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An Introvert's Dilemma: Learning To Be Okay With a Table for One

An Introvert's Dilemma: Learning To Be Okay With a Table for One

Although I have verbally remarked, “I’ll take a table for one please” before, that request more frequently occurs in the form of an internal dialogue, and represents my occasional preference for a predictable, simple and productive date with myself over a crowd of even two or fifteen. Call me absurd, but I relish in the safe confines of a table for one, and rarely feel embarrassed by the occasional glances of confusion I receive when do so.  

But regardless of my occasional preference for a table for one and odd introvert tendencies, during this last quarter at Cal Poly I began to experience an all too familiar contradiction between what I feel is an acceptable level of extroversion, and what I perceive society views as an acceptable level of extroversion. Over the course of this quarter I eventually became comfortable with a theoretical table for one after realizing that I am most intellectually inspired, productive and spiritually refueled when I allow myself to embrace and feed my occasional need for quiet solace.

However, although I eventually found it both necessary and beneficial this quarter to embrace my need for quiet solace, it was not until I read Susan Cain’s equally intriguing and factual book about the power of introverts “in a world that can’t stop talking,” that I began to truly grasp the beauty of having introvert tendencies. (Side note: the research in her book provides extensive and convincing biological and psychological studies to support her claims and is a captivating read whether you are an introvert or not).

Cain’s research and insight on the topic of introversion/extroversion allowed me to truly address, rather than dismissively accept the familiar contradiction I experienced. And finally it enabled me to value, rather than disregard the peace and accomplishment that result from fostering one’s introverted needs and tendencies.

But before I share some of the important lessons Susan Cain presented in her book, I want to share some of my struggles as an "introverted extrovert." And feel free to bi-pass my personal experiences that I found to be explained perfectly by some of the 15 lessons I present from “Quiet”. (No hard feelings I promise-I know I read too much). 

My hope is that my readers will not only gain insight, but also relate to some of the struggles I present as I rewind time in order to analyze the conditions under which my introversion has been tested the most. My personal struggles will be classified in this post under the titles of “Welcome to High School” and “Welcome to Cal Poly.

Welcome to High School:

It was not until my freshmen year in high school that I began to realize my introvert tendencies. Ironically, despite the fact that this period clearly revealed my introvert tendencies, I still adored being surrounded by my friends at school, (which demonstrates my dual extrovert/introvert personality). Regardless, it only took a few months before I realized that my previously nurtured habit of recharging myself in quiet solace became under increasing examination and ridicule from my extroverted peers. In retrospect I now realize that my introvert needs were not uncommon to many other students at my school. Rather my needs were uncommon, (or at least appeared to be) to the group of popular extroverted peers that I surrounded myself with and desperately aspired to impress.

During that thankfully brief period of trying to impress my peers, I began labeling my introvert tendencies as roadblocks to my social success. I started repressing my desire to spend my lunch in study hall, or recharge after a hectic week with a Friday night eating pizza or watching an intriguing movie instead of going to my school’s football game. At the time I wanted desperately to be apart of the “cool kids,”  and so I was willing to suppress my introvert tendencies to do so, (and which you will quickly find from the 15 lessons presented later on that my suppression actually inhibited my creativity and achievement). 

However, after a couple years of trying to repress my introversion, my independent and introvert tendencies prevailed victorious and eventually inspired me take the road less traveled on, (aka: to graduate early and attend Community College). Ultimately I blossomed, (both intellectually and socially) by attending CC at a young age...

And rather than being intimidated by the independence my road less traveled on provided me, my introvert tendencies thrived in an environment with few social expectations and eventually enabled me to succeed in an unconventional educational route.

Welcome to Cal Poly:

When I transferred Cal Poly last quarter I was prepared for a giant paradigm shift. Because as much as I adored and thrived in an environment that I could control and tailor to my occasional introvert needs, I thought that something had to change when I started attending Cal Poly.

I was convinced that although my introverted tendencies allowed me to accomplish so many of my academic goals over the past two years, it would be impossible to feel truly fulfilled and accepted by my peers at Cal Poly unless I adopted more extrovert tendencies. And so I irrationally thought: cue the college experience and learn how to always study with others, to forsake spending my nights reading or watching a movie, and essentially to give up whatever introvert/extrovert balance I had. Dramatic right? Definitely--and it is probably not shocking  to discover that my unrealistic expectations caused my resolutions to miserably failed.

Why did they fail? They failed because in the midst of trying to harness the extroverted side of my personality, I gave up whatever balance I had developed and thereby conceded once again an important part of my personality. And a part of my personality that I did not fully appreciate until after I read the Susan Cain's “Quiet.”

As much as I want to share everything in Cain's book, I am going to instead suggest that my dear introvert readers pick up her new book, and:

Here I want to share 15 of my favorites lessons, facts, studies, etc., from “Quiet” that have helped me to understand and embrace a part of my personality that I previously labeled as a hinderance.
  1. Research from 1956 to 1962 performed by the University of California, Berkeley suggest that in a group of people who have been extremely creative throughout their lifetimes, you’re likely to find a lot of introverts.” Encouraging take away from introverts: "introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” (p. 74). 
  2. Practicing or studying in solitude allows an individual to more easily engage in what research psychologist Anders Ericsson termed “deliberate practice.” And according to research, deliberate practice has been found to be the key to exceptional achievement because it takes: deep motivation, working on a task most challenging to you, and intense concentration--all of which can only be achieved to the maximum when performed alone (p. 80). Side note: check out the studies related to deliberate practice on p. 80, I know I will look at studying alone differently from now on, hehe).                      
  3. Many new companies are designing their office spaces to cater to what introverts already know to be true: excessive stimulation impedes learning. And surprisingly  companies are also finding that multitasking reduces productivity and increases mistakes by 50 percent. And performance has been found to get worse as group sizes increases (p.85). 
  4. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introvert and extrovert studies. The most effective relationships (personal or not) are often a symbiotic introvert-extrovert one in which, "leadership and other tasks are divided according to people's natural strengths and temperaments" (p. 93). 
  5. "High-reactive [introverts] tend to think and feel deeply about what they've noticed and to bring an extra degree of nuance to everyday experiences." (p. 103). 
  6. “High-reactive (introverted children) are more likely to develop into artists and writers and thinkers and scientists because their aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar--and intellectually fertile-environment of their own heads.” (p. 103).
  7. “The Orchid Hypothesis” by David Dobbs suggests that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including the high-reactive type (introverts) are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.” (Oh wow, my whole life makes sense now, JK, but seriously) (p. 111). 
  8. “Research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems." [And I might add: by our God] (p. 117-118) Takeaway for me: as an introvert you can place yourself in new environments (i.e. Cal Poly, popular kids, etc.), but your biological high-reactiveness will not stop operating in the same way. It is better to understand how to adapt to your environment, (which leads us into finding #7). 
  9. And yet Schwartz research of some high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities.” (AKA: “The Rubber Band Theory” of personality: we are like rubber bands at rest. Elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much) (p. 118). 
  10. *Warning: somewhat complicated, but equally fascinating research on why introverts can be extroverts and vice versa coming next: “The neocortex, and particularly the frontal cortex in humans, performs many functions, one of which is to soothe unwarranted fears.” Research finds that high-reactive individuals (introverts) utilize their neocortex to soothe their fears, and thus learn ways over time to adapt like a rubber band to their environment. Takeaway for me: simply because my neocortex is well exercised to soothe fears in response to over-stimulation, I am still prone to over-stimulation and need to give myself the occasional quietness I need to rewire).  
  11. “Introverts and extroverts often need different levels of stimulation to function at their best.” (TRUTH). And interestingly enough: knowing the difference of stimulation between introverts and extroverts enables individuals to organize their lives in terms of what personality psychologists call “optimal level of arousal” or “sweet spots” and doing so allows you to feel more energetic and alive than before. (p. 125). 
  12. “Introverts are not smarter than extroverts”--Actually according to IQ scores, the two are equally intelligent. However, introverts think more carefully than extroverts: introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly” and left to their own devices “the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things.” (p. 168). (That last description is basically me, hehe).
  13. My favorite introvert quote: “It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein, “It’s that I stay with problems longer.” Research to support Einstein’s claim: Professor Howard gave introverts and extroverts a complicated series of printed mazes to solve, and on the three most difficult mazes where persistence pays, the introverts significantly outperformed introverts" (p. 168-170).
  14. "Fake it until you make it?" Just because you can master acting skills that self-monitoring requires, should you? Answer: the Free Trait strategy (acting out of character) can be effective when used judiciously, but disastrous (especially for introverts) if overdone (p. 215). Take away for me: self-monitoring is good, but only to a degree. 
  15. Last but not least: "Introverts and extroverts sometimes feel mutually put off, but research (check out Thorne's studies on p. 237) suggests how much each has to offer the other. Final takeaway for me: extroverts. introverts (and in my case "introvert/extroverts") are all so important & I know that God uses each of us in unique ways. 

That's all for now. Please feel free to share this post with your introvert/extrovert friends a like (I would love it). Hehe. 



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