I grew up as a quiet and introverted little girl. It helped that I was from an obviously introverted family, with parents and siblings much happier cozied up on our sofas with a good book than out at raucous parties or community events. I had my shell to protect me when I needed to withdraw; I was able to come out of that shell whenever I wished to explore, achieve, or understand things happening around me.
This happy life of an introvert came crashing down when I got married. Being of Indian descent, I was required by my culture to adapt to my new extended family of parents-in-law, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins (first, second, and third), great-aunts, and great-uncles—the list goes on. Suddenly my world of close relations grew from 20-30 to hundreds. My husband’s extended family are (mostly) very extroverted, holding visible positions on community committees, frequently speaking at events, and organizing and attending parties. They are gregarious and generous, interconnected and interdependent, warm, close, constantly together, and altogether loudly celebratory about their sense of togetherness and connectedness.
At first, I thought it all quite wonderful and reveled in the experience of this different world. However, a gradual realization dawned that I needed to fit this model myself before I could be accepted. For the first time in my life, my introversion was judged negatively. Being quiet meant being unengaged. Being unwilling to constantly live together with large numbers of others meant being uncultured. Not willing to attend gatherings meant being unconcerned with wider community needs.
This was deeply uncomfortable. Not consciously aware of the changes occurring within me, I started to protect myself—in completely the wrong way. Instead of gently asserting myself as an introvert, I engaged on their extrovert terms and distanced myself from my own quiet values of freedom, space, solitude, independence, and quiet fulfillment.
I lost myself.
As I had my first child and then my second, the pressures of life grew; the expectations of those around me felt increasingly oppressive; and fractures began to show. I lost my hobbies. I stopped reading. I stopped forms of community service that I had previously been engaged with. I became angry. I judged in the same way as I had been judged.
Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, one of which was reading Susan Cain’s book, I have started the journey of discovering myself and what is important to me. I have come to realize that being quiet means not just quietly succumbing to our circumstances. Nor does it mean suppressing our introverted natures. That would be a dangerous quiet. Instead, what is required is a courageous quiet. It means expressing oneself using one’s real voice and nurturing it so that we can be the best we can be.
My own challenges as an introvert have been an invaluable growing experience. They have made me aware of my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths. I have learned how to be less judgmental of those different from me. To accept differences in the world around me as signs of its richness. To accept my own differences from others as my strengths. To contribute to the world in a way that resonates with me. To refuse to be like others or to fit into any mold. To be myself. A woman, a wife, a lawyer, a mother, a daughter, a thinker, a dreamer, an introvert, and, hopefully one day, a writer. Above all, to be me.