On being a College Introvert

Being an introvert in American colleges is so tough, it’s like being a Jew in Nazi Germany.

What a hyperbole. Besides the faint hope of snatching your attention (something so deficit while internet browsing), the assertion has only a few micrograms of truth.

Let me now then tell you how things really are.

1. Is it tough to be a college introvert? It is, to a widely varying extent. The truth is that people are not going to recoil from you for not being a people person. But the damage is done indirectly, and perhaps unconsciously – no one declares the inferiority of introversion, of being a little too contemplative or reticent, but everyone extols the supremacy of extroversion, of being talkative and sociable. The reverberation hurts.

So the mainstream and you sing in dissonance. Yet this is not just another you-against-the-norm epic, because neither side truly understands what it is fighting for. The norm, whose anthropomorphic incarnation is your extrovert friends, is not fighting to make you annoyed or exhausted, but only to drag you out and have some fun. And you, being fed the unquestioned desirability of a social life, are confused over why you are fighting to be alone. You wonder whether that is okay. You question your sanity and your probability of success in life.

If you happen to live in the worst of all worlds, you will risk being shoved, by all that puzzlement, into a depression that used to be only imaginary in the mind of your solicitous friends in the first place.

But mark this: what is hurting you is not your friends, definitely not your self – but the puzzlement, the puzzlement that feasts on uncertainty and self-doubt. Hence, to be introvert and be content in college, you need not fight the world nor change yourself, but only put that puzzlement on a strict diet of self-understanding, and of full confidence in your way of life.

And I am here, with hope no more than to either kindle, reignite, or further inflame that confidence.

2. Would I miss out on things if I were not social? Yes, you would – the extroverts say – you would miss all the new people, all the parties, and all the chatting and screaming and drinking. All the socializing, in a word.

But I have no more to respond than this: if you know that you don’t want those things in the first place, wouldn’t they be not counted as missed?

Furthermore, don’t the people that spend away their lives in parties that are excessive of noise and deficit in depth realize that they are missing out on things too? Like a moment of quiet contemplation, a Friday night of being alone with the piano, or an hour of exhilarating good read? Oh, excuse me, I forgot – how can people that do not think realize all that. Good for them. They clearly have picked a lifestyle that suit them best.

3. But wouldn’t I be disadvantaged in “essential” to-dos, like job search? Yeah, you would be – and the introvert admit too. Networking seems like an indispensable part of finding a job, and of climbing the corporate ladder. Talent is absolutely valued – the only problem is that people in the business world all seem to have a life too busy and an attention span too short to notice a covered gem.

To this dilemma I have no satisfactory answer myself (I am a college junior, aren’t I?) My temporary solution is to get as many Ph.D as I can. Here people judge you not on the volubility of your talk, but on the content of your talk.

So yes, consider a Ph.D, will you? Because, honestly, why change yourself when you can change the world.

4. What fun I can have in college? A ton.

4.1. Learn to play an instrument: As I once said somewhere in this blog, music is a perfect complement to the futility of verbal communication. It expresses emotions that words can’t, and requires a level of sensitivity and sensibility that talking never quite dreams of. One thing that keeps amaze me is how the rests need to be played as carefully as the notes do – and right there we have an introvert motto.

If you already knew an instrument, preferably a string one, I would recommend joining the college orchestra

4.2. Go to a concert: Even if we aren’t in an orchestra, we can always experience that musical delight vicariously, can’t we?

4.3. Go to the gym: That sounds really counter-intuitive, for if I observe correctly, we introverts are not known for our athletic potency. One reason might be that we tend to look down on those activities as degradingly physical. So I thought, until I was dragged to the gym (by an extrovert, for the sake of irony) myself. It turns out to be very mentally demanding. It is just like this: if you visualize your lifting that weight, you will – and vice versa.

Furthermore, keeping yourself in good shape is like beating them outgoing extroverts at their own games. Oh man, what a great motivation.

4.4. Join a sport team: I am more ambivalent about other sports. Even though the in-game communication is by no means superficial, being in a team necessarily involves other social duties, like team dinners that drag out for hours. I have not been in a sport team since my high school senior year, so I will not try to establish an authority here.

4.5. Learn to cook: An activity that combines enjoyment and practical use, a process that involves so many variables (think ingredients, spices, condiments, slicing, boiling, frying, sauté-ing, time, heat, decorations) that the potentials are endless. An art so underrated as a means of getting by.

4.6. Read a non-academic book: Probably all of us have already done this – so I won’t jeopardize my introvert status by ranting trivialities. One thing to note though, in college you are bound to have a lot of reading already. So try something light and fun perhaps, by which I mean Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, or Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality.

Or Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight will do.

4.7. Have a weekend movie night: An obvious choice indeed.

4.8. Start a blog: aha! Mystery solved for those who wonder how this blog came into being. And I do hope that this blog, with both its content and spirit, is already the loudest (figuratively, of course) proponent of why blogging is a natural option for those who love to mull over ideas and feelings.

The Internet, after all, is a perfect medium for us. Think about it: in no where else, can we have absolute control over the pace and the content of the other side’s talk, right?

  1. * The world is not divided into introverts and party animals.

    * Is it that different though, an extrovert oblivious to the joy of solitary pursuits and an introvert who writes off excessive human interaction as a sign of unsophistication?

    While there is an inevitable consensus among extroverts on the inferiority of introversion, it comes across part bewilderment, part pity. Extroverts, unhindered by the pressure to perform socially, having no need to justify their behavior, can afford, every now and again, something almost resembles sympathy toward the ‘lesser’ folk. Same thing can hardly be said for the introverted. In fact, with more time to ponder upon and articulate in their heads all the ‘sins’ of their social butterfly-y, busybody-ish nemeses, after each invisible bullet more convinced their favoring solitude bears testimony to incomparable excellence, introverts’ sense of superiority strikes me, on occasion, as high-handed and slightly vindictive.

    It is only natural that an extrovert would want his introverted pal to join him on the ‘right’ side. Ergo, “Let’s go to this xyz thing. It’ll be fun.” But what are the odds of an introvert trying to talk his extroverted roomie into spending a late afternoon watching sunset ( pardon the example)? It is probable that he thinks any conversion attempt a waste of time. Or, he’d deeply rather his ‘territory’ not invaded.

    The term “introvert”, first adopted as part of a self-actualization process, now becomes some sort of empowerment badge, an entrance pass to the secret club of the vastly misunderstood and uniquely brilliant.

    ( Technical notes:
    “introvert”: he who considers himself one
    “extrovert: he who could care less ( that the “he” above considers him one) )

    That’s some cold, hard speculative BS-isms for you.

    * The Claude Debussy thing—are you taking notes? never ever miss a chance to namedrop (familiarity with said namedropees irrelevant)!— is so true. It’s fascinating how a simple principle can be applied everywhere: the micro-breaks between dance steps, what an actor does when the camera does not focus on him, what comedic timing is all about, the use of white space in design, what’s left out as opposed to what’s included, punctuation, the thing that I am not doing,…

    On that note, I’ll now leave you and your precious solitude alone. Go, get back to the riveting debate of Vampire vs Werewolf. Change the world. Take up yoga. Join a cult. Out-narcissitate Narcissus. Go vegan. Practice the commencement speech. Say “Who is John Galt?” in 10 languages. Lead a demonstration. Talk to a tree.

    (Gee, music, books, sports, movies eh? No wonder introverts are considered devoid of fun.)

    • anhqle said:

      It worries me sometimes that the introverts’ sense of superiority might be vindictive as well. Yet that bothers me no longer – for, honestly, every underrepresented and misunderstood group runs the risk of being named the avenger when trying to right the wrong that have been done unto them.

      Every revolution – be it proletariat, feminist, or racial – can be accused of a vengeful motive, can it not? So I assure myself that the introvert’s voicing up for themselves is legitimate, at least not less than any of the mentioned three.

      Furthermore, perhaps not every introvert considers himself superior (which is probably not the case in this blog.) There might be an introvert that is comfortable with his way of life, while maintaining that that of social butterflies is no worse, and believing that life style is a matter of suitability and not of superiority. Just as I can be proud of my cultural heritage while respecting yours – I’ve heard that some have actually mastered such a thing.

      So I apologize (without being apologetic) for blurting out some acidic thoughts about a life too social. Yes, I should have been more Gandhi-like. Yes, I shouldn’t have teared down an established injustice only to set up another sense of superiority.

      And yes, and yet, I did them all anyway.

  2. HK said:

    I echo Van Trang’s sentiments and want to point out your fallacy in assuming that being an introvert in college means excluding oneself from the college social life and that being an extrovert in college basically means being a “party animal.” What a hasty generalization. I have extrovert friends in college who don’t party at all, enjoy solitude and reading books as much as any introverts would, and still go out enthusiastically to get involve with many meaningful social events, i.e. student organizations, clubs, etc. The same goes for introvert people — they are not anti-social. That said, when you label people, you stop trying to understand them beyond what they appear to you (which is what happens to so-called introverts). Everyone judges, in college or not.

    In your comment from the previous post, you wrote: “But that they don’t try to dictate your life does not mean that they don’t have an opinion on how you should lead your life – especially in colleges, they do, and the verdict says college is about going out, meeting people, and being cheerful.” Here you clearly imply that introverts are sorrowful, soulful, profoundly quiet — just everything that’s the opposite of cheerful. You forgot that we all need to have fun sometime, and don’t tell me you don’t enjoy friends’ company at all.

    “Things would be much simpler were everyone to understand what introversion is – then the introvert would not have to (mistakenly) worry about his being misanthropic, his missing out on things, his not succeeding in life, and the extrovert would not have to (vainly) attempt to cheer up, drag out, care for his silent partner. However, scarcely understood, introversion does seem symptomatic of mental ills.”
    This is another fallacy in argument.
    1. Introversion is often misunderstood and misjudged.
    2. Thus, Introversion is a mental ill.

    I don’t disagree that things would be easier for the introverts were people to understand them, but I seriously doubt that the introverts, who are often too busy nurturing their quiet soul, would bother questioning if they are missing out on things or not. If they do, then they clearly have paranoid rather than introversion.

  3. anhqle said:

    Yes, Yes, I agree with every caution of yours against generalizations, assumptions, and a binary world view. Hear me out and we may turn out to be much more in accord than it seems.

    Sure, introversion isn’t anti-social, and an introvert does not exclude himself from social life. Introversion is perhaps most reasonably described in Rauch’s words: “feeling drained by the presence of people.” I love companions (usually…) and would go nuts if left alone for days – yet at the same time I do feel exhausted being around people too long.

    Introversion means no more than that – not the point of having no contact with his kinds, of avoiding every conversation, of thinking cheerfulness is a sin. Just as extroversion means no more than “feeling energized by people” – not the point of being a “party animal”, the apt word in which compressed all the intended description.

    So why did I seem to carve the impression of an animosity between soulful introverts and wild extroverts?

    First off, it is hard accomplish anything better while trying to describe a particular trait. I’m not trying to put the label “introvert” on people – more accurately, I’m talking about the label per se, one among countless many that an individual possesses. The description is bound to be sterilely simplistic, because, for the sake of explanation, I’m describing pure and unmixed introversion, as if such a thing existed.

    Secondly, (I will have to beg your forgiveness), picking up a dialectical tone is just a classic trick of sensational writing. It is just spicier when we fight than when we make peace. So… yeah, my fault.

    @HK: what I meant was:
    1. Introversion is misunderstood and misjudged.
    2. Hence, it SEEMS to people like depression (symptoms: like being alone, do not speak much, laugh much, and a zillion other things.)

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    • anhqle said:

      Thanks for reading. I haven’t blogged for quite a while, so knowing that my writing has brought some enjoyment to the world is quite motivating indeed.

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