Self-Awareness: The Golden Ticket to Flourishing in an Extroverted World
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Self-awareness is defined as “the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.” As a textbook introvert who feels very deeply and values copious amounts of introspection, knowledge of this concept has helped me navigate the personal ups and sometimes professional downs of being an introvert in a world that’s unknowingly biased towards extroversion.
As is an almost obvious association in hindsight, I look back to realise that every life decision I’ve ever made has been influenced by factors such as my upbringing, education, and social circles. All these factors have aided me to better understand myself and the world around me. I’m a liberal arts student, and my degree focussed on Psychology, Sociology and Economics. A token child of the humanities, I found that I sometimes perceived things differently as compared to my family and friends from more conventional educational/professional backgrounds. For the longest time, I was also socially conditioned into feeling like there was something wrong with the way I carried myself and interacted with my milieu- a feeling that's all too familiar for introverts trying to find appreciation and solace in just being themselves.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle postulated, “man is a social animal”. What I’ve come to understand now is that the word “social” here could mean two very different things for introverts and extroverts. “Social” is used as an adjective- being social is highly commended and considered as ideal. While used in an extroverted context, social may refer to the way extroverts are inherently social, and derive energy from social interactions-interactions they thrive on, interactions that act as their life force. However, for an introvert, the phrase is more holistic in nature and holds a broader meaning. It rings true for us in the sense that our understanding of “self” is only influenced by our social settings and learning. We are highly sensitive and receptive to stimuli, shaped by our surroundings as is human of us, but we don't look to it as a reference to act and understand ourselves. And that's where we’re different from extroverts. We see ourselves as beings separate from our immediate environment, because we’re just so used to a lingering feeling of isolation.
While doing my research for this post, I came across the question “can introverts be happy”. This question broke my heart. So many of us spend days, weeks, MONTHS on end feeling misunderstood and under-appreciated in an environment that isn't conducive to introverted personalities. These environmental biases mostly manifest in two contexts- educational and professional. These are the two major environments where the individual does not get to choose who they engage with. In schools, teachers can use class participation and activities like “group thinking” as a yardstick to determine a child’s sociability scale and then go on to employ methods that let their personality traits bloom accordingly, instead of assessing and grading the child merely based off of these components.
In the professional arena, shortcomings arise due to a lack of leadership that simply does not understand or consider the other side of the personality coin. Introverts prosper when mentored by empathetic leaders - ones who help bolster us and ones who know our worth without us having to mention explicitly. But introversion and its implications in the professional setting is a topic that reserves its own article. Funnily enough, I actually found this blog while scouring the internet for self-help articles on how to deal with being an introverted professional, and the biases that come with being an introvert at the workplace. I remember going through days of anguish, feeling unworthy and uncomfortable with myself for not fitting into an environment that innately celebrates extroversion- an oxymoron in itself. These days, when I tell people that I’m an introvert (I always make it a point to earn my space by establishing this fact), the first reaction I receive is that I don't “come off as an introvert”. A proclamation of this sort more often than not emanates from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding. Being an introvert doesn't necessarily mean you're shy or passive. An introvert can be charismatic, a brilliant conversationalist who’s passionate and astute when a topic piques their interest. And it is this enthusiasm that is often mistaken for the blanket term of extroversion.
Admittedly, it was a conversation I had with a close friend a few years ago that provoked my sense of pride in being an introvert. We were talking about how neither of us liked big friend circles and had a handful of friends who we valued and held dear to us- a friend circle limited by choice. Both of us were aware of how we enjoyed and felt the most driven by one-on-one conversations because of how meaningful they were, one devoid of awful small talk. More aware of her personality and an introvert herself, she made a statement that clung to me for years to come- that she’d rather be a “self-sufficient” introvert than a “needy” extrovert. I place both those adjectives in quotes because being offensive is never my intention. I do not want to make an extroverted reader feel bad about their traits- I’ve lived a good chunk of my life being made to feel like my natural personality is something to be ashamed of, and I would never do the same to anyone else. But I’ve learned enough to know that introversion and extroversion are mutually exclusive terms- an introvert and extrovert may butt heads, but it's in their ability to do so gracefully that defines character. That being said, I may complain and whine about my extroverted friends/colleagues to my introverted friends. I’m human too! But I know in my heart that it doesn't come from a place of inflated ego or malice. It is only self-awareness and a rock-solid emotional support system that got me to a point where I pride myself on being an introvert. My personality type has predisposed me with the capacity to be contemplative, empathetic and kind. I wouldn't trade in these qualities for all the sociability in the world.
"We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally."
I first found joy in knowing who I am, in understanding myself when I was first introduced to Carl Jung’s personality theories. I then conducted a few self-assessments of personality and read academic papers and psychological literature to educate myself on both parts of personality so that I wouldn't blow myself into a one-sided filter bubble. Just as any daunting odyssey that springs from not fitting into the norm, being an introvert is an uphill journey- one where self-awareness acts as the golden ticket. But the destination is so wonderful, it's worth making the long, winding trip to. I sincerely hope that you embark on your journey too. Introvert to introvert, I attest to the feeling of fulfilment that comes with knowing yourself- a feeling as pure and unadulterated as it comes.