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Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I never quite know what to say when someone asks me this question. And instead of answering, I gape at them as if they’ve just asked me the meaning of life.
How hard is it for you to answer such a simple question, Roopa?
I get this irritated comment when I try to answer the million-dollar question but the words won’t come out. Instead, I shake my head, raise my eyebrows, and simply shrug.
It’s not that I don’t want to answer. It’s that I don’t know the answer.
And that’s because—depending on whom you ask—I’ll either be labeled a complete social misfit or the veritable life of the party. That’s because I travel between those two worlds on a regular basis.
Let me explain.
I did something extraordinarily brave two weeks back.
Look, there are brave men and women fighting wars and fighting off assailants, or traveling alone to a new country where they don’t know anyone or speak the local language, taking a stand publicly on an issue knowing that their perspective goes against the popular narrative and that the online troll army will savage you publicly but you do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do, changing careers even though you know the new one will probably not pay off, and so much more. These are all examples of extraordinary bravery.
My act of bravery is not even a millionth as brave as the examples above. But, for me, it was one of the bravest things I’ve ever done.
I went to a distant relative’s sister’s son’s wedding where the only person I knew was an uncle whom I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. But I did it because I wanted to challenge myself out of wallowing in the crippling anxiety I feel when I have to participate in any event where I barely know anyone. I only pulled the trigger on this one because I didn’t go alone. I went with said uncle, and knowing that I had one other person on my side at all times made the process of attending said wedding a lot easier.
But it wasn’t a happy time for me. I clung to my uncle the entire evening and did not leave his side, even for a second. On the outside, I looked around and tried to take in the joyous celebrations and the smorgasbord of colors and the vibrant dancing and music and the breathtaking array of cuisines temptingly laid out in front of me. But deep down, I palpably felt a restlessness and need to hide somewhere safe. Honestly, I could not wait to get home; those three hours were absolute torture for me.
I felt beyond relieved when the evening was over and gave myself two enthusiastic thumbs up for venturing out that evening. But my uncle stared at me on our drive home because he could not reconcile the loud and bubbly person that he knew me to be with the person he saw that evening at the wedding. He commented that he’d had no idea I was that socially awkward or such an introvert.
I was. I am.
And then three days ago I went to a more intimate gathering with a few friends and acquaintances. It was a soiree where I knew most of the attendees. I danced, sang badly, socialized, chatted up a storm, ate everything laid out at the vegetarian table like a pig, got into a few arguments about being a bleeding-heart liberal, flitted around from corner to the other, and dragged the shy ones onto the makeshift dance floor in my friend’s living room and made them feel at ease. I generally had an amazing time.
Some would even say that I was the “life of the party.” Or that I was an extrovert.
I was. I am.
I am both. I am an introvert and an extrovert. And I don’t think there is anything remotely contradictory about it.
I like to say that after spending the initial part of my life being an extreme version of black or white with absolutely no shades of grey, as I’ve gotten older, I now spend more and more time in the in-betweens.
I’m a bleeding-heart liberal but unless the other side is a complete nutjob, I’m able to sit down and listen to a conservative perspective with more empathy and an open mind than I would have even five years ago.
I no longer think there is an absolute right or an absolute wrong. Legally, our world tells us there is. Why do people kill? Why do people lie and cheat and steal? As an empathetic human being, I am no longer quick to pass judgment on anyone or anything.
For me, it’s now all about context. Because who someone is and how they behave is a direct result of their background—their citizenship, their opportunities, their cultural heritage, and how they’ve been raised. So who am I to pretend that I know the answer to everything?
All this to say that while I used to struggle with whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, I now know that the best answer to this question would be that I am an introvert and an extrovert. And I’m good with that.~
What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Or both? Or neither? Let me know in the comments below.