I spent a lot of my life comparing myself to my extroverted brother, wondering how I could be more like him, and yet not fully understanding or appreciating the person he is either. With a four-year age gap between us, we never had much in common. Even today, as we each navigate adulthood, I find that we’re still like two industrial-strength resistant magnets.
When I was about seven, my parents were thrilled when I decided to take up ice skating. I had only attempted a few other activities like gymnastics, ballet, and soccer, none of which I particularly enjoyed. During one skating session, my brother insisted he be allowed to take lessons as well. So, my parents slapped some rental skates on him and he took to the ice like he was Alexei Yagudin — he was three. Eventually, he became a young hockey star in a youth travel hockey league, and I quit skating altogether.
Throughout most of our childhood, my brother was active and seemed to thrive with a spotlight on him. He began karate and quickly worked his way towards becoming a black belt. When he took up skateboarding, our garage was turned into a mini skate park with ramps. One summer, he decided to take horseback riding lessons, and my grandfather leased a horse for him. Often, his interests involved a group and interactions with kids our own age, something I never felt entirely comfortable with.
As I grew older, I found myself growing more withdrawn from the world. I eventually found quieter hobbies to delve into, and my parents nurtured my interests as best they could. There were private music lessons for a while (in which I refused to perform) and an art class somewhere along the way.
However, I spent the majority of my time locked in my room writing poetry and short stories. As my brother’s dresser dazzled with dozens of gold-painted plastic trophies he’d won, I admired my sole Literary Fair Award for an original play I’d written — a piece that my seventh grade language arts teacher submitted on my behalf.
Introverts Are Incredible Too
Now that I’m thirty, I look back on my relationship with my sibling with a fresh pair of adult eyes. What is so striking to me is how two people reared in the same way in the same home with the same opportunities ended up so polar opposite.
Yes, at times when I compared myself to him, it came from a place of jealousy and anger. But it’s also come from a place of love, pride, and admiration for the incredibly successful human he is.
But I’m realizing now that I have a lot to offer the world as I carve my own quiet path. I’m incredible, too — introvert and all. I’m not my extroverted sibling, and that’s perfectly okay.
With that said, here are three truths I’ve learned about myself as an introvert that I hope encourage you.
What I’ve Learned From My Relationship With My Extroverted Sibling
1. He may be the life of the party, but I’m perfectly content on my own.
My impression of my brother is that he’s always been the center of attention. I don’t say this as criticism, it’s just my perception. People always seemed to be drawn to his sense of humor, high energy, and coolness, and it was very rare that our social circles overlapped. Whereas he has always surrounded himself with large groups of friends and acquaintances, I proudly boast three close friends that I’ve kept for my entire life.
Growing up, our home was the “hang out” house and there were always new faces in my brother’s ever-growing clique. After school, it wasn’t uncommon for him to walk through the front door with four or five kids trailing behind him. This was the norm, and I typically shied away from the crowd and busied myself in another room.
Watching how my extroverted brother interacted with the world, I often wondered if there was something wrong with me. Why didn’t I have as many friends? Why was I not going out all the time and joining in on the fun? Was it me, or was it them?
Even now, my brother, who resides in bustling New York City, continues to spend all his free time with friends and colleagues, attending parties, vacationing, and going to restaurants and bars where he can continue to grow his circle. I suppose, if I were a different person, I could have a ton of people surrounding me at all times, too.
However, whereas he loves being the life of the party, I feel more enriched with a small group of people or by myself — and I no longer believe there’s anything wrong with that.
2. He may be great at talking, but I excel at being a silent observer.
My brother has always had a knack for engaging people in conversation. He enjoys getting to know strangers, finding out their professions, and learning how he can connect with them to work his way up whatever personal or professional ladders he’s climbing. I, on the other hand, am just as good at making others uncomfortable with my deafening silence — sometimes even him.
Because my brother and I are so different, I’ve often felt tongue-tied, judged, or anxious around him. When it comes to small talk, it happens sporadically and feels quick and strained, as though we’re grasping at strings to find something — anything — to discuss. Perhaps it’s my natural awkwardness or my unwillingness to participate in jibber-jabber, but I tend to feel this way with just about anybody.
The biggest misconception is that I silently sit and judge everyone around me, which I am sure leads others to believe I’m cold and unapproachable. While I do on occasion mentally judge people — I am human after all — I’ve learned that my ability to listen and observe allows me to take in what’s happening within my surroundings: people, chatter, colors, smells, the tiniest details, the biggest ideas. Actually, this is a great skill to have, being the writer that I am.
Without question, my brother is great at being vocal, and I can’t deny that he’s benefited from that at times. I suppose it’s good to have him around to lead the conversation I feel I can’t have. All the while, I observe silently and pick up on everything else he misses.
3. We’re both successful in different ways.
We never knew what my brother would end up doing with his life. Being the funny, outgoing wild child that he was, we wondered whether or not he’d grow up and get his act together. Naturally, with his appetite for networking and his go-getter attitude, he’s found a lot of success at a very young age in sports marketing. Watching him climb his way up the corporate ladder and pocket a six-figure salary at 26 has impressed me — although to be honest, at times, I’ve felt inadequate in comparison.
It’s not that I lack ambition or a desire to be successful. With my thirst for knowledge, research, and creativity, as well as my appreciation for natural beauty and humankind, I have begun to realize that my introversion has allowed me to be successful in ways he isn’t.
For example, while my brother has done well for himself in a large, energetic company, I found success in a small business atmosphere as a communications coordinator. My ability to connect with others one-on-one enabled me to work my way up to becoming a personal assistant to the company’s owners. I made use of my empathy and writing skills to connect and inspire clientele with supportive and compassionate social media posts, support group facilitation, and content writing.
Being the quieter type, I’ve always believed my high sensitivity and divergent thinking allow me to see the world in technicolor, be more open-minded, and approach situations or problems in abstract ways. While my brother can devise a multi-million dollar marketing plan for a client and use his voice to get a point across or move ahead in life, I take more time to analyze and reflect while freely expressing my innermost thoughts on paper. Writing is a powerful tool — an excellent way for me to empower and motivate others.
Being the “quiet one” in the introvert-extrovert sibling relationship has had its challenges, but I now see my differences from my brother as unique and special. In fact, feeling so different as a kid somehow gave me an inner strength in adulthood. I now have a greater appreciation for my individuality. In turn, I’m learning how I can better coexist with my extroverted counterparts.