Confessions of a lifelong introvert
Today I feel better than usual. Today I realized something about myself, saw what I am more clearly than I have ever before seen myself; I am an introvert.
I’m fairly skilled at hiding the fact that I’m an introvert, and all but my closest friends, and my wife, would likely be surprised by this revelation. In fact, I’m so adept at hiding my own introversion, that the discovery even shocks me.
By introvert, I do not necessarily mean that I cannot be around people, only that being forced to engage with people whom I do not completely trust is a painful, exhausting ordeal. This sort of engagement condemns me to interact when I would prefer to disengage.
I discovered this fact about myself while examining the cause for my discomfort in the Army. I do well at everything the Army asks me to do, but I never feel comfortable. Hardly ever a day of peace. Then it came to me, as if on the Damascus Road. The Army celebrates extroversion almost as much as a Gay Pride parade. Not only are the top NCOs extreme extroverts, but introverts are actually quite severely punished. I’ve seen NCOs relieved of duty for not yelling at soldiers. NCOs are expected to scream and rant and rave. They are supposed to have strong personalities. That’s ‘leadership.” Believe me, it takes an extreme extrovert to eyeball a complete stranger from across the street and yell at him for not wearing his patrol cap correctly.
From the very first day in the Army, I have felt a deep sense of discomfort, bordering on manic unhappiness. It began in Basic training when I was forced to lodge with dozens of other people, in very close quarters. Again, in everything I excelled. I was voted the best soldier in my platoon in Basic, Soldier of the Year at my previous unit. In AIT, a school that teaches soldiers their specific jobs right after Basic, I spent my weekends almost completely alone. I felt euphoria finally being able to experience solitude. Almost all the other soldiers would hang out together, but not me. I literally just wanted to go somewhere and read a book. I would go to restaurants, and read while eating my meal. If I saw someone I knew, I would turn and avoid them, afraid they would ask me to do something with them, which would take away from my time alone.
I hate Army “formations” in which soldiers are told to gather daily. Hate them with a passion.
One of the most euphoric feelings I recall in my entire life is my first day in Germany, after graduating Army AIT. The Army provided me with a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany. Finally, I was a lone.
Looking back, I realize that almost all of my problems as a child in school were the result of being an introvert. The other kids seemed so open and desired to be with the group. I didn’t enjoy feeling like an outsider, but I didn’t particularly enjoy extroverts either. I did not feel comfortable in school until college, when I was finally given the power to run my own life. I could choose when and where to interact with people. The Army took away much of my power to be alone.
When I was a young man, one of my good friends said to me, “You’re the biggest loner I know.”
I’m sure he was being truthful; I’m the biggest loner I know, too. Characteristic of an introvert, boredom is never a problem for me. I am almost never bored. German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, an arch-introvert, said that introverts are rarely bored because they gain pleasure from an intellectual world, whereas extroverts gain pleasure more from the external, and more temporal, world. I am constantly amazed by some of the people I work with. They will complain about their work, and the moment they get a chance to relax, they say they are bored.
“That I could clamber to the frozen moon. And draw the ladder after me.”~Arthur Schopenhauer
I am never bored. And I am almost never lonely. The things that make me feel lonely are being away from the people whom I love dearly. But I do not need to be around people with whom I have only passing relationships. I work with many people who cannot do anything unless they are doing it with someone else.
Schopenhauer pointed out another characteristic that he had and shares with me, and is apparently an almost universal aspect of the introvert: Hatred of noise. He said that all his life noise bothered him significantly, and on one occasion, his weakness got him into trouble when he physically assaulted a woman in his apartment building whom he claimed was a chronic noise-maker. He was forced to pay her money from a lawsuit for the rest of her life. So while the introvert has significant advantages in certain areas, such as an ability to think deeply, lack of boredom, maintaining long-term friendships, and very creative, they are easily distracted by the outside world, do not maintain a “network” of people that can help them, and may come off as cranky. So easily distracted am I by other people, that I must do all of my writing and thinking in complete solitude, or I must have a drink of beer, which seems to dull the effects of external stimulation and allows me to remain in my own mind and continue writing amid possible distractions. . At work, I must sometimes shut myself in a room, telling my Captain that I need him to use his rank to keep people from bothering me, while I read intelligence reports and make sense of things.
At times I will return home from work feeling utterly exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon. I often ask myself what I have done that could have made me so tired that I do not do on my days off from work. The answer is that I interact with large amounts of people. I do not want to come across as someone that is a crank all day, though I find myself being more so than when I was younger. Only that my exhaustion is from trying to act like the extrovert I am not. Oddly, I feel dumber when I am with people I know only at a surface level. My instinct is to speak like them, to think like them, so as not to offend. Yet in my inner-most being, I almost never think like them and feel ashamed to tell most people the things I think about: Philosophies, metaphysics, religion, demographics, grand-strategies. All near useless trivia, really. This facade is draining and debilitating.
I have just today, come to grips with what I am and what has caused me so much pain throughout my life. I am fine with it. I know now that I don’t have to appear gregarious if the mood doesn’t strike me. That being quiet is ok. I know that some may doubt my claim to introversion, being that I say some things on this blog and in other writings that may shock some. But I read that introverts are more likely to be intimate online, and I think it fair to say that many historic writers were notorious introverts, recluses, and hermits. All of these things bring to mind wisdom, and even in the age of the extrovert, they are something to hold dear.
There are people in this world that I look forward to speaking to often and I am lonely without. Nothing can replace the smiles of my children. But other than that, I rather look forward to being the old hermit on the top of the mountain, surviving on his own, beholden to none, just thinking, thinking….