In the OB class in first semester of MBA, we were asked to fill in a long questionnaire and then do some calculations and so that we could find out what our personality type as per MBTI was. Such conversations ensued -.
“You must be something like an extrovert, right?”
“No. It says I am introvert. ISTJ as such.”
“Wow. But you talk with everyone you come across. How can you be an introvert?”
By the way, I was “diagnosed” as an INTP. I had known that for quite some time but had never given much thought to it. But suddenly I was being told that I was not good enough to be a leader as that probably required periodic war-cries which only extroverts can muster. Not even a month in MBA, it was a bit disconcerting.
So, I landed to do MBA in Gurgaon somewhere in June last year. Amongst the first things I observed here was the size of groups in which people were hanging out in. They were huge. Absolutely huge. It seemed that everyone except me had been in touch with each other even before the college had started via WhatsApp, Facebook and other means of social gratification. Imagine a group of 25 people walking around the campus post-dinner. There was just so much networking in the campus that it actually didn’t feel like a mere group of 25 but felt like a horde out on a conquest. And in that sense, I felt incredibly inadequate. I was kinda fat, my hairline had been thinning and it was not only that I was a bit older than my batchmates but I looked older than them as well. I felt like such a misfit.
In my defense, I did try to fit in. Attended random birthday parties, tried to stay relevant in a group of 25 by cracking lame jokes to which no one paid any kind of attention, went to booze parties where I was not sure why I was there and so on. And then that fateful OB class happened, I remembered that I am an introvert and realized that the label so conveniently suited me. It gave me security and it gave me answers. And the latter was much more important.
“Why didn’t you go to that party in which the whole class is going and there will be a lot of drinking and dancing and ‘networking’?”
“Ugh. Because introverts don’t go to parties. Remember, parties mein chutiye naachte hain.”
It had started to go well.
With those labels as crutches, I had returned to the last bench of the class – the proxy for my comfort zone. Away from the parties, away from random attempts of social validation, my next couple of months went away being the same non-descript, anonymous guy in the class and in the batch. I was happy sticking to the last bench and spoke as little as possible. It was not as if I had no friends. I did but in a manner which probably only a B-schooler can understand, we were misfits huddled together trying to pander to every stereotype you might have seen ascribed to introverts.
(If I can digress a bit, the MBA is somewhat of a dichotomy in the sense that the kind of students it admits - at least in India – are different from what it expects them to be. There are presentations in every course, you are expected to be an effective if not enchanting speaker and the possibility to land plum jobs depends heavily on your ability to be assertive in group discussion of around 10 people and then in an interview. Still it admits a lot of nerds because basically the admission test tests your ability to be good at Maths and English. In any case, back to the original rant…)
After a month or two, something happened. As it always does in stories of self-discovery.
But actually, nothing happened. So, this isn’t a story of self-discovery after all.
I just became more comfortable with people. Or became comfortable with the concept of having people around myself. I guess this concept is called “familiarity” and surprisingly, as much as many Quora answers would want you to believe, it happens with introverts too. And then they start behaving like extroverts. You find a circle and in its own esotericism you laugh at jokes and you laugh at the people telling those jokes; some stories are told and some are shared; some crushes are discussed, some are dissed and some are dismissed. You don’t care if you’re extrovert or not because life is too ambiguous for that.
(To be fair, some kind of mellowing happens with the extremely social too. The group sizes of 20 eventually whittled down to 4-5 or even 2 if the girl and the boy took a special liking for each other.)
Still, thinking about it brings some questions. If it really is a question of having increasing familiarity, spreading the envelope so to say, then at what point do you stop being an introvert and at what point you start being an extrovert? What if you start liking so many people that given sufficient time, you start being comfortable with all of them. After all, to like lots and lots of people, one doesn’t need to be an extrovert. Not being cynic enough is often sufficient. It is often told of extroverts that for them the world is a stage. What if as an introvert, you become familiar with the stage itself. Do you stop being an introvert?
The past year has been good to me. Because of many reasons, I became used to speaking in front of a lot of people. Possibly, I am not shy of crowds anymore.
But when it comes to people as individuals, it still is a chore. A bloody chore. You break down a crowd into its ingredients and it is as if each one of it starts asking a question where earlier there was only one. All of them looking at you is fine enough but looking back in their eyes as they cross one-by-one down a street is impossible. Probably they are looking at you but you don’t know that as you are too shy to look at them. It is as if you discover that, the crowds be damned, shyness, often painfully and sometimes liberatingly stays.
And now, for whatsoever it is worth, I am not sure how much of an introvert I am. Or an extrovert for that matter. It actually is weird to think of myself as an extrovert. I really want to be cool enough to be associated with all the tropes being an introvert carries with itself. Tropes, which MBTI endows upon you. Some of them are cool, some of them are cold but most of them are just confusing. But just like horoscopes, you pick and choose the ones you think you best relate with and then live with it. If you are introvert, then you are "well-read" and form "deep" relationships even if the only reading you have done recently has been dating & relationship tips on Quora. Being insufferable in general is acceptable because you are waiting for those to come up with whom you will form “deep relationships”. As I said, "Labels - For The Win". It’s just so easy that it is almost convenient.
I wish it was as black and white.
Sometimes one is introvert enough to cry at a song and not tell anyone about it, still extrovert enough to sometimes go to a few parties and still wonder how can people be such; Introvert enough to not go home on Diwali as that will mean 3 days of alone time and extrovert enough to sometimes, just sometimes feel bad that only 12 people wished Happy Diwali on personal chat; Introvert enough to not tell all these travails to anyone whatsoever but extrovert enough to trust internet strangers to get this. Introvert enough to know when one needs to be an introvert, extrovert enough to know when one needs to stop being an introvert.
There have been times in the past year when I used to wake up from a 4-hour sleep to find 312 WhatsApp messages from 9 different contacts, many of those directed at me because of the certain official responsibilities I used to have. Often, I had wondered that when eventually these messages will stop coming in, and nobody will feel as much need of me, will I feel good at being left alone or feel bad at being left out? I will have the answer soon enough. But all I know is that like most of the things we tend to worry about, it too will be inconsequential.
And that will be for the best.