Introvert is not a dirty word

I used to be a prophet.

Not in the religious sense of course, but in that I once gave myself a self-fulfilling prophecy that I followed dutifully for many, many years.

Like many young children, I was shy. No big deal, many kids go through this phase.

The problem began when I would repeatedly tell myself that I was shy. . .year after year after year. It had become an excuse to not push myself socially.

I made plenty of friends, but it was always a slow process- I wanted more than anything to be like the kids that could walk into a room full of strangers and leave a few hours later with five new best friends.

Through self-improvement materials and consistent effort, I slowly got ‘better’ by the time I graduated college. I could feign myself as a social butterfly for several hours but anything beyond that and I would feel like I was reverting back to my ‘old self’. Then would come frustration and bitter internal dialogue:

“You’re not really over your shyness; you haven’t changed at all; you’re just slightly better at faking it and tricking people; you’re lying to yourself.”

My whole life, I thought that being shy and being introverted were interchangeable; synonyms of one another.

Then on a whim one day, I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test (MBPT). And while I had my reservations, I couldn’t help be a little inspired by the result I received.

According to the assessment, I am an INTP (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving), a person that:

. . .prizes autonomy in themselves and others [and] generally balk at attempts by others to convince them to change.

. . .tends to be impatient with the bureaucracy, rigid hierarchies, and the politics prevalent in many professions.

. . .has the ability to grasp complexity but which may also lead them to provide overly detailed explanations of simple ideas, and listeners may judge that the INTP makes things more difficult than they need to be.

. . .may prefer working alone to leading or following in a group

. . .is focused on gathering information, and may seem oblivious, aloof, or even rebellious—when in fact he or she is concentrating on listening and understanding.

. . .may defuse tension through comical observations and references. They can be charming, even in their quiet reserve, and are sometimes surprised by the high esteem in which their friends and colleagues hold them.

. . .experiences emotions as an important part of their internal lives, and sometimes share their emotions with others, INTPs nevertheless believe that emotions must not play a role in logical discussions, or be expressed in a way that would put themselves at disadvantage.

Jesus. Every time I read it I am still a little taken aback- and if you have ever known me for any period of time (or read anything I’ve ever written) it’s probably not difficult to see why.

While I am extremely wary of the phenomenon that happens with cold reading and horoscopes, where the brain warps a general yet relevant-enough statement about yourself to seem true, this nailed the unabridged me in writing better than I could have done myself.

(I recognize that believing what was written about me in a personality test could just be another self-fulfilling prophecy, but at least it’s a much more positive one and that there is some kind of scientific reasoning behind it).

Seeing everything spelled out so clearly has made me much more prideful of who I am, and definitely has shed light on some of the things I do and feel. However, I am also careful to not let the test put me in a box and live my life only by what is in my MBPT description.

The key difference between introversion and shyness that I never wrapped my head around was that while introverts don’t necessarily mind interacting with others, after a while it drains on them and they then require time alone in order to collect their thoughts and ‘recharge’.

Shys, on the other hand, have anxiety from fear of social judgement through interacting with people, though they may not necessarily want to be alone. They fear that their every action is being judged, their every move being watched. Looking back, there was definitely a time in my life (and I am sure the lives of many, many others) where I fell into this pattern of thinking.

Extroverts gain stimulation from their surrounding environment- the more going on the better. Introverts gain stimulation from their own thoughts, be it they are by themselves or in deep conversation with one or two other people in a controlled and calm environment.

Of course overlap exists, and no one’s ‘setting’ is permanently locked on introvert or extrovert- every day is different and people typically fall somewhere in between.

I had a roommate in college that was extroverted nearly 24/7- he could never just sit and relax, he always had to have something going on. He even commented to me several times that he can’t stand driving alone, which is time that I cherish and look forward to after a long day.

Unfortunately, we live in an extrovert’s world, and even though nearly half of the population is introverted, you would never know it, as we a live in a society dominated by constant, flashy, grandiose stimulation- an extrovert’s natural habitat. Loud things get more attention than quiet things, it’s as simple as that.

I now take pride in openly saying that I need ‘me’ time. When I am hanging out with people for a long period of time, and end up getting a little quiet in the middle of the day, people are surprisingly receptive- and able to relate- to just needing a little bit of time in my head.

This is of course better than the alternative of trying to desperately force energy-less (and often awkward) interactions.

The icing on the learning cake for me was this fantastic (and maybe my all-time favorite) TED talk from Susan Cain:

Beware of those who claim to have the truth (and especially those that claim to be a prophet), but if you ever feel in doubt of who you are, I encourage you to try out the MBPT.

“How do you guys know each other?”

Every day around the world, scenes similar to this play out thousands of times:

Al: “Oh hey! How are you? This is my boyfriend/girlfriend/friend, Bonnie.”
Clyde: “Nice to meet you, I’m Clyde.”
Bonnie: “Nice to meet you, I’m Bonnie.”
All three: …

Often from here, the conversation continues between Al and Clyde, excluding the newly introduced Bonnie.

Whether it is Bonnie or Clyde, the effortless solution I’ve found that creates a comfortable, all-inclusive conversation is one stupidly simple question:

“Oh cool, how do you guys know each other?”

More often than not, this prompts a unique story about a chance encounter, a tale about being best friends since freshman year chemistry class- a lead-in to something that can be commented on further and drive the conversation without anybody being excluded.

It sounds overly simplistic, but it makes all parties feel comfortable and also allows for quick rapport to be built- maybe even a new friendship or networking opportunity.

This ’trick’ is particularly golden when meeting a number of people for the first time that all know each other, such as in the case of going to a gathering at a new friend’s.

Keeping in mind that everybody’s favorite topic is themselves, this instantly starts me off on the right foot no matter the size of the group. It also shows that an instant effort is being made to engage and meet people, and not just to follow around the mutual friend.

Everybody has been on both sides of this situation and I believe it is a subtle sense of relief for everyone when the new person in the room doesn’t just wait for people to come to them and start the standard ‘interview process’.

Bro tip: This also works great in bars.

Know of another great icebreaker for two or more people?

Look people in the eye

“Life, like all other games, becomes fun when one realizes that it’s just a game.”

-Nerijus Stasiulis

Without a doubt, this is the single most important thing I have ever learned. And maybe also the simplest.

For me, this started everything; once I mastered this little trick, the shell of the small world I had been living in for 21 years began to crack and crumble.

If I never learned this, I wouldn’t be in a New York coffee shop writing a post for a self-growth blog.

All because I started looking people in the eye as I passed by them. And not looking away.

I only realized it after the fact, but I used to be so insecure that I was afraid to make prolonged eye contact with people everywhere, even my friends. At the time, I probably considered this a rude gesture (like in many Asian cultures).

Coincidentally, I also felt at the time that just about everyone in the world was more confident than I.

Then I learned a game.

The object of the game was when walking around campus, the grocery, wherever- I was to try and make eye contact with every person I could, and keep my gaze locked on their eyes until they looked away first.

Wait, isn’t that ridiculous creepy? Don’t I always overhear girls talking about guys awkwardly staring at them from across the room?

Yes. But only when you make eye contact, break it away rapidly when the girl catches your glance, then return it when she looks away again, and repeat. The secret is in the calm, confident hold.

Without saying, this was extremely uncomfortable at first, and I could only do it for fleeting instances as people were about to pass me or with cashiers who had to take their eyes off me anyway.

My worst fear in this was that I would do this to the wrong jock-type or diva on the wrong day and end up getting my ass kicked, face slapped, or otherwise humiliated in public.

Of course, this never happened. But a funny thing did occur- these people were often the first to dart their eyes to the ground, almost as a silent apology for returning my hardened stare.

I quickly began to realize just how insecure everyone is.

It sounds ridiculous to me now. Humans- in general- are afraid to look at each other.

Maybe one out of every 25 people I come across will return the locked gaze. I have zero data on this, but I am sure if I was going to quantify these people, I believe the return would show that these people lead what are widely considered to be successful and happy lives. I believe this is the ultimate secret to the proverbial ‘cool club’; what separates the boys from the men.

And when that gaze is returned?

If it’s a fellow guy, it usually leads to a nod or “sup” of mutual respect, and that’s it. And if it’s a girl? It’s the biggest instant charge of mutual attraction there is. She instantly knows you know ‘what is up’, and are a man in control of both yourself and the situation. Add in a little smirk like you know something everyone else in the room doesn’t and you are a force to be reckoned with.

Looking people in the eye will get you a job, get the girl, get a drink at the bar, and just about everywhere you want to go in life.

What is the single most important thing you’ve ever learned?