When I was in high school, I remember many days of trying to get out of my head. I was happier inside my mind, and every time I talked to people I felt a little drain of energy. My adrenaline spiked and my heart raced. I thought there was something wrong with me, so I forced myself to talk in class every day. I wanted to be like the kids who seemed to be able to talk to anyone and make friends with everyone instantly. I also wanted to be like those “smart” kids who could challenge the teacher and analyze things off the top of their head. By senior year of high school, I was getting there, so I thought. I was trying to “pass” as an extrovert.
The Cost of Faking It
There was a cost to my new personality, but it would be years before I realized it. I repeated my performance in college. I forced myself to sit with random students and socialize during my meals. Morning, noon, and night, I was with people. I improved immensely socially, and all my new friends thought I was an extrovert. But my marathon attempts to force myself to socialize took such a toll on my body that I collapsed into bed every night. It’s like I was sleeping off an adrenaline hangover.
It continued into my career. After college I interned at a TV station, and my co-workers thought I was extremely extroverted and social. But I was hiding my true temperament—and my constant energy drain. Every night I would spent hours reading books at home or editing my own videos that I shot on the weekends. Those were some of the most comforting hours of the day. Then I would fall soundly asleep. I was so wiped out that I could sleep through one roommate’s video game battles and another’s loud sex noises.
My years of trying to build up extroversion were already taking a toll on me. The hair on the side of my temples was already receding in my twenties. With no history of hair loss on either side of my family, I was making family history and I didn’t know why. I trooped on and kept up my attempts to extrovert. I even saw a dating coach to learn how to talk to women.
This couldn’t last forever, and it didn’t. The tipping point started with a phone call.
A “Friendly” Chat
My TV station was extremely focused on Facebook strategy. I worked grueling 6:30 AM to 3 PM days, and the first thing I had to do in the morning was put together news stories we could post on social media. I had to hit my desk writing every day when I came in.
Unfortunately, another co-worker got in at 7 AM. Just as I was getting into my groove writing stories, he started his own day a little differently—by calling me.
“Hey Jerry, what’s up?” he would say in his overly energetic voice. He would make small talk for a bit and then ask me what stories were available for posting on social media. He called every morning with no regard for how busy I was.
I tried asking him to email me. There’s no reason to make small talk and over-discuss when a simple email would suffice. But he disagreed with my assessment. To him, it was easier if he just talked it out with someone. He had to hear it to process it. I tried compromising—call later in the day, try emailing first—but he kept calling.
So every day the phone rang at 7 AM sharp and hit me like a spear in the head. It punctured through my concentration and focus. I just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see my side of things. I knew it wasn’t true, but I felt like he took sadistic pleasure from disrupting my morning routine. (You can check out a video I made about this experience here.)
Making My Break
It took time but I started realizing that my temperament was horrible for television journalism. The constant disruptions and inability to concentrate on one task made me realize that I needed work I could concentrate on for hours. I decided to quit.
My last week there, I finally did something about my phone friend. He called me one very busy day when I’d already asked him not to. I told the morning manager my problem and she called him immediately to tell him to stop bothering me. Later, he came upstairs and jokingly acted like he was scared of me. I couldn’t believe that he still didn’t understand.
I got out of that job, but I never forgot his behavior. He was a very kind person in general and helped me out many times. Why would such a nice guy also be such a nuisance?
Discovering My Introversion
My answer didn’t come till much later. I was at a bookstore one day and I saw the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I picked it up and immediately found the answer to my question. My years of trying to be an extrovert made me forget who I really am deep down. This nemesis co-worker was the stereotype of an extrovert. And since neither of us understood how personality types differ, we were forever talking at different wavelengths during our time together.
Once I discovered Quiet, I started embracing my introversion. I learned to take breaks at parties, to be alone when needed, and most importantly, I stopped trying to extrovert all the time. I no longer felt guilty if I was eating alone or if I avoided the nightclub at night. Alone time is good. It’s how introverts like me recharge. I had years worth of recharging to do.
Later I took a test and found out that I’m an INFP personality type. The description matches me perfectly—and it’s something I wish I had known much sooner. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now.
I wish companies understood the differences in human personality. If getting hired included HR training about personality type, I would have known that my phone friend was an extrovert, and I would have been more prepared to handle his small talk and external world processing. Equally important, he would have understood why his actions disturbed my thought process.
Now that I know who I am, I’m much happier with my life. If I could offer one lesson from this, I would say: Understand yourself first before you try to change yourself.
Jerry was born in China. He moved to Chicago when he was four and started feeling the weight of our Western preference for extroversion. By senior year of college at University of Pennsylvania, Jerry vowed to become more social and forced himself to socialize with new people every day. Now in his mid-20s, and after so many years of forced extroversion, Jerry has a unique perspective on being an introvert who knows how to blend with extroverts when needed. Check out his videos about being an INFP here.
This article was originally published on Introvert, Dear. It has been republished here with permission.