The funny thing about introverts is that we can feel lonely despite our frequent need for solitude. Imagine that! Sometimes we can't stand to be around other people; other times, we are miserable because we have no one to talk to. Introverts still have a deep, human need for connection despite our personality orientation. However, we have another powerful need: to be understood and accepted for who and what we are.
My university years helped me to understand some of the challenges of being an introvert. University was the best of times and the worst of times for me. University was a wonderful time for exploration, learning, and becoming more independent. The experience of living (somewhat) on my own for the first time was a crucial event in my life.
University was very difficult, on the other hand, because I found it hard to make meaningful friendships like I had when I was in high school and middle school. At the time I knew I was a shy and private person, but I really didn't understand what introversion was. As many of you may know, privacy quickly evaporates when you have a roommate at university, as well as dozens or hundreds of other young adults within walking distance. That was definitely a huge change for this young introvert.
University lifestyle had another element which was really hard for me to adjust to: the near-constant socializing and expectation to be out there partying and having fun with other people. University residences, especially the one that I lived in, cater to social activities. Unfortunately, it could be a very challenging environment for people who need quiet, alone time to recharge. Quite often I found myself thinking that I needed to be out with "the guys" doing things that did really seem to be that fun until you'd had a few beers. Or more than a few. However, most of these friendships had less depth than a wading pool.
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy some of the times that I spent with my university neighbors (I'd be lying if I said that many of them became true friends, too) but overall I felt disconnected, insecure, and lonely a lot of the time because my introversion and my interests seemed to diverge so much from my fellow university residents. I felt very ungrounded and somewhat lost during those years. My need for "alone time" conflicted with the social dynamics of residence life.
I sometimes wonder if my university experience would have been easier if the Internet and the Web had been out there in its current form. E-mail was available in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it wasn't always easy to access, so I wound up relying more on handwritten letters in those days (I didn't get my first PC until after I graduated from university) or the very rare phone call. I wonder if I would have stayed in better contact with high school or university acquaintances if sites like Facebook and instant messaging were around in those days. It certainly would have been easier to keep in touch.
The other thing that Web 2.0 technologies have done is to help develop interest groups on every topic under the sun. Usenet newsgroups and computer BBSs (bulletin board system) were the main sources of mass communication in those days. Web 2.0 and its wired precursors have been instrumental in developing communities that did not and could not exist without those technologies. People who have hard times connecting face-to-face can today take part in different communities based on common thoughts and interests.
The point of this post isn't to whine about the problems that introversion introduced into my life. My life, even in its worst moments, is a very good life. I have learned to take pride in qualities that I used to believe were weaknesses. I am older and wiser and I learn more every day. However, if I had been eighteen years old today, I'd send myself a link to this blog and this post in particular. I'd share my social bookmarks and other assorted links that I've found on the topic of introversion. Most importantly, I'd use this knowledge and technology to help me understand myself better and to try to communicate with other introverts. I couldn't use this to create and maintain a permanent social life, but I could use it as a stepping stone to other things.
In summary, I think it's a better time to be an introvert than it ever has. The knowledge and tools are at your disposal to become better educated, learn more about others, and, most importantly, learn about yourself. That's the greatest gift of all.
My recurring theme in this blog is to talk about ways to become a mighty introvert. However, I think the best thing that I could ever help anyone to do is to become a self-aware, knowledgeable introvert who is comfortable with himself or herself. I think that would make them pretty darn mighty, too.