Five years ago, I went to India with my friends for a week, and we were lucky enough to stay there for free, courtesy of our lecturer who was a General Secretary of an international organization based in New Delhi.
As part of our time there, we had a discussion on recent issues the country was facing. Everyone was busy talking and sharing their opinions, except for one person: me.
I sat there amazed at everyone’s ability to talk relentlessly, but I kept quiet until our lecturer interrupted and directed the attention at me: “You are silent throughout the discussion. Why? Don’t you have something to say about this topic?’’
I shivered and gave a short reply: “Well, I’m listening.” Satisfied, everyone turned their attention away from me and continued talking.
The next day, we had a dinner together, and another conversation on recent issues took place. This time, the atmosphere was totally tense, and I decided not to stir up the discussion. Hence, I did what I knew best: I listened to each argument while enjoying my drink at the same time, knowing that our lecturer really wanted me to contribute something to the conversation.
During our last day in India, the lecturer and I had a conversation regarding my attitude during the previous discussions. “You didn’t look interested with the two discussions we had before,’’ he said. “I hope it’s not a sign of arrogance or ignorance.’’ I kept quiet. I honestly didn’t expect that kind of reaction from him. Somehow, I did manage to reply to him. “I’m sorry, professor,” I said. “I didn’t know the rules. I didn’t know that I should say something.’’
I know it sounds naïve. Everyone should say something, I told myself. After all, it’s a discussion! I kept up my mental conversation with myself, telling myself those moments should be the times when I should show who I am and what my brains are made of. I knew what to say about the topic, and I had something to say. And, I thought, I know people would be impressed with my opinion. But I just couldn’t. I didn’t feel comfortable at all. I knew it would be great to show off how good my brain is and that I am not ignorant, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk. “I don’t like it,” I told myself again.
In that moment, I realized this is what makes me, an introvert, different from my more extroverted friends and colleagues. They can say anything and everything with great confidence just to make sure their opinions are heard. In my case, although I have my opinions and ideas on just about any issue, I can’t just throw them around—it takes some time for me to get comfortable with them. I will sit down, grab a pencil and paper, and write down all the things I should say. And, of course, I’d summarize others’ opinions so that I can respond to them in a good way as well.
I ended up going back to India for a second time, but this time, I decided to write about my experiences there in a journal. Later, I turned those notes into a self-introspection and philosophical novel. The novel was published last year, and to my surprise, I received a lot of feedback from readers who felt connected to the story and enjoyed picking up life lessons from my experiences. I feel relieved I found a way to share my feelings, my thoughts, and ideas through writing.
It’s good to know whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert as you are able to focus on your strengths and embrace your weaknesses. But for me, it is a blessing to know that, as an introvert in the midst of extroverted situations, I can use my superpower to impact the lives of others as well as my own.
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