I’m sitting at work with my shoulders bent over papers splayed along my desk. My eyes are concentrated and immersed. When I focus on something, it’s like my entire brain dives deep into whatever ocean I’m exploring. I can’t multi-task because to do that is to keep the brain only shallowly invested so that it can easily switch from one pool to another. My brain does not do this. It is all or nothing.
As I sit there, my extremely extroverted coworker walks into my office and immediately fires a question at me. I drag my eyes up like molasses sliding from a can, and she stands there, staring at me and waiting for my answer. My brain is still swimming back from the ocean, so I am not even sure what she asked yet. As my brain finally reaches the surface and takes a deep breath, her question hits me. It is simple, and I know the answer, but I’m not there yet. My brain is still in the water, eagerly searching for the dry land of another topic. She stands there, sighing, clearly impatient at my lack of answering. So I try to give her something: “Yes, er, no—wait, yes.” She raises her eyebrows at me and snorts a small laugh.
Finally I am able to rattle off the full answer, and she walks away from my desk, giggling to herself. Because of her talkative, gossipy nature, she will probably tell everyone about what just happened: how she asked such a simple question yet I stared at her, dumbfounded.
I’ve been asked on many occasions if I have a mental or learning disorder or, more generally, what is wrong with me. To answer the question, nothing is wrong with me. I am completely ordinary and average. I did well in all my years of school, though not so much in the social aspect. But from an academic standpoint, I shined and received a scholarship to college. While in college, I made good marks and graduated with honors. Why, then, do I constantly get these muffled giggles, pointed questions, and judging looks?
My One Little ‘Problem’
There is one little “problem” that I neglected to mention. I am an introvert. An INFP personality type, to be exact. Because INFPs make up only 4 percent of the population, I have a personality that is a bit different from most people I encounter.
(What’s your personality type? Take a free personality assessment.)
I am certainly the only INFP in my workplace, so incidents like the one with my coworker happen frequently. You see, an introvert’s brain is their own personal world. We introverts spend nearly all our time there, and we are always thinking, pondering, figuring, deciding, or planning. It’s an absolute whirlwind up there, and most of us enjoy the rare moments of peace we get when our brain takes a rest.
But my coworkers and others around me see something different. They do not see the thoughts running through my brain, the padlocks being opened to pull out old memories, or the little lightning bolts that send new information to my sensors while I wait to see what it all means. The only thing they see is me sitting there with a blank expression on my face.
So, nearly every time, they jump to the very wrong conclusions. They assume I don’t understand what they’re talking about or that I’m a little slow.
I Think Before I Speak
It is true that I will most likely arrive at an answer slower than you will. But does that make me impaired? I don’t think so. I take longer to arrive at that answer because I spend time considering all angles and crafting my response before speaking. So when I do answer, I provide a thoughtful, logical, clear sentence. This is why, maybe surprisingly, introverts are great at debating and public speaking. When they have time to think about what they are going to say, they nail it.
As stated earlier, my brain takes an all or nothing approach. We introverts are thinkers, and we employ our deep-processing abilities in almost everything we do. At work, I become engrossed in whatever I am doing at the time, and to burst in and pull me out of that and to expect an immediate response is jarring and even painful for me.
At one time in history, thinking was a highly respected practice. People like John Locke made it cool. Philosophers, authors, and other deep-thinking types were revered. They still are to this day. In school, we learn about the brilliant theories and ideas they came up with when they were allowed to spend time with their own mind. Now thinking is an embarrassment. To think slowly over something, to mull, to ponder, is only proof of how “slow” you are compared to your quick-witted friends. What has happened to our society?
A Glimpse Into My Brain
Until people change their attitudes about introversion, incidents like the one with my extroverted coworker will continue to happen frequently. And if I’m being totally honest, that situation hurt me. These giggly coworkers of mine are not bad or even mean people, but they simply do not understand me because they cannot see the whole picture. They go off what they can see, which is a false representation.
And when most people observe incidents like the one I described, they do not even think about it. It is such a small occurrence that they do not even notice. But introverts, especially INFPs, definitely notice. Believe me, we notice everything.
For whoever reads this, I hope to give you a glimpse into my brain so you can start to understand the things that no one else sees. I concentrate deeply, so if you ask me something and I have to take a moment to gather my thoughts, please remain patient and do not giggle or judge me. If you do get impatient, that’s okay, because everyone gets impatient sometimes. But don’t think you will spur me on by giving me judging looks and making irritated noises. That added pressure will only slow me down. Allow me the time I need and you will get the answer you want.
Just because you can see tiny glimpses of me from the outside, do not assume that you completely know and understand me. At work, sitting at my desk, you see only one percent of me. There is a whole other ninety-nine percent that is not visible to you.
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