Age of the Introvert

I’m an extreme introvert and a former long-time germaphobe. Suddenly, the world seems to be conforming to my expectations. If I’m not by myself or with my tiny 3-person family, I prefer small concentrations of people. I prefer doing anything and everything online as opposed to in-person. I prefer keeping my hands to myself as opposed to physically greeting others or handling shared objects. I prefer relatively quiet streets and being at home. I prefer kids having free-time and spending more time with their parents.

From my perspective, the world seems normal now. It’s suddenly cool to be like me. But funny enough, I stopped being a germaphobe a few years ago, so now I’m the reckless one! And I only use a small amount of toilet paper since I prefer a more bidet-like experience. But of course, fashions come and go and I might become “anti-social” once again. But for now I’ll relish the fact that I’m basically a “hero” doing my part in the effort against our current enemy.

Though I must say, I wouldn’t mind seeing the streaming traffic and the large warehouses of people it fills become a relic of the past — an end to the rat-race and an easing on the environment. Perhaps it will become an age in which artists and writers flourish — a renaissance no less. And in these more technological times, maybe we’ll enter an age of engineering excellence, with flying cars or new settlements in remote areas — and yes, even space-travel.

Nay friends, I live not in troubling times, but at a point of progression in which old ways are gone for good. How long have we lamented the backward nature of society? So I say relish this opportunity for change and use it to advance ever-forward once again. It is through unexpected upheaval that we enter new epochs of unimagined innovation and prosperity. Not fear, but appreciation should fill our hearts each day. So dear friends, onward and upward!

Party Time

When I was in school, one of my biggest worries was being called-on by the teacher. I was always one of the quietest students in class — and I preferred to keep it that way. I’ll pay attention, do the work, take the tests — but otherwise leave me alone. I much prefer passive-observation to audience-participation.

I suppose I’ve always felt like a spectator that fears he’ll be called upon to contribute. “Excuse me, sir! Yes you!” Gah…. And some people think they’re doing you a favor by being inclusive. Umm, NO THANKS! I suppose that’s a primary reason I tend to remain isolated, I don’t want outsiders encroaching on my personal space.

If I analyze it though, I can’t immediately recall any incidents where being called-on was brutally unpleasant. I guess it was mostly the annoyance of having my quietude interrupted. I think this probably lends evidence to the idea that I tend to take life way too seriously. How dare you disturb my stillness! No ripples!

But I think it also has to do with my intense focus. I can’t task-switch very efficiently, so if I’m focused on observing the circumstances of my surroundings, I’m doing that and only that. I do one thing at a time and only one thing. I can’t effectively examine and engage — that’s two things!

I suppose I must learn to appreciate the intrusions. After-all, no one likes to be invisible all of the time — not even me. And here’s life trying to include me in the fun but I’m too untrusting of its intentions. “No! You’re just trying to scare me, or hurt me, or make me look like an idiot!” Or I feel as though I’m not good enough to keep up. “No, I’m too awkward at that, you guys go ahead….”

Hmm those definitely sound like lame excuses. If life really wanted to hurt me, things could be a lot worse — and there’s really no place to hide. And not-trying tends to receive harsher judgement than trying-and-failing. I guess I shouldn’t be so suspicious and close-minded when it comes to life’s little stimuli.

I suppose life is like a big party with a generous host trying to make sure everyone’s entertained. And periodically throughout the evening there’ll be party games where everyone’s expected to join in. I should try to be a gracious and appreciative guest rather than a grump that feels victimized for being invited. I should lower my guard and resign myself to having fun. Yay…!?

Restless Rabbit

An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Diary of an Introvert.

My nature seems to be that of an anxious little bunny. Noises, news, outings — everything defaults to potential disaster. It’s as if life is trying to catch me — and so surrounded by traps, I must ever be on my guard.

I know someone with the exact opposite view of life. She sees life as a fun place where happy things happen — the forces underlying life aren’t there to hurt, but help. For the longest time I thought that type of attitude was naivete or delusion.

How could these people not see the danger lurking all around!? They’re so ignorant, so warped in their thinking that they can’t see what’s right in front of their faces. I was a realist, they were just dumb.

But then I noticed who was having a better time with life. It was them. And then I started analyzing all the worrisome things I thought — I noticed they weren’t real, just imagined. I was scared of scary thoughts. Oh. I was the delusional one thinking life was out to get me. Oops.

I get it now. Yet that doesn’t change my initial reactions. I’m still an anxious bunny. I just talk myself out of the unease in every instance. It’s a strange pattern of course: Oh my god! Calamity! We’re doomed! Nah, nothing to worry about. Meh, whatever. It’ll be fine.

Existence is a strange experience. On one hand it seems tedious and artificial yet on the other hand it feels overwhelmingly real and too thrilling. I keep worrying that I might accidentally step into the roller-coaster line. I only enjoy the gently meandering rides.

I worry that life won’t respect my preference for a peaceful pace. I’ve known people that exited the park in horrific ways, some lingering in misery for much of their lives. They’re not me, but what if… what if.

I default to mistrusting life. I’ve seen things sour for some. But I tell myself to stop looking over at the thrill-rides, just focus on the quaint little ride I’m on. Some people like crazy excitement, it makes them feel alive. Me, I just have to sit on the bench and eat my pastry.

And so it goes dear diary, so.. it.. goes….

Spectator Expectations

An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Diary of an Introvert..

I don’t usually enjoy direct participation. I don’t mind watching, I like passively observing the ongoings of life on Earth. But I’ve always tried to avoid getting too involved — my goal is to simply seek a more comfortable seat from which to view. I don’t like when life provides me with “busy work” or “challenges”. It’s like being in class trying not to be noticed and suddenly the teacher calls my name, “Rich, can you give us the answer?” Ugh, really?

To me, life is like being thrown into the middle of some unknown game, and a ball keeps flying at my head. I don’t understand the rules and I don’t seem very good at it, plus the other players keep fighting and yelling a lot. So I keep creeping farther and farther away, inching toward the sidelines until I can get far enough that the ball hits me less and less. Eventually I’d like to just hide behind the bleachers, peeking through.

The nice part about being a spectator is that I can see the entirety of the game more so than someone constantly pelted in the face. I don’t really get better at playing, but at least I understand more facets and nuances. It’s like being a mega-sports-fan who understands the game’s intricacies better than actual players, yet will always lack the stature, dexterity, and endurance required to excel in the sport.

And make no mistake, the more insulated I’ve kept myself, the more enjoyable life became. I participate as needed, and I do maintain a couple of important relationships. Despite what my mother long insisted, there was no shell I needed to break free from. It’s like a 275 pound, nearly 7 foot guy telling you how easy football is — some people were built for sweating and others for sitting.

I like the shallow-end of the pool, I like low-speed locomotion, I like slow meandering rides, I like being an audience member, I like sitting quietly, I like following rules and guidelines and reading instructions, I like logical assessments and carefully considered responses. But my qualities and abilities tend not to match the pace of my surroundings. And so I retreat to the stands, watching the games go by.

And I do not lament this state of affairs, dear diary — no not one bit. One cannot learn to swim while feeling the sensation of drowning. During my school years, class-time was wasted on me, as I always preferred learning in quiet solitude, studying at my own pace — and it was in this way I excelled. And so in life, it has been through semi-reclusion that I found peace, relieved of the stressors and strains of society’s churn.

Inward Ramblings

An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Diary of an Introvert.

Outward achievers give great advice: whatever you want, just do it! And it is great advice, for outward achievers. For inward achievers however, it’s not so good. Additionally, outward achievers often mistake their success as something they alone accomplished, but even a cursory examination proves this a myopic fallacy, as there’s always a large prefabricated foundation underlying their success.

Being external, these outward achievers are very vocal about what it takes to succeed. And if you don’t follow their pattern, you’re obviously not a success. They see the world from a particular perspective and expect their view to be the only valid one. This is a problem common to humanity though, something we all have to overcome: people have different yet valid perspectives — we must respect these views despite our inability to recognize their value.

Wait, so are all perspectives valid? No. Shortsighted or immature viewpoints do not warrant respect. We can tell the difference by whether the perspective marginalizes others, dismissing them as worth less. Everyone has to sacrifice a little just so others can be included. Since we all share a town or society or planet, there has to be a certain level of civility and respect given towards all other inhabitants.

Inward achievers are often a marginalized group because we don’t appear to be doers. We just kinda sit around, we appear lazy, we get up late, we’re too indecisive, we don’t have reams of accomplishments. But really, is a slow sloth of lesser value than a busy beaver? Some might complain that beavers can be too industrious, with their environment-altering destructiveness. Clearly a balance must be struck, and not everyone can be doing everything at once.

I’m not lazy in the sense that I’m selfish and don’t want to contribute — I would like to participate, but I’m also not competitive enough to survive amongst overly-competitive outward achievers. While I plod along, they seek to savor the defeat of others, not content with winning, they want to crush. And if you aren’t fighting back, you’re weak and worthless.

To outward achievers, these are the ramblings of a feckless fool with his “loser talk”. Losers whine about all the things they can’t do. But here’s a story about an outward achiever I once saw in a documentary about a group of monkeys. It was a content tribe of monkeys until one day one of them killed the beloved leader, wanting to receive all the accolades and attention for himself. He was a jerk of course and couldn’t win over the affections of the tribe. The researchers returned not long after, but they saw that the ambitious monkey was now mentally disabled, having apparently been beaten so badly, presumably at night while he slept, and was permanently slow and docile.

Not sure why that story sticks with me, but I appreciate it for some reason. Perhaps it shows that it’s of no benefit to be overly competitive and that sometimes the meek team up to ward off oppressive assholes. And if you think about it, that’s exactly the reason we humans live in formalized societies: to keep assholes at bay. Why else would we all agree to be ruled by laws.

Yet it’s apparent that oftentimes short-sighted overly-competitive people make their way to the top and attempt to crush those below merely for the feelings of satisfaction they receive from dominating. If laws don’t regulate such behavior, they’re essentially useless, becoming tools of the powerful to attain even more power. Ah what a world, diary, what.. a.. world…. Well I fear I’ve digressed too much at this point, diary, and with that… exeunt.

Descriptive Mismatch

My expectations of life tend to differ from what I’m actually presented with. I don’t choose these expectations, they’re just the ideas that float into my thought stream. But when I’m struck with the obvious mismatch, I find it unpleasant, so much so that I seek out ideas to help justify the discrepancy and settle my discomfort.

Obviously I’d prefer to have ideas that already correspond with what I witness, or vice versa. I find it odd that I should have these seemingly unrealistic ideas — why not have thoughts that perfectly match my surroundings? So instead of actively participating in life, I’m typically sitting silently, wondering, “what’s going on here, what is this place!?”.

To me, life is a riddle to solve, a mystery to unmask. Because my expectations seem so off-kilter, I lack enthusiasm to engage. Lacking a foundation on which to stand, I am without bearings by which to navigate. If I don’t know where I am, then where am I to go? If lost in the woods, is it not recommended to remain still? And so I sit.

Sitting and observing life is pleasant — it’s the disruption from sitting, the excessive engagement, I find unpleasant. But as it will, life tends to force my active participation from time to time, which can be jarring, but sometimes enjoyable — and it’s nice to take breaks from quiet contemplation. I’ve often wondered if life will eventually align with my thoughts when I reach a certain age, because it feels as though I’ve been waiting for something. And so I wait.

Monkey Business

When I graduated college, and people asked me, “so what do you do?”, I never had a comfortable answer, as I mostly just sat in my childhood bedroom in front of a computer. Eventually I put all that computing practice to use at my father’s business, but only part-time and only for a couple of years. Later on when I became a professional software developer, I was comfortable with that answer — but the career only lasted a few years.

Why don’t I pursue a career in the traditional sense? Because I’m not compelled to do so. For instance, my mother works not for financial reasons, but to feel useful and to interact with people. I’m naturally very detached from the world, so I’m not motivated by much. Most of my life consists of my body sitting in a small room, while my mind explores anywhere and everywhere. So being outside of my room, engaged with the exterior world, takes me from my thoughts — confining me within a limited world I rarely appreciate.

In other words, I’m compelled to sit and think, and not much else. Everything about me has always imposed this outcome — my appearance, my personality, my preferences, my interests, my impulses. My mother would often worry about my solitude, referring to me as a hermit or monk, but she was projecting her own preferences onto me — she could not stand solitary sitting and assumed I must have been suffering — when it was actually my ventures into the external that led to much discomfort.

To be who I am seems to require my retreat from external interaction. Back when I was sitting in front of the computer everyday, I learned all I could about computing and networking and eventually programming, I had no external goal, just an urge to explore. But because of that, in my parents’ eyes at least, I turned from a pitiful hermit into a modern-day wizard, a priest at the temple of Dell-fi (Dell & wifi, ha!). Nowadays I explore the meaning of life and the path to happiness — I can only assume at some point I’ll exit my current cocoon, into a wizard of another sort.