Years ago, I had a colleague who was very tall, and who had a very ponderous mind (by which I mean it was occupied all the time with heavy, meaningful thoughts), and who spoke slowly when you asked him a question, as if he was drawing up your answer in a bucket from the deep well of his brain. He liked to speak in Greek and Latin, just because, and he was obsessed with etymology, and with dissecting words to such an extent that sometimes their meaning was lost. I asked him once, for instance, if he was a ‘fan’ of something; I can’t remember what, now. His answer was: ‘Well. Since ‘fan’ implies ‘fanatic’, then I’d have to say I’m not a fan of anything. Strictly speaking.’
Despite all this, he was rather a nice man. I swear.
Anyway, one day we had a discussion about introverts versus extroverts, and it was he who first explained to me that ‘introverted’ didn’t always mean ‘shy’, simply put. He went to great lengths to explain the root meaning of the word (probably giving me a lesson in Greek and/or Latin, and possibly Aramaic, as we went), and he told me the word ‘introverted’ described a person who took time over their thought processes, and who didn’t like to make hurried decisions, and who enjoyed analysing things in their mind before proclaiming their stance on any issue. He also diagnosed me as an introvert, which annoyed me a bit, because I felt like I always made a huge effort to be bubbly and outgoing and friendly. I had been terribly shy as a child, and I’d made huge strides in my efforts to combat it – or so I thought.
But he was right.
The key word, above, is ‘effort’. While working in that job, I made a huge effort to be bubbly and friendly. This wasn’t because I didn’t really love the work, or truly enjoy the company of my colleagues (most of whom I also considered friends), but because I would have much preferred to spend my time with them in companionable silence, reading, than I would talking about whatever issue was occupying us at any given time. I love people, and I love to be friendly, and I love to have fun, but I’m still an introvert.
There are loads of ‘Are You an Introvert?’ tests you can take online, but I thought this one was interesting. I’d wager that a lot of people who like to write are introverted, because writing is one way to express yourself, but at a slight distance – you have the ‘shield’ of the words between you and the world, and even though they’re your words, and your name is attached to them, it nevertheless feels like there’s a little space between you and what you’re saying. If someone wants to comment on it, for instance, you have that crucial time to think before you make your response – and that’s the classic characteristic of an introvert. We don’t like to be rushed!
Even though ‘introverted’ isn’t simply a synonym for ‘shy’, as I once thought, certain aspects of the two are undeniably similar. I can be awkward with people I don’t know, purely because I’m afraid of causing offence without meaning to, and even though I relish meeting new people and I love being around people, I find it exhausting because I’m constantly self-monitoring to make sure I’m saying and doing the ‘right’ thing at all times. When I’m on the way home from a social gathering I’ll pick apart my ‘performance’, wincing over the silly things I’ve said or the mistakes I’ve made or the social gaffes I’ve put my foot in, and I’ll hope that nobody else noticed (or if they did, that they’re kind enough to let it slide). I love quiet, and solitude, and thinking-time; it doesn’t bore me or drive me crazy, like it would some people. I enjoy spending time with small groups, rather than big ones; I enjoy in-depth conversation, particularly on topics about which I’m passionate. I find it easy to focus, and I have to force myself to take risks. I hate making telephone calls, because I hate feeling like I’m being a nuisance (even though I’m aware that trying not to be a nuisance can sometimes make you into one). I always try to look at everything from all angles and make a decision (eventually) which suits the majority of people involved in it. This can drive other people mad, particularly when the question I’m being asked is something like ‘what will we have for dinner?’ but I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’m never going to run a country, or take part in politics, or have ‘power’ or ‘success’, as some more extroverted people would measure it. I’m never going to be a leader, or someone who enjoys the limelight. But I love people, and I love gaining experience and knowledge, and I love finding new things to be passionate about. I love conversation, but I love silence too. I’m careful (some would say ‘doddery’, which is fair enough!), and punctual, and I like to take my time, and I like to do my best.
And that’s all right with me.