I remember a few decades ago, I watched my parents nervously pace around the house with a look of disappointment on their faces. Their studious daughter, for the first time in her entire four years of school life, had given them a note from her teacher which said, “We would like to speak to you regarding the behaviour of your ward. Kindly come and see us tomorrow after school.”
Being shy is not tolerated
When they finally sat across from the teacher, hoping I hadn’t broken someone’s nose or stolen someone’s pencil, the teacher grimly informed them, “She doesn’t talk to people as much as she should. She mostly just sits, minding her own business.” This was the first time I was labelled ‘shy’. And to this day, I don’t understand why ‘minding my own business’ was a faux pas. Later, as the kids in the class grew older, the harmless shy girl who wouldn’t even try talking to everyone in class became the ‘snob’ who thought she was better than everyone.
And somewhere, over the years, I started believing them. I thought I was too proud to talk to everyone and had really high standards. Don’t get me wrong, I did have high standards, but that wasn’t why I wasn’t a people person. Even if I wasn’t talking to them, I wasn’t looking down upon them. But at most parties, all I found myself craving for was to be left alone. I just wanted to read a book, watch a silly TV show, dance in front of the mirror or just talk to myself endlessly.
Wondering if I was a secret sociopath
Those were disturbing times. I began to think I was some kind of a misanthrope, who would grow up to be a sociopath. I was scared of myself. I tried very hard to make more friends and interact with people. I even tried using ‘Yahoo chat’, but apart from turning down a few opportunities of ‘hooking up’ with some very eager paedophiles, I didn’t get too far.
When I grew old enough for introspection and reached the age where hatred towards the world and an inexplicable reclusion is just a part of growing up, and no one really considers it just ‘your’ problem… I started analysing my problem.
Looking to avoid personal interaction
I realised, I did not hate every conversation, just those that led nowhere, not even to randomness. I just hated being surrounded by a lot of voices. I hated being cut off in between while trying to explain something or getting just a confused silence at the end of a really witty joke I told. There was nothing personal in those activities. No inside jokes. Not even enough attention span to remember what the other person said. All this effort done in vain would drain me out.
If a conversation could be avoided, based on need or interest or both, I would avoid it. But there were times when I had the most amount of fun with my closest friends. I would spend hours talking to my best friend and wouldn’t want it to end. And I wasn’t afraid to share any thought, any idea, any information. So I couldn’t really have been shy.
Discovering I was an introvert
Then I came across this amazing word that basically changed my life. Introvert. It sounded right even before I googled its entire meaning. And there it was, “A person who is directed towards themselves.” And just like that, the shy girl, the snob and the rude student, became an Introvert.
I finally had a name, an identity, even a social standing. I wasn’t just an outcast. After I had accepted my identity, I needed to carry out one job—that was to reason with everyone that my ‘condition’ was just a personality trait. It wasn’t a disease and it couldn’t be cured. “No, I’m not being rude, I’m just being honest.” “I’m not lying. I really just want to listen.” “Yes, I really do enjoy being all by myself.” “No. I don’t hate people, mostly.” “I can’t come to the party, not because I have something else to do. It’s just because I want to eat cold food out of the container in my pyjamas and watch that show that I’ve already watched thrice.”
No, I don’t like not being invited to social gatherings; I don’t like being ignored or being serious all the time; I love having friends just as much as the next person. I just can’t be equally friendly with everyone in my life. I like being understood, having a laugh or spending a good time with people. And no, I’m not going to murder you.
Team player… what’s that?
The one time when my introversion came in the way like a huge boulder was when I went for my first job interview. The second question was, “Are you a team player?” I was taken aback. I didn’t know how to answer that. I was sure there was just one correct answer. But I decided to go with the other answer, honesty. My response was, “I prefer to work alone. But if I must work in a team, I’d like to choose my team.” I was the only one who was told before the results came out, that I wasn’t getting the job.
My inability to talk to a large group of people, gave me a lot of time and opportunities to express myself on paper. I had started writing ferociously at a very young age. Diaries, letters, poems, stories, etc. And after I found out that I wasn’t a ‘team player’ and that if I tried to be one, I might just fall flat on my face and on several people who would hate me for all eternity, I decided to talk to the world through my writing instead.
Being an introvert, works out for me
Introversion comes with a natural knack for introspection. So I decided to talk to myself more than I talked to other people. I learn new things about myself every day and I enjoy that. I like to understand people through myself. Also, I took a job that didn’t require me to be dependent on a team or vice-versa. And I love doing it, all alone.
As I write this, I know that introversion is really ‘in’ these days. Currently the internet thrives on cats and introverts. People are trying hard to be introverts. It surprises me, almost baffles me. I just wish my would-be recruiter is following the trend. But on a more serious note, I don’t think it’s cool to particularly be an introvert. I think having any kind of personality is quite cool. The only un-cool thing would be to pretend to have a kind of personality.
So, I did not turn out to be a mass murderer… I am not depressed or sad… I am not even friendless… introversion did not kill me. Getting accepted though, almost did. So whenever you find someone lost, looking up at the ceiling at a party, just give them some space. That’s all an introvert needs.
This was first published in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.