Extroverts and introverts – the ideal and the misfits

There is a lot of talk about introverts and extroverts. There has been a lot of talk about it for a long time. The us and them dichotomy that divides the world in to two kinds of people. Even though the so called experts say the two are supposed to be viewed as sitting on each side of a continuum and that most people are somewhere in the middle of that continuum. I think the experts might be right. I am certain everyone has a little bit of both in them because nothing is ever completely static or completely black and white, but I also believe that ultimately we subscribe to mostly being either an extrovert or an introvert. It does not mean that if you are an introvert you are shy per se or if you are an extrovert you are always at a party. But it means that different things come easy to us, different things give us energy and different things are easier for us to relate to.

I have a friend who is very talkative and outgoing. When we are out together she does most of the talking and I just sort of linger in the background. I feel good lingering there, most of the time anyway. She has no trouble striking up a conversation with anyone we meet. She seems to always have something to say and she perfectly masters the art of smalltalk. It is incredibly charming I think. And the effortless way in which she does it makes it look so easy. Yet it doesn’t matter how much I try I just can’t do it. It seems contrived and unnatural when I try to smalltalk with people I don’t know. I am simply no good at it.

But it is not only smalltalk I can’t do. I hated doing presentations at the university. I was positively terrified standing in front of the professor and my fellow students having to present a given subject. Even though I knew what I was going to say and nothing could actually go wrong my body was reacting as if there was a lion in the room with me. For no apparent reason. That is just how I always felt when having to perform. It is terrible to have to admit this. I would much rather have been one of the confident ones. The ones with huge personalities who seem to swim through life without a care in the world – they are the real winners of our society aren’t they?

I have had to deal with these insecurities for as long as I can remember. And I so hope that I am not passing on my insecurities to my child. I so hope she will not feel the excruciating discomfort of sweaty hands, a shivering voice and the terrible disadvantage of blushing ever so easily. I mean, my imperfection is just so obvious, it is displayed for everyone to see. God, look at her, she simply can’t keep it together…

The problem is how do I not pass it on? How do I make sure she will not feel those things? I am afraid the answer is that I cannot make sure. But maybe I can make sure she thinks it is alright to be insecure or to blush when having to do a presentation. Maybe I can show her that even though it is hard and terrifying she is able to do it anyway without having to feel embarrassed about it.

We are tought from a very young age that the ideal is to be extrovert and good at smalltalk. The ideal is to do a presentation the way you would eat a piece of cake (provided you don’t do that in a shameful, guilt-stricken kind of way, gulping down the cake hoping that noone sees and promising yourself that tomorrow you will go running) with delight and pleasure. The societal ideal of being extroverted is hurled at us from every positive angle from the moment we are born; this is how you should walk, this is how you should talk, this is how you should dress and so on. When we turn on the radio or the tv, when we read interviews or watch talkshows it is all there for us to see. We need to be loud and confident to be successful in life.There is nothing wrong with being loud and confident, many of those I know and love are, the problem, I think, is with the focus being solely on those attributes. And that if we see someone portrayed as being the opposite they are usually miserable, weird, mentally disturbed or the exception that confirms the rule; that sometimes, if you are very lucky and if circumstances are just right, you may succeed even if you are a wierd and anti-social introvert.

School is one of the places that teach us from early on that we cannot be shy or uncertain of ourselves or we will fail in life. Both in terms of what we are taught and how our teachers respond to us. But also in terms of the social setting. The quiet kid in the corner of the room is usually perceived as an outsider not willing to participate in the “social” activities going on around him. The girl who reads alone in the break is considered arrogant or boring by her peers and so on. It is the whole setting of the school as we know it that is build to function in this way. Not necessarily because it is best, simply because this is how it has come to be. And what about all the other children?The ones who are engaging in the social activities. How do they feel? I am quite sure a fair amount of them would rather be talking to the boy in the corner or reading next to the quiet girl. They just can’t. Because what would all the others say? Nobody knows because only very few are willing to find out.

I hope I can show my daughter that it is okay to try and find out what all the others would say. That it is perfectly okay to be the girl reading by herself and that it is okay to talk to the weird boy. I hope that, in spite of how I myself have often felt as a failure exactly because I was that strange girl, I can show her that there is nothing wrong with being different. I hope I can give her enough confidence to know that whatever she chooses to do she can do it without feeling ashamed.

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