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The untold truth about introversion, aka why I wear my headphones too much

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Introversion is a word that’s often used to express a variety of behaviors, whether it’s social reticence or a preference towards more intimate direct conversations, relations or smaller circles, but the one that I feel is most expressive is that while extroverts get more energized by social interaction, introverts get drained by it. Like many of my fellow introverted friends and acquaintances, accepting and dealing with my introversion in a constructive way has been anything but an easy or low-labor journey. My childhood memories of being thought of as “weird” or “different” or “a loner”, are still as clear as they are muddled through the filters of nostalgia, descriptions I’ve received simply because I preferred playing Atari with my best friend over having a soccer match with the kids I’ve never met before. These descriptions persisted up to my adolescent years, descriptions which would consequently cause feelings of shame, isolation, and inferiority over these characteristics, characteristics that were as intrinsic and uncontrollable to me as was anyone’s left-handedness, right-handedness, height or depth of voice.

 

 

Being the competitive person that I am and having been fortunate to grow up in a relatively supportive and nurturing environment, I had been given the knowledge that there was a certain set of characteristics and expectations I would have to meet if I were to get ahead in life (what getting ahead exactly meant in that contexts, or what it exactly means is still a mystery to me). As a result, for the longest time I could remember, I’ve had this fixation on gaining the behaviors and simulating the attributes of my more extroverted peers, whether it’s going out for coffee when I’d rather enjoy a cup of vervain in my bed, or being the first to start the group presentation when I would quite frankly prefer to pass a paper exam.

Of course, after having gone through the great transition of coming to the university, my desire and my effort to simulate such behaviors and to find the social success and acceptance that my peers have gathered, as well as gather the famous/infamous soft skills that every employer require having only increased. And for better or worse, my efforts have been successful as far as getting more involved with clubs and NGOs, pushing me towards becoming a better public speaker, a better mediator and team player on a smaller scale ( I’ll spare you the use of the world leader because of A/ The little value of a word that’s been so used and misused and B/ Because of how cringy it has simply become).

But amid it all, I’ve failed to realize how much of a toll all these attempts and all these activities were taking on me. The “Why are you so alone all the time?” questions were replaced with the “Why are you so tired are all the time?”, “How do you remember so many of the things and information that you’ve read?” turned into “How are you so forgetful of people’s faces and names?”, and many other remarks that grossly oversimplify the situation have followed.

Having been fortunate enough to experience an exchange year in the US and being in a more introverted society, it has been a sort of personal wake up call. While I was at first annoyed at the lesser number of students at DSU, North Dakota, I must admit that it was very refreshing. Gone were the obligations and the FOMO (Fear of missing out) that were engendered by the bigger number of students and activities and clubs, gone was the necessity to try and speak louder over everyone else or even interrupt their words if I ever wanted to be heard. While my adjustment was anything but easy itself, the newly gained freedom from the competition and the self-put obligation to perform and be perceived as extroverted and sociable had been life-changing; Perhaps one of the most obvious things that I never realized I would miss as I was reintegrating back at INSAT was that. Something that I haven’t given much conscious thought to until the very moment I started typing this article.

 

So, is my point here to simply vent and move on? Partially, but an important fact, or at least personal opinion, that I would like to share is that you don’t have to be an extrovert to succeed. It is not necessary to know everyone, be known by everyone, attend every social event there is or be active in every club/organization out there and build your network (the only expression that I find as vomit-inducing as leader) to be able to succeed or prove yourself in life.

 

While one of my personal decisions after going on TJSP was to take some time off to rediscover and maybe rebuild my own personal world that I have neglected with so much focus on the external world, I had still managed to get to know some very interesting people and live some amazing experiences, whether it’s volunteering at best friends ND which has been heart-warming and perspective changing for me, or getting to know professionals and professors from all over the U.S. or in my university who specialized in a variety of fields, people whose input and opinion I value and consider, and all these opportunities were not hindered by my introversion, if anything they were encouraged by my ability to concentrate my energy on these few relationships whether they were with friends or professionals or fellow NGO workers as well as the added value I would put on such relationships.

However, INSAT being such a larger school and my ways of coming back to old habits, as well as some other personal setbacks, I’ve found myself yet again quickly burning out and trying to assume all these characteristics and attributes that were anything but first nature to me. Part of it is that I pride myself in investing in my friendships and close relationships and giving them their part of attention and energy, especially those friends who had been there for me on multiple occasions, and the other part is my desire to build new friendships and relationships which will help me continue the years I have left in INSAT as well as the years to come, and maybe it’s picking the ones to invest in, especially with such a large number of people each of which has such a distinctive story and personality to offer, becomes easier said than done.

But I’ve recently found myself reminded of some of the lessons that North Dakota has taught me about the advantages of introversion on a social level, as well as on a personal and professional level, after all the type of focus that introversion has to offer is not only qualitative focus on relationships, but it’s also a focus on other parts of life that don’t necessarily involve interaction and communication. As much as group work and group projects and collaboration, there are still many tasks to be done that don’t necessarily require or involve such collaboration or are even hindered by it. After all, the productivity of a company is inversely correlated to the number of meetings that it plans.

All this isn’t to say that an introvert shouldn’t work on their public speaking or group work or run of the mill social skills, after all, many of the experiences and skills I’ve gained by assuming extravert like characteristics are priceless, this is to say that we as introverts shouldn’t forget who we are and what we’re comfortable with. Assuming characteristics that are not inherent to us isn’t only very tiring and taxing in the long run, it can become a self-effacing practice that can distract us from taking care of our own internal worlds and wellbeing.

 

While many personal-development (the new age term for life coach) would tell you to always push yourself to the limits and get out of your comfort zone, I think your comfort zone exists for a reason, it’s good to challenge yourself and experience new things, but you owe it to yourself to be who you are and what you were meant to be and to accept characteristics and things about oneself which society may deem less than favorable, and this extends beyond the issue of introversion and extraversion in my eyes. I think all of us growing up in this culture and generation (and any culture really) can relate to the fact of negatively being different from the norm in some way, whether it’s something as insignificant as your preference towards metal music and one’s minority philosophical and religious views and beliefs, we owe it to ourselves to say f*** society ( for the lack of a more expressive term) and live our lives on our own terms.

Going back to the article’s title, the reason I’m wearing my headphones more often is that. Plus, I’m completely addicted to Frank Ocean’s Blond album and can’t stop listening to it, especially with the good sound quality that that pair of headphones offers. On a more serious note, as an introvert, I recharge through social breaks and a small way of finding that quietness and that momentary isolation has been my headphones. The idea of unlimited instant interconnectivity can be quite stressful at times, especially with the added stress of school and other obligations, and a good way I’ve found to disconnect was to wear my oversized headphones when I wasn’t communicating with people, something that has been surprisingly stress-alleviating for me.

So yes, if you see me or other introverts wearing headphones at a study hall full of people or abandoning our Facebooks and Instagrams on a trip or event, know that we simply have a different approach to things or we are just taking our time off, we’d love to talk though as long as you approach kindly, and offer us food, extraverts would appreciate that as well.

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How to Build an Authentic Life

Alaa Jerbi

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Warning: This is an 11-minute read article. So grab a coffee, tea, or whatever you fancy and sit down 😉 If you don’t have time, you can bookmark it for later. With that aside, let’s begin!

Four years ago, I was stuck.

I was living like shit. Eating, sleeping, studying, and repeating. I barely had a life outside of high school.

I was lazy, unhealthy, and a little overweight. I had Moobs (short for man boobs — add that to your dictionary) and felt anxious in my body.

I was also very lonely. Despite knowing a lot of people thanks to my extroverted nature, I barely had any real friends.

I would go out sometimes but with people I didn’t really like nor trust, hating every moment of it because I knew I deserved better. I blamed luck for not bringing me the perfect friends with whom I could share my highs and lows.

Being a person who enjoys social interactions, I never had problems making friends. However, I didn’t know how to build real connections with the “friends” that I made. And that left me surrounded by people yet alone.

I also suffered from a poor self-image. I envied those who achieved great things in their lives and wished if I can be like them.

I knew there was something wrong. I knew I needed to do something because loneliness was eating me alive and my weight was decreasing my lifespan.

Saying goodbye to my old people and entering a whole new world called college was not helping me in any way too.

Someday while browsing the net, I came across Mark Manson’s blog (before he became a best-selling author). That was when everything changed.

Mark empathizes that the way to live an authentic life and build meaningful relationships is through this special quality called “vulnerability”.

He defines vulnerability as the act of expressing oneself with its imperfection openly and unapologetically. It’s the state of being your true self and living according to what is right to you, without shame or fear of being judged.

That’s when I became interested in this vulnerability thing. I decided that I need to give it a try. I had nothing to lose anyway.

Fast forward to today, I can confidently say that vulnerability has completely changed my life:

  • My confidence has increased tremendously. I’m no longer afraid to be myself and stand for what I believe in.
  • I’m no longer in a rush to prove myself to others. I’m taking my time achieving my own goals at my own pace.
  • I’m more active than ever. I lost weight, built some muscle and feel much more confident in my body.
  • I have made some cool friends who believe in me, keep me company, and constantly push me outside my comfort zone.
  • I can openly express myself without feeling ashamed of anything (the fact that I’m writing this article is proof). I no longer hide from my emotions and weaknesses. I learned to embrace them and accept them as a part of being a human.
  • I learned to go after what I want boldly and unapologetically.
  • I’m actively experimenting with myself and trying everything that sparks my interest.

In a nutshell, I’m living an honest and authentic life that is according to what I think is right. Not to other people’s definition of what is right.

A lot of things have happened in the last 3 years. There was a lot of struggles and painful periods, but I pushed through them and grew stronger as a result.

But enough talking about me, there is something more important we need to discuss.

The Life We Didn’t Choose

Most of us go through our lives taking the road of safety and convention. Doing exactly as what we are told by figures we consider to be superior like parents, teachers, society…etc.

We play the safe game and never question whether we really like it or not.

If I give you a ball and tell you to shoot it as far as you can. Then pick it up, go back to the starting position and shoot it again. You’ll do it a few times, maybe you’ll spend an hour on it if you’re persistent (and have no life). Eventually, you’ll grow bored and go home.

If, however, I give you a ball and ask you to come up with a game on your own. You create the rules. Go ahead and be creative and make your own ball game. Then invite your friends for a match.

I bet all my savings that even if your friends disliked this game, you will never grow bored of it because it’s a game you created with your own rules. Your own authentic creation.

That’s exactly the same thing with life. If we live a life that was handed to us by others and which we didn’t choose, we will never feel fulfilled and we’ll start hating ourselves for it.

We’ll start to think we’re failures because we don’t win at the game we were given. We’ll try hard to succeed, only to realize that we don’t even want to.

For instance, I used to think that success is all about achieving academic excellence. Being brought up by parents who finished their education and worked hard to bring food to our table has influenced their thinking about success and mine as a consequence.

It was until I finally decided to question my old life that I really did see the fault in this thinking. I respect everyone’s view and I believe that education is important for the development of a well-balanced individual. But I dare say that after high school, it becomes merely a way to get a job and doesn’t offer much growth.

Anyways, the point is if we still measure ourselves to a life we didn’t choose, we’ll never feel like we can be successful. And even if we do succeed, it will be a short-lived dopamine high before we start questioning if that was even worth it in the first place.

It’s time we turn the tables on the game we were handed and decide to create our own game rules instead.

And that is only possible through vulnerability.

On Being Vulnerable

Photo by Josiah Gardner on Unsplash

According to Google, vulnerability is the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Since we no longer live in caves, we are interested in the “being exposed to emotional attack” part here.

You see, questioning the safe way and deciding to create your own is hard. It’s so hard actually that you’ll suffer a lot from criticism, rejection, judgment and even self-doubt.

Being vulnerable means that you understand this and are willing to pay the price to get to where you want.

Let me repeat that again, vulnerability is being okay with getting rejected, ridiculed, judged, and in some cases, accused of madness.

Anything in life that is worth doing involves being exposed to emotional pain.

Standing up for yourself leaves you exposed to ridicule and judgment.

Asking your crush out leaves you exposed to rejection and heartbreak.

Sharing your secrets and feelings with your friends leaves you exposed to envy and disloyalty.

All those are painful emotions. But the acts are worth it.

If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you’ll be a doormat and will never get the respect you want.

If you don’t ask your crush out, you’ll waste a lot of time fantasizing about someone who may or may not reciprocate your feelings.

If you don’t share yourself with your friends, they’ll never trust you enough to become your real buddies (a secret I learned the hard way).

All those are vulnerable acts because you are ‘exposed’ to emotional pain every time you do them.

The more worthwhile the act is, the more vulnerable it will leave you, thus the greater the exposed pain and potential for growth.

More worthwhile = More vulnerable = Greater pain = Greater growth

So, how can vulnerability help you create an authentic life?

Any authentic life involves around doing activities that are authentic to the person involved. By their nature, authentic acts are vulnerable acts because they require that you risk embarrassing yourself and looking stupid to others every time you do them.

To put it in a simple framework, an authentic life consists of 3 main areas:

Authentic Lifestyle

Authentic Action

Authentic Communication

Let’s go through each one of them in more details.

Authentic Lifestyle

It’s literally anything that makes you unique and differentiates you from the masses.

Your hobbies, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, your music taste, whether you watch Game of Thrones or Chernobyl, your favorite sport, your job/study field, your ambitions and dreams, your opinions about the world, your philosophy, the friends you hang out with, the books you read, your volunteering experience, …etc.

If you have little to no care for the above things (apart from the GOT or Chernobyl thing which you don’t need to care about — I don’t), then you really got some work to do.

What are your hobbies? Photography? Guitar? Maybe rock climbing? How about camping? Take your time to explore various activities. The possibilities are endless.

If you think there is some area that needs improvement in your lifestyle, start searching for ways to improve it. Use the internet to your advantage (Quick fact: do you know that you can use the internet to browse websites other than FB/Instagram/Youtube? Trust me, a lot of people don’t know that).

Remember that those things are vulnerable because you’re challenging yourself to grow and learn more about the world around you. You’re cultivating new opinions, challenging your own limiting beliefs and replacing them with healthy alternatives.

Authentic Action

This is where you’ll actually build your vulnerability muscle (aka courage).

This area includes activities that get you out of your comfort zone and expose you to great emotional pain.

It may include:

  • Asking your crush out (and accepting her/his response graciously and moving on rather than wasting time in fantasy).
  • Cutting off bad relationships and toxic people
  • Forcing yourself to socialize more and meet new people
  • Joining a gym and embarrassing your way out of the badly-designed machines (currently happening to me)
  • Taking leadership roles within your club/organization/job…etc
  • Exploring a new career/study field
  • Starting a business (if that’s what you’re into)
  • Talking in front of a group of people

Basically, it’s about going boldly after what you want.

Remember that your vulnerability/courage muscle is just like a real muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. So start small and keep gradually challenging yourself and exploring your limits.

I promise you, by regularly training your courage muscle, things that once felt impossible to do will slowly start to become less and less intimidating.

Authentic Communication

Here comes the hardest part of all the three.

What do I mean by Authentic Communication?

Have you ever felt so self-conscious when talking to someone that you start to stutter or in an attempt to not embarrass yourself by saying something stupid, you don’t say anything at all?

It sucks. We all have experienced that. Especially when talking to a person we admire or secretly crush on, it can intensify and become real torture! You start to question where has your personality been when you needed it the most or why are you such a failure you can’t talk properly to the person in front of you?

On the other hand, have you ever experienced having a spontaneous conversation with someone that words just flew out naturally without you caring about a thing? You know, when you felt completely present and your head was minding its own business and not nagging at you in the background? You joked, teased, played, and expressed yourself authentically when you were in this state.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? It’s how you think about the situation.

In the first scenario, you were putting the other person on a pedestal and you worried if you can’t impress him/her. You started to see the conversation in a logical way using your brain to tell you what’s the next best thing to say/do in order to come closer to your goal of making a good impression and avoid getting rejected.

In the second scenario, you let your creative side take care of everything. You didn’t worry about “conquering the conversation” or “scoring points” because you didn’t see it in a logical way. You didn’t worry about getting rejected or saying something weird. You were just being yourself, saying what’s on your mind even if it may expose you to getting rejected (again, being vulnerable).

Ironically, this would actually make you leave a far better impression than you would if you take it logically.

You see, human relationships are based on emotions. How you make people feel is far more important than ‘what you bring to the table’. There is a reason why a comedian has more followers and fans than, say, a scientist.

Emotions aren’t logical. They are to be felt and not to be processed. Thus it doesn’t make any sense to try to build real life-long relationships through braining your way to people’s hearts.

The only way to attract new relationships and nurture existing ones is through emotions.

You elicit emotions in other people by truly expressing yourself, openly, unashamedly.

By becoming spontaneous and uninhibited, you open doors to amazing conversations that would never occur if you tried to plan your words.

Showing who you are, exposed, uninhibited, is the only way to truly change your relationships and life in general.

By becoming good at expressing your emotions, you learn how to elicit emotions in the people of your life and strengthen your relationships as a result. That’s Authentic Communication.

Now, how do you express yourself authentically?

Again, by accepting that rejection, ridicule, and judgment are inevitable.

You know the classic truth “Not everyone will like you”. I’d like to take it further and add “And that’s okay!” to it.

Transitioning from a people-pleaser who is always agreeable to someone who is unpretentious and says what’s on his mind is hard at first. Because you’ve got to give up on the need to be liked by everyone. No one, apart from little cute babies, is adored by everyone. You got to shove this fact into your damn skull and learn to live with it.

But it’s not bad, really. When you express yourself fully and without inhibitions, you indirectly say to the world “I’m an amazing person, as unique as a unicorn. Take me or leave me, I’m fine anyways.” This will result in one of these two scenarios:

  1. Some people will dislike you (inevitable)
  2. A lot of people will love you so damn much

Instead of being a people pleaser and end up on a third scenario where “no one loves you nor dislikes you”, you’re setting yourself to meet your own people, those who are proud to be with you and enjoy your company to the fullest.

I am glad I made the effort to find my people. I made some enemies along the way but again, the result is worth the price.

So be a unique guy/girl, say weird things, ask stupid questions, ask deep questions, tease and be playful with others. You’ll filter those who are so boring to appreciate your uniqueness and keep those who will love you until the end.

Final thoughts

If you’re reading this, that means that you made it through this long text, Thank you very much!!

As we’ve seen, the path towards building an authentic life is through putting yourself into situations that leave you vulnerable to emotional pain.

Living an authentic life requires that you work on the three major areas: Authentic Lifestyle, Authentic Action, and Authentic Communications.

Keep in mind that the point here is not to to be perfect in all the three, but to strike a balance between them.

In the end, choosing to go against the current and design your own game rules is difficult. Not everybody is ready for it.

Nevertheless, I hope I encouraged you to take a deeper look at your current life and see if it lacks your personal touch. If that’s the case, boy, you got some work to do!

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