I was trying to avoid work the other day, when I came across an article in the New York Times about introversion and shyness. More specifically, it was about the evolutionary advantages that likely kept these traits alive throughout human history. As an introvert AND someone who thinks evolution is a fascinating model for explaining almost everything, it turned out to be the perfect way to kill time at work.
One of the things that the author hits upon is the difference between introversion and shyness. The former is a preference for solitude; finding happiness in limited company. The latter is a fear of disapproval or rejection around others. I never really thought to differentiate the two, but with it all laid out like that, I’ve decided that I was more shy as a child and am more introverted as an adult.
As a rather intelligent youth, I frequently avoided speaking up in school out of a fear of being wrong. I had an indescribable pride in understanding things, which I didn’t want to have shattered by putting myself out for others to scrutinize. I was extremely quiet in public, never spoke much around new people, and only hung around with one or two very close friends; however, whether it was the trappings of youth or an effect of my personality, I didn’t spend much time alone. I spoke abundantly to the close group of friends and family that I had. I would have sleepovers every night until my parents insisted that I was intruding on other people’s homes. In other words, I was far from an introvert. I just hated opening up around new people.
The older I’ve gotten, the easier I’ve found it to talk to new people. I’m definitely still quiet around people with extremely outgoing and/or loud personalities. I have no desire to compete with their jabber and content myself with quietly agreeing or disagreeing. Still, I’ve developed an abundance of confidence since my elementary school years and, as a result, speak my mind more freely to a larger number of people. I’ve even introduced the concept of “small talk” into my everyday life. I’m friends with the entire support staff at work, the people at the front desk, and the Fedex guy.
The main thing that has changed is my level of introversion. I was obviously never an extrovert, but as I proceeded through high school, college, and into working life, I’ve developed more and more of an appreciation for time spent alone. The last time I took the Jung and Briggs Meyer personality test, my results were 99% introvert for god’s sake. It’s obviously not to say that I don’t like hanging out with friends and family. Conversely, I enjoy the time I spend with them more, because it’s a special occurrence. Having alone time just gives me time to let my ever-racing brain zing along at its own pace without distraction. It lends me the freedom to do whatever I want or don’t want to do without having to worry about another person’s opinion.
This is where another point made in the article comes in. Based on a number of studies, introverts are much more likely to consider the feelings of others, be faithful, and generally be more observant of the world around them. On the whole, I think all of these points are grounded in truth. One reason that I enjoy doing things by myself, whether it’s reading a book or taking a trip across town, is that I do feel a constant need to consider others, and it gets exhausting. I hope it doesn’t sound terribly selfish, but when you can’t shut off the instinct to think about others, the only relief is some time spent worrying only for yourself.
Another of the author’s points is one that I grapple with on a daily basis. Introverts tend to thoroughly access risks. As far as evolution goes, this is a great benefit. One can imagine an extrovert who never stops to think, running headlong off of a cliff. An introvert, who is much more cautious, considers what is ahead, and is much more likely to survive (and thus pass on their genes to future generations). On the one hand, I enjoy having this trait. I’ve been able to make myself financially stable by worrying and planning in case of an emergency, never wanting to make a mistake. The overall title for my personality type is “mastermind”; one who sits and plans something, piece by piece, and then enacts it to great success. That’s essentially my goal in life. Hell, I even like video games that are very difficult and take planning to succeed.
The problem is that risk assessment is also a great way to hold yourself back. I can plan all I want, but I’m worried that I’ll hesitate too much to put anything on the line. As much as I enjoy my personality type, this trait is going to be my final frontier. I think I’ll be ready to make it when I find the right balance of caution and recklessness. Keep your fingers crossed; I’m sure I’ll be thinking of everyone when I’ve got more money than I know what to do with.