When we were kids, we used to discuss our navels (among other body parts) and one of the questions among school friends was, “Are you an Innie or an Outie?” Outies were considered rather weird in my elite circles of scruffy early-teenhood, so I was glad I was an Innie. Of course, I still am, and in more ways than one.
(By the way, if you don’t know what I am talking about you can Google it (of course). I was planning to illustrate this article at this point, but the Google images look rather disgusting and I didn’t want to turn you, my dear devoted blog-readers, off this rather interesting subject. So I shall move on, imageless. You can stare at your own navels, if you like.
I did an interesting character assessment thing as part of a team-building exercise at work some time ago, and “introvert” was one of the core features of my character. This did not surprise me. I know I am an introvert, and although sometimes I think I would love to be an Outie, I know in my heart of hearts that it’s just not… me. Luckily, when we were all psychoanalyzed, my colleagues and I seemed to balance each other out quite well.
There is a new book out called “Quiet, Please: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop Talking,” by Susan Cain. It suggests that although many leaders are extroverts, introverts can be too. The Quiet Leader is often under-estimated. I don’t come into this category, I should hasten to add. I have all the characteristics of an introvert: I love being alone; I always feel tired after I’ve been sociable for an entire day, or after an evening of small talk; I would let the phone go to voicemail every time, if I could get away with it; I like to bury myself in a job without being interrupted by the sound of a human voice. Anti-social? Maybe. Leadership? No, thanks. But retreating into myself is one way in which I recharge my batteries.
When the phone rings at home I often say to my dear Mr. Petchary, “You answer it – it’s probably for you, anyway.” And it usually is for him, because he is the exact opposite of me. He loves chatting on the phone – just for the sake of it, it seems to me – passing the time of day, checking in with someone he hasn’t heard from for a while. To me it seems unnecessary – to him, it is essential. Communication is what it’s all about.
As for me, I would rather write.
When I was a child, I was called “The Bookworm” from an early age. One of my favorite photos is of me aged about nine or ten, sitting cross-legged on the ground, a large book between my knees and my elbows resting on them. Miles away. My sister, on the other hand, would be busy socializing with her dolls, who seemed very fond of drinking tea. The number of times I got dragged reluctantly to those pointless tea parties. Of course, the dolls were entirely mute. My sister, on the other hand, never stopped talking.
Another interesting point this book makes is that it was once entirely acceptable to be an Innie. Until the mass media started in the last century, and movie stars with red lips and long trailing furs swept up and down on red carpets, talking all the while. And didn’t those old-style movie actors and actresses talk fast? As if they were trying to make up for the intolerable quietness of the previous decades. It was suddenly fashionable – and desirable – to be an Outie. I wonder if some of those great stars whose careers failed and who fell by the wayside were, in fact, Innies who were tired of pretending to be Outies. They wanted to retreat to their bedrooms with a good book, but they had to be out there, dazzling people.
Comedians, strangely, sometimes have difficulties maintaining the non-stop pressure of being funny all the time. I can name several (starting with an incredibly funny old British comedian, Tony Hancock, who ended up drinking himself into a fairly early grave) who couldn’t handle it after a while. Maybe being a perpetual Outie does not come so naturally. There has to be a little balance. I guess that is why, too, Mr. Petchary drags me out of the house from time to time, or invites friends over, so that like one of those little spiky hermit crabs, I am obliged to poke my head out of my shell. And it’s not unpleasant to do so, even if later on I find myself a larger and more comfortable shell to crawl into.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a full-blown extrovert. Personally, I greatly admire them. It comes so naturally to Mr. Petchary. He is so interested in other people, and always wants to know everything about them. When I display a lack of curiosity about people, he finds it odd. He can (and will) talk to anyone and immediately connect. When he goes quiet, I get worried. When I start making noise, he gets worried. We balance each other out, beautifully.
Interestingly, too, Mr. Petchary (a great lover of the Internet like me, especially since we got our glorious Mac) much prefers videos. When he is on the computer, it is always talking at him. I love music, but I hate talky-talk videos. If I want to listen to talk, a good movie will do it – or Bill Maher, whom I would definitely put in the Outie category. Stand-up comics are the ultimate in extroversy (no, that’s underlined in red so it can’t be a word). Extrovertedness. Nope. Extroversion. Aha, that’s it.
I think, actually, that I can be quite extrovert when I want to be. It’s almost like putting on makeup, though. I can switch it on, and walk around a room saying “Hi, how are you?” to total strangers. And when I am comfortable with someone, I will chat away ad nauseam. But I like to listen, too. My voice often irritates me, and when I hear a recording of it I think, “Good Lord, is that me? Why do I sound so affected? And what a dreadful accent.”
There are some occupations, I suppose, which just go with being introverted – literally, turned inwards. Writing is one of them. I guess this is why I love to write, whether anybody reads it or not. It is my way of communicating. The social media is, of course, a godsend to Innies like me. You don’t have to talk.
Of course, while browsing Amazon I recently found a book subtly titled: “Introverts Suck.”
Well, there’s two sides to every story. An Inside and an Outside. And somewhere In Between.
- Introverts (k12options.wordpress.com)
- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/opinion/sunday/26shyness.html?pagewanted=all Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic? by Susan Cain