It’s OK, you don’t have to talk

Thoughts. Musings. Read more here.

Random person reading by herself in DC. Love it. Photo by Zhai Yun Tan. All Rights Reserved.

“I am in the wrong line of work.”

Rick Morton, an Australian reporter wrote that line in a Medium post last year. He calls himself an introvert, someone who feels aggrieved when the phone rings and dreads small talk. He writes:

“How on Earth could someone so exhausted by interacting with people choose a career which turns only on your ability to deal with everyone?”

Applause. As a fellow introvert and aspiring journalist, I have second guessed myself many, many times on my decision to pursue journalism. I grew up observing the stereotype of journalists — someone who is very outspoken, aggressive, sociable; someone with a loud laugh and a shining smile. Someone who can command attention.

Me? I dislike small talk and a full-day of socializing leaves me in a horrible state of disrepair. I also never understand why people have so much to say in conversations. I still don’t.

It’s a love-hate relationship between me and socializing.

But to extend the topic further than just journalism — I also grew up under the impression that being “extroverted” will garner you more rewards, especially social rewards.

A quiet child will be called shy and encouraged to speak more. A boisterous child gains more attention and praise as adults call her/him “confident,” “likely to be successful,” and “interesting.”

I always thought that being quiet means you’re boring. At least, when I was quiet I felt more neglected in social settings than the noisy and sociable kids. So I tried to talk more and fill my days with social activities, making sure I never alone. Eating alone is a taboo, going out alone is weird. Also, remember to keep in contact with friends 24/7 through various forms of messaging to be regarded as normal. I felt so much pressure especially when I assumed a leadership role to be more outgoing and expressive.

When I hit 17 I decided to give up. I started going on long walks by myself around my high school, doing things by myself and convincing myself it’s alright if I don’t want to go out and it’s fine if I don’t want to join the large group and I should just go ahead and plan one-on-one sessions with friends instead of calling on a large group of friends. That was the first step towards liberation for me, which then eventually became shopping alone, eating alone, traveling alone … And yes, I’ve had people find me odd for my solitary adventures. But whatever.

Random person walking in DC by himself. Love it! Photo by Zhai Yun Tan. All Rights Reserved. (Weird collection of random people)

Chasing after my journalism dream was another form of me embracing introversion, I guess. I know there are stereotypes for many other types of jobs as well, such as business or public relations where people expect you to be extroverted. But don’t let that stop you. I love talking to strangers, researching topics, learning new things and writing — that’s why I’m a journalist. Maybe I won’t be as good as others are at building contacts, networking or making friends in the newsroom (D:) but I’ll get there, slowly (hopefully.) If you have something you love, just go do it without selling your introverted self.

It’s OK, you don’t have to talk all the time, you don’t have to be bubbly, you can choose to talk when you want to and when you need to, you don’t have to be socializing 24/7 (here’s looking at you, social media.)

If you’re an introvert, this is probably not new for you. Susan Cain is the modern hero for us — I’m sure every introvert has probably heard her TED talk in 2012 or read her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. If you are like me, you’d be shedding tears, pumping your fist into the air, folding the corners of nearly every page in the book and crying out “Finally, someone gets me!”

Here’s a short excerpt from her talk:

Now, I tell you this story about summer camp. I could have told you 50 others just like it — all the times that I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were. But for years I denied this intuition, and so I became a Wall Street lawyer, of all things, instead of the writer that I had always longed to be — partly because I needed to prove to myself that I could be bold and assertive too. And I was always going off to crowded bars when I really would have preferred to just have a nice dinner with friends. And I made these self-negating choices so reflexively, that I wasn’t even aware that I was making them.

It gets easier to embrace your introversion the older you get, but for younger folks out there, I can foresee the difficulties. Especially among teenagers, when social pressure is ubiquitous and you are torn with questions like “How do I fit in,” “Am I normal,” “Why am I so different,” and “But I want to be popular,” being the weird kid that eats by herself with a book might not be socially advantageous.

It’s also interesting to note how as schools are embracing more group work and flipped classroom settings, introverts, both teachers and students, feel burned out and unable to concentrate. I would hate to be in a class where I had to constantly interact and have no time to ponder and contemplate. Needless to say, I did not enjoy my flipped classroom experiences.

Anyhow, all this serious talk is making me cringe slightly, but I just want to make the point that it’s alright to be introverted. I still find myself wishing to be a fly on the wall so I can observe everything while not being a part of everything. I still question myself if I’m being too serious and then try to hide it with silly jokes. I still dislike being on the phone too often. Or being connected all the time. Unless it’s for a story I’m pursuing, of course.

And then, sometimes, I just cut the small talk and jump into deep, dark conversations. Or I just hide in deep, dark corners so you won’t find me.

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