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Let Me Finish: A Case for the Quiet Geniuses

Posted by Jessica Ingold on December 11, 2015 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Guys, I’ve wanted to write this blog for a VERY long time. How long, you ask? Well, since I started admitting to being an introvert—so, a few years, at least.

For the past several months, I’ve been working on hammering out the second installment of my three-book YA series. Prior to writing, I spent a full week drafting a fifteen-page outline that includes a colour-coordinated, chapter-by-chapter breakdown, a hyper-specific timeline, and a detailed set of sketches for all my major and minor characters, complete with birthdays, strengths, and weaknesses. All well and good, especially since I’m on course to finish the first draft some time before the New Year. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because in the midst of consulting my trusty outline, I realized something horrifying. In the process of characterizing one of my male characters, I wrote this in his Weaknesses column: Introverted.

I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal—and truth be told, it isn’t. But for someone who has spent her entire life being told she had to “come out of her shell” and “learn to adapt”, this sort of blunder is bitingly ironic. Introversion isn’t a weakness. I have known this my entire life, and yet, when tasked with defining the psychological makeup of a wholly fictional human being, my knee-jerk reaction was to perceive his soft-spoken demeanor as a handicap, as something he will eventually have to overcome rather than a source of limitless potential.

In my defense, this oversight may actually prove beneficial. You see, given that I’ve made the mistake of assuming my quintessentially introverted character will be at a disadvantage, I now have no choice but to explore his unique personality in exhaustive detail. I feel like I owe this to myself, and to everyone else who has ever been made to feel like they need to change in order to be socially acceptable. But before I do, there are a few things we need to discuss (and by ‘we’ I mean the 25% of us who are unified in our understanding that being quiet doesn’t mean we have nothing to say. But more on that later.)

So, without further ado, I present you with this handy list of 10 things extroverts need to stop saying to introverts. Extroverts: we love you guys, and we know you mean well. But for the love of all that is holy on this planet, please stop trying to indoctrinate us. We know—you’re cool. And chatty. And occasionally generous to the point of being overbearing. But we’re cool, too, even if it takes a little longer to see it.

And now, the list...

1. “So, do you talk?”

Nope. I’m mute. I go through my days communicating strictly through hand gestures and a series of systematic eye blinks reminiscent of Morse code. C’mon. I know this may come off as somewhat of a surprise, but introverts DO know how to engage in verbal conversation. Shocking, I know.

2. “Don’t be shy!”

Let’s get one thing straight here: introversion is not (I repeat, NOT) synonymous with being shy, just like not all extroverts are loud, boisterous, pushy, or self-absorbed. Sure, most of us may seem a little shy or reticent at first blush, but I promise you, it’s temporary. Think of it as being in power-save mode. (Spoiler alert: all introverts are robots. That’s why we’re so predictable.)

I should also mention that this question usually goes hand-in-hand with the first one, resulting in this loaded command: “Don’t be shy, say something!” You see, there’s this little glimmer of overlap between “Don’t be shy” and “Why aren’t you talking?” and this is where most of us introverts spend the majority of our time: on the narrow verge between not being shy and not having anything to say. Please stop asking me to come out of my shell simply to prove I have a set of fully functioning vocal cords. You’re embarrassing us both.

3. “Are you autistic?”

Guys, do I really need to explain why this is an absolute no-no? Further to my earlier point, introversion is not a disability, so stop treating it like one. Also, I think this is a good time to mention that pointing out defects or personal struggles of any kind is never appropriate. Just don’t do it. Rise above the impulse. Mind your own business. If you need help in this department, I know just the people to talk to…

4. “You know, if you really wanted to be an extrovert, you could.”

Wow. Thanks. I had no idea you guys were so inclusive. (Sarcasm. You social cheerleaders are always trying to get us to join your Awesome Club.) Here’s the thing, though…

We can’t (and even if we could, we probably wouldn't want to).

It’s true. Contrary to what some people believe, introversion isn’t a choice or a learned behaviour. There is an actual, physiological explanation for why some people exhibit introverted traits more frequently than others, and it has to do with how our brains process dopamine. Don’t believe me? Then read this.

Now, at the risk of alienating some of my more introverted friends, extroverts may not be entirely wrong on this one. After all, this isn’t Pleasantville and the world isn’t black and white. We’re human beings, not light switches. It doesn’t have to be an either-or type of thing. I’ve met outgoing introverts and standoffish extroverts. For the most part, though, most of us spend our lives closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. So, while we appreciate the invitation, it’s a LONG walk to the other side.

5. “You need to get out more.”

Why? Home has food…and cats…and Netflix.

In all seriousness, though, I’m an introvert, not an agoraphobe. If I didn’t leave my apartment, I’d starve. Being introverted doesn’t mean we’re anti-social. We like going out, just not all the time and not with so many people at once. We need our quiet downtime. It re-energizes us. So, in addition to being robots, we’re also batteries. Go figure.

Here’s another thing: introverts don’t usually invite themselves to social functions; it just isn’t in our nature. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hang out. Invite us anyway. We might still say no, but at least it will have been our choice, rather than an unfortunate miscommunication. Fact: everyone likes to feel included. Even introverts.

6. “So, I guess you’re a total nerd who plays chess and listens to Beethoven, right?”

Not all introverts are nerds (nerds—there’s another word that gets a lot of shade, eh?) Believe it or not, introverts’ interests can be just as diverse—and dare I say it, cool—as extroverts’. I don’t play chess (in fact, I suck at all games that involve a board) and I hate classical music (so sue me). Somewhere along the way, society developed this stereotypical view of introverts that includes a twiggy-looking, adenoidal-sounding, socially inept caricature that rejects pop culture and can recite the dictionary from memory.

I realize I’m exaggerating here, but the truth is, extroverts often have more in common with introverts than they think. We don’t like to talk about ourselves (or your aunt Sue’s geriatric poodle who just had hernia surgery), but we can bend your ear for hours about our passions: books, cooking, spelunking, semiology, artificial intelligence, wind surfing…you name it. Don’t talk about yourself, talk about your interests. You might be surprised by what we have to say.

7. “If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be more outgoing.”

There’s a longstanding belief that introverts make lousy leaders. This is simply not true (but then again, if society is so quick to cobble together a clichéd image of an introvert, why wouldn’t they do the same for people in positions of power?)

Yes, introverts engage with the world differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. We often tend to be more sensitive, analytical, and detail-oriented—qualities that are considered valuable in most workplaces—and yet so many environments seem averse to fostering them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little put-off by job ads seeking “outgoing, energetic, self-starting team-players.” Wallflowers need not apply. What ever happened to workplace diversity?

TL;DR: you don’t need to be outgoing to get ahead. You just need to know your stuff and stay true to yourself.

8. “No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

No. Do not say this. Not only is it pejorative, but it’s unnecessarily cruel. I’ve been on the receiving end of this one a few times, and guess what? It HURTS.

You know what makes introverts great friends? Their undying loyalty. Their sense of compassion. Their ability to tell when you’re not really okay. We’re perceptive like that, and we understand more than you give us credit for. Most of us don’t need a lot of friends, but by golly, we take care of our inner circles. Having lots of acquaintances is pretty handy, but is it really better than having a handful of fiercely loyal comrades with whom you can discuss your interests for hours on end? I guess it all depends on where you stand along the spectrum.

9. “Why are you so depressed? If you’re happy, you should smile more.”

I’m not depressed. I’m thinking. I know it can be tough to tell the two apart, but when I say I’m not depressed, I actually mean it. Introverts aren’t the Negative Nancies society makes us out to be. Most of us are actually pretty happy—we just don’t have the charismatic façade to prove it. Not to worry, though: the resting bitch face is part of our charm.

10. “What’s wrong? Are you OK? Are you sure? REALLY sure?”

Yes, I’m sure. I’m OK. Thanks for asking for the 500th time. No, really. I’m fine. Please stop asking. Everything is OK.

Did you hear that, guys? We’re all going to be A-OK—because we’re introverts and we’re AWESOME.

 

Please stop asking me when I'm getting married

Posted by Jessica Ingold on November 8, 2015 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

“So, are you married?”

The first time I heard this question, I was 21 and working full-time as an intern at a local newspaper. At the time, my boyfriend and I had been dating for nine months (and living together for two) when my assignment to interview a local entrepreneur turned into a game of twenty questions ranging from my first job all the way up to how many children I planned to have. Not wanting to seem cagey or evasive, I’d politely answered every one, all while secretly plotting my escape from the tiny, one-room house serving as my subject’s office.

“Not yet,” I’d said down to the notebook on my knee. “My boyfriend and I just started dating and I’m still in school, so we’ve decided to wait.”

“But if you’re already living together,” she’d pressed, “then why wait?”

To be fair, it was a legitimate question: after all, cohabitation has long been seen as the precursor to marriage, though the jury’s still out on whether living together before tying the knot guarantees a lifetime commitment. But I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time. All I could think, seated on the couch amidst the baskets of yarn and boxes of mittens awaiting distribution, was how much I loved having a choice.

Now, before you start thinking I’m some power-hungry Feminazi with a political agenda and a need to rock the boat, hear me out: I have nothing against the institution of marriage or the sanctity of family dinners. For those of you who think this blog is an attempt to diminish the significance of matrimony or discourage women from pursuing marriage and motherhood—it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, as long as your decisions don’t cause harm to others, then more power to you. You do you.

I don’t have a problem with marriage. I do, however, have a problem with people who think that a couple’s decision to delay their nuptials is somehow a reflection of their commitment to one another. In case you missed it, the year is 2015 and 50% of marriages now end in divorce. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I wish I could say that was the last time I heard that question. It wasn’t. Not surprisingly, the longer my boyfriend and I dated, the more obvious it became that marriage was no longer a distant possibility, but something we were simply expected to do. Now, three years, two apartments, and one cat later, it seems like everyone has an opinion on when, where, and how we should say our vows. A few months after my interview with the local artisan, I was working alongside a sales associate at one of my employer’s client stores when she turned to me and asked if I had a husband and kids (I was 22). Some time after that, I was speaking with an old friend who expressed concern over what he perceived to be my man’s lack of commitment, claiming that if he really did love me, he’d have—and I quote—“married me the first chance he got” (right—because nothing says commitment like rushing into something with a potential shelf life of 50+ years). Then, less than a month ago, I was speaking to yet another acquaintance when, out of nowhere, the dreaded M-word appeared again: “So, when are you two getting married? It’s been almost four years now, right? What’s the holdup?”

I am. I’m the holdup, and I have no shame in admitting it.

Here’s the thing: placing all the responsibility on the dude turns me into a victim of circumstance rather than an active participant in a healthy relationship. The decision to forego marriage—at least for now—was as much my choice as it was his. A diamond ring wouldn’t last five minutes on my finger, so I told him not to get me one (not to mention I despise the thought of being someone’s property). As for those over-the-top flash mob/movie theater/skywriting proposals that take six months and a year’s worth of rent to pull off? Forget it. Save the cash for a downpayment on a house and spare me the humiliation of having to tell you off in front of hundreds of perfect strangers. Our love isn’t a spectacle, and I refuse to enter into marriage just to prove a point.

Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t grow up dreaming of my wedding. I never identified with those helpless female characters featured in practically every Disney movie, and if we’re being honest, I was more interested in Prince Charming’s horse than in him. Fifty years ago, marriage was considered to be the apex of a woman’s happiness, but the times have changed. Now, we have options—everything from returning to school to teaching abroad, running a company to running a country—so I can’t help but be surprised (and, admittedly, a little dismayed) when the conversation eventually winds around to marriage and motherhood. When am I getting married? I don’t know—maybe a year from now, maybe five, maybe never. Ditto the baby questions. I don’t know about you, but for the time being I’m enjoying my life in all its diaper-free splendor. Marriage isn’t a race, and I have yet to hear my biological clock tick even once (okay…maybe just once).

So, now that we’ve determined I’m not getting married anytime soon, I guess this means I can go back to eating as much pizza as I want—with my man, of course, because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re young, in love, and have all the time in the world to prove it.

 

Free-falls, life plans, and why you should always watch the gag reel

Posted by Jessica Ingold on July 14, 2015 at 11:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I've been told I need a life plan; a blueprint for my future, a predetermined and (presumably) infallible strategy for tackling adulthood and living life to the fullest. Without one, I'm doomed to lead a miserable, empty life with no major accomplishments to my name and a mountain of regrets leftover from all the things I didn't do while I still had the chance.

To this, I have only one thing to say: bullshit.

I don't have a life plan. I have goals: fluid, adjustable aspirations that don't expire in five, ten, or twenty years. Rather than drawing up a single, overarching master plan to map out the rest of my life and a future I can't possibly see, I'd rather take my dreams with me, modifying and revising them as necessary. As long as I can avoid becoming inextricably bound to some arbitrary vision of what my life is supposed to look like, I'll always be proud of the things I have achieved, rather than resentful of the things I haven't.

Let's get one thing straight: life is a bitch. Having a life plan doesn't make you immune to misfortune. In fact, if we're being honest, I've always equated making life plans with living in a fantasy world -- one in which everything is scripted and straying from the beaten path is strongly discouraged.

Life isn't a movie. You can't edit out the parts you don't like, and maybe that's the thing that scares us most: the thought that all of our mistakes remain permanently frozen in time, unable to be altered or erased. But what about all the good things that happen to us? If we never allow life to take its meandering, undefined course, then we never allow ourselves to experience the simple, fleeting pleasures that make life beautiful. When opportunity masquerades as failure, it's tempting to cling to the promise of a future rather than indulge in the magic of the present.

Some of you are probably reading this blog thinking I'm some uppity, self-absorbed millennial trying to justify my lack of direction by referring to a lack of certainty about the future. Even if that were true, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually believes they have any control over life or what happens to them. But I'm not writing this for those people. I'm writing this for people like me: people who, at one point or another, may have had all the answers, only to find they hadn't been asking the right questions; the ones who've fallen in love with their dreams, only to discover that these dreams were never really theirs to begin with; and the ones who are still young, lost, and hungry for a purpose in life outside of simply bowing to society's impositions. I'm writing this for the outcasts and the misfits, the artists and the visionaries, the invisible and the misunderstood. It's going to be OK. We're all in this together.

For those of you who are still feeling lost, inadequate, or simply bored with your routine, I recommend taking a little time to sit and think. If you can, find a quiet place free of distraction where you can reflect on your past, evaluate your present, and visualize your future. Writing things down helps (trust me on this one), so if you can, grab a pen and piece of paper and without stopping to revise anything, make three separate lists: (1) bad things that have happened to you; (2) good things that have happened to you (planned or not); and (3) things you hope will happen to you. Some people would consider this simple exercise to be the foundation for a more formal life plan. I just call it free falling.

Now stop writing. What did you discover about yourself? Are you proud of how far you've come? You should be. Maybe you're not quite where you want to be, but I'd be willing to bet you're in a much better place than you used to be, and that's something worth celebrating.

I don't make life plans. I don't even draft outlines for my books, and somehow they always turn out exactly the way I imagine they will. Here's to hoping my life will, too.

 

 


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