What Is Normal?
I recently read Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She dives into both worlds, those of the extrovert and the introvert. Her words concerning introverts revealed what I thought were my secrets. I learned being an introvert is pretty normal. I wasn’t the only one who needs to recharge after being social. I’d hang out in bathrooms to get some quiet time, yet as an actress, I could summon the courage to face large audiences on stage.
As kids we longed to fit in with our classmates and be normal. If we weren't part of the accepted crowd—cheerleader, quarterback, class president—strange choices might drum up some attention. In junior high I once slept with dozens of wet braids in my hair so the next day at school it would be all puffed out and kinky instead of boring, straight blonde hair. It was picture day. Creating this strange choice for my exterior took up time I could’ve used doing something I enjoyed.
I know, for me, when I was alone reading a book or exploring a previously unknown trail in the woods, I didn't think about my exterior or interior. I, the bookworm-tomboy, was immersed in the experience and was just fine with being me. Corny, but true. It was at school where I was uncomfortable, and "shy" became my outward identity because I didn’t need to share my interests with a lot of people, only one or two close friends. My secret for dealing with junior and senior high school was to work as teachers’ assistants, in the lunchroom, the library, the office, any place away from extroverted teenagers caught up in boisterous behavior. Because I was a shy bookworm who smiled a lot, the kids decided I was a.) stuck up and b.) class angel. Shy frequently is misinterpreted as stand-offish or arrogant. In our high school’s mock elections I almost “won” both titles. Someone edged me out of stuck-up, so I ended up “class angel.” Little did they know that beneath the angelic exterior was an adventurous tomboy.
If we are misunderstood and labeled "stuck up" or “shy” as kids, well, some things cannot be controlled and are best let go. As an adult, I understand this, but cannot control excessive blushing…
While a book is often judged by its cover, our minds and hearts can't truly be known by others even after many pages are turned. Although people get to know us through time and experience, I've found that insisting on sharing my personal foundation—expecting people "get me" from my perspective—doesn't work because there is no way to communicate all of my life's infinite variables at the same time. No one could possibly have all of my same experiences.
"A man has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups."--William James
A façade doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I’ve found I have particular interests with each friend. I tend to compartmentalize and focus on these interests and my “façade” reflects this. I do put on a more confident social-self façade when out at events. My happiest façade is the one worn during creative surges or brainstorming with a writer friend.
"…introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly."—Susan Cain, Quiet
So if no one can actually know your inner workings, why waste time with trying so hard? Because as humans we have a need to connect—to fit in. Introverts and extroverts are explained at the personal level in Quiet by Susan Cain. And, yes, I’m a sensitive introvert who has been known to hide out in bathrooms in order to recharge my “social battery.” I tend to wear who I am on my sleeve.
To me it boils down to being kind, speaking up for one's needs, and watching out for other people when they need help. Pursue what you love. Love your family and friends.
This book gave me a tangible key to myself. I found it freeing and empowering. Here are a few quotes that hit home:
“…kids stop learning when they feel emotionally threatened.”
“The longer you pause to process surprising or negative feedback, the more likely you are to learn from it.”
“…introverts’ strengths—these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine."
“Here’s a rule of thumb for networking events: one new honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards.”
“You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents…”
“Stay true to your own nature.”
We are who we are. I accept that. What about you?