An Ode to Introversion and Quietude

Photo by Min An

In a world where extroverts are admired and introverts are judged, a book like Quiet by Susan Cain can prove transformative. It might be because Susan Cain herself is an introvert. No one can truly understand an introvert better than another introvert. Extroverts who have taken the time to introspect and reflect on an introverted loved one’s personality trait might also understand and respect introversion. However, they are few and far between.

For most of my life, I was told to talk more, be more extroverted, or “smart”. My introversion was considered a defect, more like a disease I needed to be cured of. I believed it to be true as no one told me otherwise. It wasn’t until I discovered the internet that I realized there are others like me. I was relieved to find people who shared the characteristics that I thought were unique to me. It provided much-needed validation. I started understanding introversion. I started understanding myself from the lens of a new unacknowledged world.

Introverted kids often feel like a misfit because of the constant judgment. Is it any surprise that they often grow up to become shy and underconfident? Nothing undermines someone’s self-confidence more than being repeatedly told they are not okay the way they are.

People find it hard to accept that I’m an introvert now that I’m an adult. I play my part well. Or rather, I have trained myself to play the extroverted part well. I have learned over the years to create this impressionable extroverted façade to gain acceptance into this world of Extrovert Ideals, all for the sake of attaining “normality”. However, I can keep up the act only for a few hours before I feel this mad urge to rush back home to re-energize – in short, to slip into my pajamas and dive into the comfort of books.

Susan Cain covers this façade (of extroversion) and more in her book. The case studies covering different aspects of introversion are a revelation. In the real world, extroversion still gets the upper hand at school, work, and every phase of life. Your competency is determined based on how extroverted you are. The book explores why a teacher, parent, or employer needs to understand the quantifiable benefits introversion brings to the table. The author explains how to reach out to the hidden treasures buried among the buzz and commotion. The solution is pretty simple: the world only needs to stop talking for a little while, introspect a bit, and try listening instead.

An Ode to the Kind Stranger at the Café

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A bitter argument,

A door slam,

An empty apartment. A heavy heart.

Tears. Surplus tears.

Misery spanning the entire morning and half of afternoon,

No breakfast, no lunch; hunger killed by words as sharp as a knife,

Hunger killed by heart-numbing brashness.

Soul crushing, sky falling, world burning,

It feels like death – this beginning of the end.

Death of a person still very much alive,

Death of a marriage,

Death of love.

I push myself up, wiping away tears,

I head outdoors,

I walk aimlessly, like a lost soul,

And I spot a small café.

Self-care beckons,

I should eat something.

An order placed with gloom. Face full of despair.

Eyes down. Gaze lowered. No strength to face anyone,

No strength to smile.

A cup of coffee and a sandwich.

The order arrives,

I lift my gaze, and I smile,

The coffee has a heart on top.

A beautiful little heart.

Intrigued, I look at other cups around me,

No, this one is just for me.

In a sea of pain, it felt like a wave of comfort,

A compassionate message,

A comforting hug.

I look around for the waiter,

I spot him in a corner,

Working but eyes fixed on me.

He smiles compassionately,

I smile back,

Warmth.

A sign that the world is not so bad after all,

A sign that I’ll be okay – even if it’s the beginning of the end.

Context: The magic of kindness. A stranger I’ve never met before provided me hope on the most hopeless of days. I never met him after that. The incident happened years ago, but I still think of it fondly. I feel a cocktail of emotions whenever I remember that moment in the café. It still makes me smile.

An Ode to Supportive Strangers

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As a kid, you’re told not to talk to strangers. But with experience, I have come to the realization that talking to strangers is not such a bad thing after all. In fact, I would say, out with the old “don’t talk to strangers” and in with the new “reach out to more strangers.”

It all started with my first blog. I received the most support from strangers.

Then came my business (now defunct). Again, I received incredible support from strangers.

At each phase of my life, I was indebted to the fact that strangers have always been more kind to me than the ones I personally know. With some observation, I realized this is the story for a lot of people. Strangers often tend to support more.

Is this because strangers are more kind? Or because more strangers than friends/relatives are on the lookout for what you have to offer? Maybe distance makes the heart go fonder, and up-close we are full of blunder? Or perhaps, it’s because strangers know how it is to feel unseen, to be treated like a stranger.

The world is vast, and people are boundless with distinct personalities and mental models. If our content does not cater to the needs of a small group of friends/relatives, instead of sticking to the archaic scripture of not talking to strangers, we should, maybe just maybe, reach out to more. The ones who would eventually become your tribe. The ones who understand your thought process and techniques.

I often feel intensely grateful to the strangers who have taken the time out to support me, often juxtaposed with an uncomfortable question, “Why are the people I know less supportive?

Some of these kind strangers have moved on, but in that short span of time, they have offered me more love and encouragement than any person I know. I am armed with the knowledge that strangers can be beautiful, and probably this is why I am more open to newcomers joining any close-knit community that I am in, whereas others appear to be wary or hostile.

I am convinced that this is why the universe sends us strangers—to play an important but short role in our life. So we don’t lose hope in our core beliefs, the ones we would love to passionately share with the world.

An Ode to Taking One Step at a Time

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I always get anxious when I think of a big task or chore. I look at the outcome and its tediousness instead of focusing on the small steps that can lead to the result.

When you shift your attention to each step, things appear simpler. The overwhelming burden of the goal dies down, and you feel more energized to begin the task. On the other hand, shift your focus to the task in its entirety, and you are sure to feel stuck, without any motivation to move any further. Yet, this is what I end up doing – concentrating on the big, chunky, mammoth of a task instead of slicing it down into small digestible bites.

Last year though, I had decided on some resolutions, and I broke them all down into achievable steps.

Here’s how they went.

Walking 10,000 Steps

I had gained a bit of weight because of work stress. I hardly moved from my seat, stuck to my never-ending workload day in and out. This weight gain affected my mental and physical health. That’s when I decided to take things back into my control and I started walking. I set my goal as 10,000 steps, 5 days a week. Sounds overwhelming, right? It certainly was for me – someone who has never walked anywhere near 5000 steps, let alone 10,000.

I decided to go easy on myself.

The first day, I walked 2000 steps and continued it for a week. The following week, I increased my target to 4000 steps. I kept doubling it every week until I reached 10,000. I continued this for one whole year without a break. It worked; I lost the flab. My immunity and metabolism also improved considerably. I did not end up looking like a supermodel with my walks, but I now feel healthy, and that’s what matters.

Here’s the secret to how I could sustain my walks for one whole year – I had decided I would not complete all my steps at one go. Instead, I would distribute it throughout the day. That way, I was constantly moving without exerting too much pressure on myself. It also did not take up too much time in between work. When you force yourself to exercise only at a scheduled time slot, it eventually sucks the joy out of fitness (at least it does for me). When that happens, you are naturally tempted to stop exercising after the initial enthusiasm dies down.

The book, Ikigai, talks of how the Japanese, ever-famous for their longevity and happiness, thrive by walking and moving throughout the day, engaged in their hobbies and interests. They do not sit still for long, as opposed to most of us. Our routine may or may not allow us to follow the Japanese mantra, but we can try to get up from our seats every one hour and walk around for 5-10 mins. It might make a considerable difference

Completed a 60-Hour Long Online Course

I am a working woman with a full-time job. I love to write a bit on my blog (right here) during my spare time. It keeps me energized. Other than that, I do not get much time for anything else. I love to learn new things, but I never found time for it. Last year, I finally decided to take up a course to help me understand my work better. It was 60 hours long. A bit overwhelming for someone who hardly had any free time. But I completed it (yay!) by slicing it down to small lessons each day.

I would dedicate a learning timeslot that would range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on my energy levels. It’s not much, right? But look at what 10-20 minutes every day can do. It can help you finish an entire course. It took a lot of time to complete overall (one whole year!), but never once did I feel overwhelmed or tempted to leave the course midway.

Started Learning a New Language

The only foreign language I had any chance of using for real was Arabic. I travel to the Middle East now and then. I wanted to learn the language so that I could understand the shop boards and converse in simple Arabic if required.

I dedicate 10 minutes every day to learning new alphabets or words.

I am still not fluent, but I can read and understand basic sentences. Again, all by committing just 10 minutes every day.

Conclusion

Anything can be achieved if we break it down into small achievable steps.

If you want to start reading more, spend 10-15 minutes every day. From experience, I can tell you that you will end up surpassing your allotted reading time.

If you want to start waking up earlier, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual for one week. Then, 30 minutes earlier, and so on, until you reach your target.

If you think this way, you can achieve almost anything without losing steam. You are being kind to yourself, so there is no chance of fatigue. You won’t get far (at first), but at least you will be a step closer to your goal. After a while, when you look back, you will be astonished at how much progress you have made.

Sometimes, all we need is a push to take that first step.

Do not look at the outcome and enjoy the journey. Relish the whole process, and the results will automatically follow.