach out to others. “Be interested in other people and they will be interested in you. Talk to other people and they will talk to you.”
I started taking more initiative in getting to know people, even though it made me feel like I was being desperate and needy. Thanks to these efforts, by my sophomore or junior year in college, I had become that person that knew almost everyone in the ward. I got really good at remembering people’s names and facts about them. My best friend, Courtney, liked to play a game with me wherein we would sit in the middle of the Wilk during lunch and I would point out to her all the people I recognized and everything I knew about them. In hindsight, this was incredibly creepy, but at the time, it was fun.
I knew lots of people and did lots of things, but I was frequently bored during the activities I participated in. I went to parties, but sat in the corner and watched, or talked to one or two people. After an hour or so of doing something with a group, all I really wanted to do was go home and take a nap or read a book. I came to the conclusion that I was just a dull person. I remember a conversation I had with my friend Ben when I told him, “I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and what I discovered is that, at my core, I am a boring human being.” How else could I explain why I dreaded doing many of the “fun” activities that everyone else seemed so eager to do?
Then I went on a mission. It took time for me to get used to talking to strangers on the street and approaching people to discuss religion, but I did it. I did it all day, every day for eighteen months. After a while, I began to think I was charming. There was no one I couldn’t have a good conversation with. I made strangers laugh. People skills must have been one of my God-given gifts. I had a talent, I was sure, for loving the unloveable, because, like most missionaries, I instantly and deeply loved every person I met.
However, as much as I liked other people, I still preferred being alone. During one exchange near the end of my mission, the sister I was working with (Liesl, the other half of my writing club) talked to me all about the Myer-Briggs personality test and tried to figure out my personality type. She was positive that I was an extrovert because she said that I was personable and easy to talk to. When she asked what I thought I was, I wasn’t sure what to tell her. Yes, one of the things I missed most about non-missionary life was the luxury of spending time alone. But how could I love people as much as I did and not be an extrovert? Introverts were grumpy, cynical people with no basic social skills, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t that.
When I returned home from the mission, convinced that I now knew all the secrets to a perfect, happy, successful life, I was ready to take on the world. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t have the energy I thought I once had. When I was called to be in the Relief Society presidency in my new ward, the thought of visiting and meeting all the sisters in the ward was overwhelming. I went to church, I went to school, I went to things with friends and realized I didn’t know anyone. But even worse, I didn’t want to. I got worried. Hadn’t I just spent the last year and a half of my life caring about every person I saw? How had I become so cold and indifferent so quickly?
I decided that maybe the mission had drained every ounce of emotional energy that I had. I’d take it easy for a few months, spending as much time alone as I wanted and not forcing myself to be outgoing when I didn’t feel like it, and soon enough, I’d be recharged and back to being sociable and friendly.
But, that didn’t happen. I discovered that the more time I spent alone, the more time I wanted to spend alone. I’d occasionally go out and do things, usually only when I felt obligated to. But wasn’t I supposed to be enjoying this? Wasn’t college all about having dozens of friends and staying out until 4 am? If that was true, why did I prefer going on a hike by myself to attending loud dance parties on Center Street?
I began to accept that I was not as outgoing as other people, but I wasn’t okay with it. Kind and loving people liked to always be reaching out to and surrounding themselves with other people, they didn’t force themselves to, right? Why did that have to be so draining for me? Furthermore, I was tired of people telling me that when they’d first met me, they thought I was standoffish or snobby or unapproachable. I worried I had a reputation for being unfriendly or brusque when I felt that I really did try my best to always be kind to those around me.
Finally, I figured it out. After reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking” (which I highly recommend to everyone, introverts and extroverts alike), I finally understood that I wasn’t boring and I wasn’t unkind; I just liked being in my own head. I never got sick of the company. I began to see that maybe introversion could be a strength, a gift, and not a bad habit I needed to break.
Because I am an introvert, I am a good listener. I most enjoy being around other people one-on-one and having meaningful conversations with them. There is nothing I like more than having people tell me about their lives and their struggles and their feelings. Maybe I love people like I do because I am an introvert, because I seek deep and substantial relationships with others instead of superficial ones.
Because I am an introvert, I am a thinker. I love learning and I love reading and I love exploring and letting my mind process everything I see and experience. I like ideas and possibilities, even if they never happen (which is probably the main reason my parents accused me of being an overly imaginative child).
Because I am an introvert, I’m easy to get along with. I don’t argue because I consider and try to see both sides of every issue. I’m not very opinionated and I rarely share my opinions when I have them. I can disagree without being disagreeable (mostly because people don’t know when I think they’re wrong).
What I’m trying to say is that sometimes I am quiet and I’m starting to think that maybe that’s okay.