It took five years of riding a bicycle through the Americas for me to come to terms with being an introvert. I’d always known I was even though I never really understood what it meant. I thought it was weird that I needed to close the curtains, wear ear plugs, and wrap my head in a blanket to study at school. Then, later in life, I felt as if it was my dirty little secret that I hated going to the pub and feared the phone ringing at work. Because I was an adult, I made myself do it, all the time hoping that nobody would find out my true feelings. I learned to mold my behavior to what was expected and resigned myself to never being the gregarious person society (and usually girlfriends) wanted me to be. Thankfully, that perspective changed on my bike trip.
There’s a lot of time to think when you spend your days bicycling and your nights secretly camped where you know nobody will find you. I’d spend day after day, month after month, riding my bike alone, sometimes not seeing or speaking to anyone for days. It was incredibly energizing—just me, my thoughts, and nature. But when I occasionally met other travelers or read other bicycle tourists’ accounts online, I found myself marveling at their insatiable appetite for people. They seemed to be staying with different families every night and wholeheartedly embracing the cultures they were moving through. I wanted to be like them but never had the energy after a day’s riding to make small talk with strangers. Whenever I did, it was indescribably exhausting.
I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for being a “bad” traveler, for having photos of landscapes—not people—and for choosing to move through the world alone with my thoughts. I’d feel guilty for not being a “people person” and for my struggles to “perform” for all of those who’d stop and question me about who I was and what I was doing. Yet, when I did stop and speak to people, which was often, they’d almost universally marvel at my tolerance of solitude. “I could never do that,” was the usual comment, and I believed that. I’d met many a rider who had given up on their cycling dreams because they couldn’t handle the alone time. I’d judged these riders for their “failures” just like extroverts had always judged me; I thought they were needy and weak, and I didn’t understand how they could find it all so difficult.
Then one day, while I was on the bike, I listened to Susan Cain’s TED Talk on the power of introverts. With that, my mind suddenly lit up, and my perspectives dramatically shifted. It suddenly dawned on me that I was able to adventure like I was and make the most of my freedom to explore exactly because I was an introvert. I could do things that others could not and be the envy of my peers entirely because I was an introvert. My thoughtful nature, which insured I never ran out of food or water and was able to stay safe on the road, derived from me being an introvert. I was a success and good at what I did almost entirely because of the qualities I possess from being an introvert.
Once I understood what it meant to be an introvert, I began to embrace it. It was a revelation, and I came to understand that the source of years of guilt and frustration was in fact my superpower. Now, as I come close to completing writing my first book, I can see with crystal clarity what a gift it is to be an introvert. I cherish the qualities it brings to my life, and I wear the label with pride. This discovery was the greatest thing I found on the road and well worth cycling tens of thousands of miles to find.
You can read more about my biking and hiking journeys at www.velofreedom.bike.
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