“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” – Audrey Hepburn
It would be fair to say that I have always been somewhat withdrawn. The questions: “You’re very quiet, are you all right?” and “You don’t say much, do you?” seem, over time, to have become the narrative to my life and I almost always answer both in the same way, with a tense smile.
For a long time, I truly believed that my personality was the one thing stopping me from becoming the person I really wanted to be: confident, chatty, popular, successful. My school reports regularly cited ‘quietness’ as a particular difficulty of mine and I spent much of my adolescence convincing myself that I was cool and aloof rather than shy and anti-social.
(Before I proceed, let me say this: I am fully aware that you can be a shy extrovert and a confident introvert and that these things aren’t mutually exclusive, but this piece is written not from an authoritative stand point – see Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking if you’re looking for something in depth – but from my own personal experience and I am most definitely a shy introvert.)
In my twenties I toyed with the idea of surrounding myself with extroverts, naively assuming that their gregariousness would somehow rub off. Instead, in the presence of those to whom confidence and social ease seemed natural, I only felt my own quietness more acutely.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve started to readdress my introversion, to look at its advantages rather than its shortcomings. After all, how could famous introverts such as Emma Watson, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and J.K. Rowling be so successful if introversion were the cause of a lack of professional success?
“The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic…They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.” – Susan Cain
If we consider Cain’s above description, then wanting to change my personality would surely hinder rather than help me to achieve professional success. As a writer, “processing information unusually deeply” could potentially encourage the creative process. And wouldn’t “feeling exceptionally strong emotions and noticing subtleties that others miss” aid characterisation and inspire realistic and believable storytelling?
Similarly, in life I can’t help but see these traits as an advantage. Sure, at times they may create their own obstacles, but embracing those parts of us that seem different or that challenge what is considered ‘popular’ must make us happier and more balanced individuals in the long run, mustn’t it?