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What the Tao of Pooh Taught Me About My Extroversion

Quiet Revolutionary Allysha Roth’s Story

“Inner Nature, when relied on, cannot be fooled. But many people do not look at it or listen to it, and consequently do not understand themselves very much.” – Benjamin Hoff

I used to read myself to sleep so I wouldn’t lie awake in the dark, thinking about every embarrassing thing I had said that day. I hadn’t always been this way. As a young child, I was very good at being alone. I started teaching myself to read when I was 3 years old. I watched musicals on VHS that sparked my imagination. I sang ad-hoc songs to go along with the story I was living that day. Once I started reading books, I read them to my stuffed animals.

When I started primary school, I was rewarded for my participation (a.k.a. talking) every day. So, I talked a lot. And, as years went on, I talked more and more. I started to dread both school and being alone because my over-participation constantly mortified me. I described myself as “painfully extroverted.” I walked through life embarrassed to be myself. Once alone, I would replay awkward interactions in my head. That’s when I started to use reading as a coping mechanism—to block the memories of the day.

Years later, after college was over, I spent over a year mostly alone, in quiet, and learned to love being alone again. I taught myself to play guitar. I started jogging, at first for exercise, then because it stimulated my imagination. I read articles and reflected on how they fit with or contradicted what I thought I knew. I started to religiously read and re-read The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Instead of shutting out painful experiences, I pondered them, writing over and over again about why they hurt until I understood them. And understanding led to healing, acceptance, and growth. I grew to understand myself in a more complete way than ever before. And still, I hadn’t let go of my identity as an extrovert.

Then, I went back to school. I was very suddenly re-immersed in the world of participation, and it was perhaps one of the most excruciating social experiences of my life. Every day, I drove home mortified by my compulsion to participate, sobbing intermittently in rush hour traffic. I just kept wishing I would keep my mouth shut. Why am I so loud? Did I really need everyone to hear that thought? Those habits no longer felt like I was expressing myself accurately. I thought, “This isn’t me.”

I learned a lot from the contrasts of those experiences. That tool of self-reflection that I learned in quiet was much more powerful than reading away the memories ever was. I realized that the source of my pain during overwhelmingly social situations, like school, came from how outwardly focused I was. I was always thinking of what the right thing to say was. I was thinking of how to respond. And that was exhausting all my energy, which led me to be less thoughtful in how I engaged. I wasn’t taking care of myself in social situations, so I wasn’t representing myself very well either.

I’m not actually “painfully extroverted.” And I’m not totally introverted either, as anyone who knows me will tell you. But through listening to my pain, I learned that I often get a lot more out of listening than participating. Sometimes, I’m the center of attention. And sometimes, I keep more thoughts to myself than I share. And I don’t have to read myself to sleep anymore.

“The Way of Self-Reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us.” – Benjamin Hoff

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