I’d Rather use the Self-Checkout: The Memoirs of an Introvert

Yesterday I attended a rush session for Alpha Phi Omega, which is a relatively new service fraternity on campus. I’m still figuring out the jargon of greek life, so please bear with me (in fact, I consulted a webpage titled “Greek Life 101: A Parent Guide” because I’m clueless about all things greek life related) .

I made the mistake of not getting involved enough in high school, and I didn’t volunteer as much in my first year because I had too much going on. I feel that now is a good time for me to give back (with both the YWCA Youth Mentor program and APO).

In the past, I’ve been rather hesitant to associate myself with greek systems AND the people in them because they’re kind of amazing and organized and their members are beautiful?? Which makes them all the more intimidating. I guess everybody hears about greek life through portrayals in movies, which is why they become intimidating in the first place. Furthermore, I’ve always associated extroversion with joining any group or organization, which is probably why I’ve been hesitant to join clubs too.

Our guest speaker yesterday was the campus celebrity, Gurvir Sangha, whom I have developed a bit of a (platonic) crush on simply because he’s so well-spoken, humourous, incredibly humble, and he dresses quite well (four necessary components for an ideal significant other, might I add). He talked about his own leadership experiences, how to balance your life, school, and leadership, and he talked about dealing with failure. It was a rather moving speech – that is, of course, aside from a small thing he said as a side note: “I love being around people!”

As small as it was, it set off a whirlwind of alarms inside my head, and within the first hour of the session, I started to feel very small, insecure, and inadvertently outcasted, even if there were people in the same boat that I was.

I’ve noticed that people condemn introversion more and more often as they begin to value qualities such as outgoingness, approachability, and the ability to make small talk – perhaps this is why I feel like I would do poorly in customer service and retail. However, even aside from the workplace, we can see that our society favours extroversion; in fact, I am tempted to make the argument that people view extroversion as an asset, whereas introversion is something to be changed, to be rid of – altogether, viewed as a downfall.

I’ve been introverted for as long as I can remember, and this is not to say that I’m shy. This bit by Quora contributor Alec Sorensen sums up the difference between shyness and introversion:

Introversion and extroversion are ends of scale that measure whether you find social interaction draining and recharge your emotional battery with solitude, or whether you find solitude taxing and social interaction invigorating.  Shyness is about your level of social anxiety or feelings of awkwardness around others.  They are closely related, but there are social distinctions.

Because dealing with anxiety is draining, I think shyness tends to push people further towards the introverted end of the scale, which is why some people tend to equate the two.  However, not being shy does not guarantee that one is an extrovert.  There are plenty of people who are don’t feel anxiety around others, but simply aren’t invigorated or motivated by social interaction Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy is a good example.  Mr. Darcy doesn’t seem to take much joy in general social interaction, but not because he has social anxiety or has difficulty with basic social skills.  He tends to prefer handling situations alone, rather than gathering a team, etc.  He’s clearly an introvert, but I don’t think anyone would describe him as shy.

This is to say that I don’t have problems with being social and meeting new people, and I can handle talking to cashiers at the supermarket, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not drained by it, nor would I willingly choose a cashier instead of a self-checkout unless the lines for the self-checkout are longer than the cashier lines. I have a small group of friends, I don’t like parties, I favour quiet places, and I dread icebreakers. But I also think that my disposition is favourable to the idea that I think analytically and that I keep my assets close and within reach. I pay attention to detail. I’m someone that is calculative rather than experimentive.

What I’m trying to get at is that my introversion is not necessarily a set back, but it does sway me into missing a handful of opportunities that I believe would be better suited (perhaps even tailored?) to extroverted people (or “converting” introverts into extroverts). Such examples include commission sales, the debate club, and those god damn in-class presentations and group projects.

I have tried time and time again to relieve myself of the plague that is introversion by forcing myself to go to social events without bailing last minute and lying through my teeth during job interviews when they ask me how I would try to suggestively sell someone a product (note: I probably wouldn’t try in all honesty). And time and time again, I find myself exhausted and frustrated at the lack of room to be myself.

Are there niches in the world where introversion is considered a good thing? I’m having a hard time coming up with them.

This brings me to the center of my problem: how can show others that I can fill a leadership role when I try to avoid social interaction and outgoingness at all costs?

There is no doubt in my mind that I can be a leader; I think I’m creative and open-minded enough to generate ideas and collaborate with others, I believe I have the skills to think logically and consequentially, and I think that I’m able to keep a team motivated and help them follow through with their goals. But would anybody believe that about me if I refuse to do so in an “extroverted” fashion? And would they give me a chance knowing that my leadership style is different than that of an extrovert?

It’s a bit of a struggle, the whole introverted leader dynamic, and perhaps it’s a struggle because people don’t really understand the qualities that an introvert may bring to the table. I think we need a flux between leaders and followers; between creators and implementors; between introverts and extroverts (and this is not to say that these examples equate each other i.e. introverts aren’t necessarily followers/implementors, and vice versa re: extroverts). We all fit a certain niche, and it’s not as if one quality is more favourable than another – it’s about balancing what makes us who we are and using our strengths as individuals to benefit the whole team.

I always have to remind myself that changing who I am for the sake of a position, person, situation, etc. is probably more detrimental to myself than anybody else. I also have to remind myself of what I’ve been working to engrain into my brain: that the world doesn’t exist in dichotomies and that I can be an introvert and a leader at the same time without one biting the other in the ass. I also remind myself of this TED Talk (which I have previously shared on this blog) if I ever feel down about my naturally reserved disposition:

I’ll be pledging for APO regardless of this weird internal battle I’m having, and I’m thinking of applying for the executive webmaster position. Baby steps, right? Besides, the job is to publish and update blog posts for the group, which, I believe (and hope!), is very much suited for introverts. Plus I’ve already got experience with blogging (which is a great achievement for me; keeping up the regularity of posting is sometimes difficult to do when your schedule is as chaotic as mine, if not more).

This is a very elementary thought process which I’ll probably be revisiting in the future. I’m ending this here because I have yet to think about this in a well-rounded fashion (and because I need to pee).

If you have any thoughts re: introversion and leadership, or anything else you thought about while reading this, please tweet me (@pradahag) or comment below!

Oh, and the featured photo is a rare candid of me socializing (via APO UBC Facebook page). Below are two more:

Construction with Ahmed and Connie
We (Daniel, Connie, Ahmed [not pictured] and I) failed the marshmallow challenge (it toppled a second after this was taken) BUT lesson learned: build prototypes!

Finally, I think this is the most organized blog post I’ve done in a while. Nice.


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Self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. Intersectional feminist. Educator/linguist in training. Fashionista, food-lover, and fairly poor hand-eye coordination.

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