Big Life, Small Life

I recently finished Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power, which is about, as is obvious from the title, introverts and their hidden, often unappreciated power to influence and change the world. The book sent relief through me, as do most books and articles I read on introversion. They make me feel as though I am normal in a world where it seems like everyone leads a “big life”—goes to parties, chatters endlessly and aimlessly to all kinds of friends, takes fun and Instagram-worthy trips…

The “small life”—cleaning up your house, writing a blog post, sitting around getting ideas for a story—the introverted life, in other words—is what is celebrated in Helgoe’s book. She exhorts her fellow introverts to be content with who they are and provides strategies to help them reach that contentment. The mantra of the book is basically this: It’s perfectly fine to be introverted. It’s not a mental disorder, it’s not weird, and you don’t have to apologize or make excuses for it.

The book discussed how America is an extroverted society, as evidenced by (among other things) our crazy loudmouth president who doesn’t think before he tweets and our love of everything involving parties and sporting events. On the other hand, Japan is a more introverted society that values the maxim of “think before you speak” and holds deference in high regard. I always wondered why I was drawn to Japanese culture… now I know why!

As always when I read books, I have complaints, but this time I have only two: (1) the book had a little bit too much of a “new age” or “moralistic therapeutic deism” vibe to me (You can create your own universe! If you feel it’s right, it must be right!), and (2) the author talked about herself and her life a little too much for my taste, to the point where I felt as though she was being arrogant and selfish.

Other than that, I’d recommend this book to my fellow introverts. We’re most definitely not alone. We may even be the majority.

Differences in Processing Time

In 2015, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet, which is about the hidden power of introverts and the many talents they can bring to the table and how they are often overshadowed in America—a far more extroverted country than, say, Japan. Introverts tend to be misunderstood as “shy” or “rude” or “antisocial,” which has been a source of frustration for me throughout my life.

To me, the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is what I call “processing time.” Extroverts are way better at making decisions in shorter time frames than introverts, at least in my experience. They come up with solutions faster and their witty comebacks are that much more effective and funny because they are spontaneous. Introverts need more time to process and consider all options. This may lead to a better-informed decision, but it’s useless in times when a quick decision is mandatory. And I find myself annoyed because I come up with the perfect witty comeback… four hours after the time when it should have been said.

I consider myself fortunate to work in a department that consists of mostly introverts (editors and writers). We understand each other’s “antisocial” tendencies and need for “processing time.” We don’t have too many long-winded water cooler conversations because we just want to get back to our desks and focus. However, I think I got a little spoiled by my workplace, because when I go out into the real world, where the majority of people are extroverts, I get frustrated when they don’t seem to understand my “slow” thought process and impatience with small talk.

Then I also realize that perhaps I am not being as understanding of extroverts as I ought to be, and I may be using “introversion” as an excuse to avoid social situations that might otherwise benefit me. So the need for a fine balance comes into play. There are times when a quick decision is necessary, and there are decisions that require more thought. There are times to go to parties and social gatherings, and there are times to go home and relax and read or watch a movie. Some projects would be better when worked on in a group situation, and others are best worked on individually. As with many other things, it’s a matter of understanding other people and what they’re like and how their brains function.

It’s not like in the days of elementary school when you can immediately write off that one kid as weird because he likes to play by himself, or avoid another kid because he likes to be the life of the party. In the real world, we have to work together.

 

Where Is Depth?

Where can depth be found in today’s world? Surely not on TV, where reality shows present stylized, unrealistic versions of life. Not in the movie theaters, where a character’s life is one high-stakes car chase after another. Perhaps online, but one must know the correct places to go and not get lost pursuing ends that are ultimately revealed to be chaff. Books and libraries may hold depth for the most part, but the wisdom enshrined in those sacred spaces is often forsaken in favor of something more instantly pleasing, like a more recently published beach read.

Depth can be found within the human mind, heart, and soul, if one is not too afraid to go deeper, to hold the mirror up to oneself, to see oneself from different perspectives and focus on how he or she can improve. People are deep. Each of us is a great repository of memories, emotions, longings, fears, joys, and much more. Depth can be found in relationships and in taking the time to learn about people and truly get to know them. Let not your shallow first impressions be the only insight you get into who a person actually is!