Completely unaware that I am an introvert, I was thinking how boring it would be to stay at home and not meeting anyone for the whole week. Back then, I spent most of my time in campus with my close friends, and I thought, I love to be around people. Little did I know that what I needed actually was only to be around a very few people.
After graduated from the college, I joined the communication industry. I spent two years in mass media, and six years ago continued my journey to the PR industry, not knowing what I'd face. It was an industry that is flocked with loud and outgoing people, and as the years went by, the feeling that something was wrong with me slowly building up and formed an idea that maybe I am not normal enough for the work I'm doing.
Until a year ago, my professional life was basically a psychological torture. I'm working for the best company in the industry, with the best people and having the best professional experience anyone could ever hope for to grow, with all the ups and downs. However, that supposed to be rewarding experience was killing me little by little.
In every occasion, I could feel that I'm different from most of the people around me, and that it somehow keeping me from moving forward faster than needed. People think of me as socially incapable, for I always tried to find reason to not going to office parties (and failed every time). People think of me as professionally incompetent, because I was rather quiet and less argumentative than it might be needed in the work, and I wasn't really successful in multitasking.
I was always the quiet type, especially around those I'm not very close or comfortable with. I prefer to do everything alone, and unconsciously avoiding the crowd whenever I can. I'm not the type who can easily join a table occupied with people during lunch, though I never run away when someone joins me at a table. I dragged myself to every office parties, and feeling totally wasted and exhausted afterward. People start saying things like 'get a life', or 'you need to be more happy, go out and have fun', and other things along that line.
I did managed to juggle between projects and multitasking as how it is expected from everyone in the office. I went to all of the office parties that were held during the years, participated in brainstorming sessions, working in groups in every training sessions, stretching myself to the maximum to keep up with all the chaotic energy around me to make sure I wasn't left behind. I dreaded about it every single time, and contrary to my wish, the more I did it, the more I felt lost.
The years I spent with the best people, was corrupting my self-concept and eating my confidence little by little until it was left to nothing but the idea that I'm not normal.
For so many times I wished I could be as outgoing and boisterous as my other colleagues. They seem to get their way around easily. Even when they make mistake, the effect seemed to be less damaging than when I'm the one who makes it. They can easily laugh it off and moving on, while I know that when I made a mistake, no matter how insignificant it is, it'd kept my mood down for at least three days, wondering why I did what I did.
I'd run out of energy after Monday and Tuesday (which is usually very chaotic), and would have to spend the rest of the weekdays struggling to suppress my craving for solitude. I've been unconsciously having this need to be alone from time to time, and the way people around me reacted to it gives me the signals that it's not a good thing. I blamed my recent break up from traumatic relationship for it. It caused my confidence nosedived to the lowest point, close to zero. I kept telling myself that when I've recovered, I'd change, and I'd be better. Which never happened. I can say that I'm recovered enough from the trauma now, but my craving for solitude remains the same, as well as my level of tolerance to crowd.
People said I was being too sensitive. And I wished I'm not. I wished I could be more thick-skinned and shrug off indifferently what comments people might have about me. I simply wished I wasn't who I was back then.
About two years ago, I came across an article about psychological preferences, and had my first introduction to introversion.
I was finally able to see things differently. I started to search more literature on the subject, and learned that there's completely nothing wrong with me. All those energy drains, those cravings for solitude and silence, it's simply how things work for me, an introvert.
I realized that maybe it's not that I just wasn't made for this kind of work in the first place. Maybe it's about people need to learn to see things differently. I started by accepting the fact that that's how things work for introverts, and that I am actually as normal as other people.
I might not be able to do much about it. If all this time I felt like misunderstood, it might still be the same now. But at least now I know where they came from. The furthest thing I can do is to adjust my work pace, shut my ears and not listening to people's comments about me, and whenever possible, opt to work from home when the headache (that usually comes from an accumulation of solitude deprived that goes on for days) kicking in.
There are times when there's nothing I can do but to keep going in the fast lane without taking a break. But at least I know what I'd face at the end of the week and I wouldn't have to be panic about it. I'd be snappish, I wouldn't be able to stand sometimes my own daughter and would have to ask her to give me some two-three hours alone even though it's weekend, I'd shut myself down and will not answer any text messages (let alone phone calls), and would try my best to keep people from visiting me.
It may sounds weird. But now I'm able to indulge it without feeling guilty because I know the reasons why. I need to do it to keep my sanity intact.
A year ago, I found this blog on introversion, owned by Susan Cain. It's such an enlightenment to me and when I read her book Quiet, it felt like all my questions and insecurities were mirrored, and answered there.
In her book, Cain discusses about the differences of personality between the West and the East. Asian is somehow more introverted and thus having a hard time living among the Westerns. I am an Asian and live in Asia, but my workplace is totally West in style. Hence my struggling all these years.
I have a colleague who joined the company about one and a half year ago. She turns out to be an introvert too, and is having a hard time keeping up with the chaos around her while keeping her sanity intact at the same time. I'm glad that she found out about her introversion before too long, so hopefully she doesn't have to deal with all the questions about self concept and question her social capability and later on, professional competencies.
I really wish the same thing for other introverts out there. Learn to know yourself, and accept it when you finally do. Being quiet doesn't make you less intellect, it doesn't make you less competent in your field, it doesn't make you less significant to the world, and it shouldn't be an obstacle for you to achieve what you want. The key is to know yourself and accept it. You'll find your place. It might not be the highest tower or the most glamorous building in the world, but it's where you fit in, and I think, being an introvert, you should know better what it means to be where you belong.
I don't want to use my introversion as an excuse. This is the industry that we have chosen to be in, and we have to face the consequences. I wouldn't complain when I become dead-tired and drained out at every weekend, craving my healthy dose of solitude like an addict or a sociopath. But I also beg to differ when there's people who look down on quiet individuals, making one-sided judgment that quiet is a sign of incapability and incompetence.
It's simply a matter of understanding the fact that there are people who are different from the majority. Not anyone of us is made for everything. Every one must be made for something, and not everything.
Here's a quotable quote from Quiet:
So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don't force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single tasking to multitasking, stick to your gun. Being relatively unmoved by rewards give you incalculable power to go your own way. It's up to you to use that independence to good effect.