I once forced myself to attend a networking event. I registered months prior during one of my more extroverted moments — they’re extremely rare if they exist at all, kind of like Quark giving an unhappy patron a refund — and as the date loomed, I was dreading having to go.
Eventually, the day did arrive, and as I made my way to the reception area, I started thinking about The Next Generation marathon I was missing on tv, my comfortable pajamas, and the half-eaten pint of Chunky Monkey in the freezer. I audibly moaned as the room came into view and my nightmare manifested: groups of people hovered around together, forming impenetrable circles. There was laughter, screeching, and someone with a booming voice who kept saying “For real, for real!”
After standing around for a good five minutes, I made my way to the hors d'oeuvres, pretending as though I had seen something fascinating in the tray of sliders. When I was finally forced towards a group, I mustered my strength and suavely tried to join in. I started nodding, throwing in a few laughs and a thumbs up for good measure. It was then that the entire group stopped and looked at me, wondering what the heck I was doing there, intruding no doubt on their enthralling discussion of the merits of business process management.
Unbeknownst to me, I just had a “traumatic introvert moment.” My aversion to groups, small talk, and awkward social events, are characteristics that many introverts share. At the time, I didn’t even realize I was an introvert. The first time I even heard the term was at work, when we were given the Myers-Briggs personality test, and my result, INTJ, informed me that I shared a psychological type with Isaac Newtown, Elon Musk, and Hannibal Lecter (which succeeded in scaring a few coworkers for a while).
If you’re not sure whether or not you have an introvert in your life, here are some of our defining characteristics: we stare at phone calls when they come in, praying that the caller will either give up or resort to texting. We cringe at the thought of a “group project.” Small talk might actually kill us. On the rare occasion that we commit to a social obligation, our biggest fantasy is getting a text letting us know it’s been canceled. Some of us are horrible at dating; in fact, we might prefer root canals. But we’re not all grouchy, self-isolating misanthropes. We’re genuine, straight-forward, organized people who love intense conversations, feel deeply, and are usually quiet only because we prefer to speak only when we’re able to add something worthwhile to the conversation.
So it’s no surprise that when it comes to Star Trek, I identify with certain characters more than others — characters who are obvious introverts. And in true Star Trek fashion, these characters used their introversion as a strength, not a weakness.
Picard is what I call an “expert-level introvert.” He’s introspective, prefers books to most people, dislikes children and their unruliness, and can spend hours at Château Picard with a glass of his own vintage and nothing but his thoughts. Yet despite all of these hallmarks of introverted behavior, he’s not limited when it comes to his duties. A man who can reason with the Sheliak (“The Ensigns of Command”), make inroads in communication with The Children of Tama (“Darmok”), and put the universe’s biggest extrovert, Q, in his place multiple times, is someone who isn’t held back by his introversion in any way.
Odo, like many introverts, is misunderstood. He takes enormous pride in his work — suffering from the perfectionism that sometimes haunts many introverts. He’s fond of his personal space. He dislikes those who can’t abide by a moral code (here’s looking at you, Quark). Like many introverts, he comes off as grouchy, but deep down, he’s just in his own head, too busy managing the security of the station and engaging in internal philosophical debates about his origins to bother with platitudes and small talk.
When it comes to matters of the heart, Odo personifies most introverts. It literally took him a couple of lifetimes to confess to Kira how he feels about her (“Children of Time”). This is, unfortunately, how it works when two introverts get together. It can take years, lots of miscommunication, and many missed opportunities before some introverts get their feelings across. I like to joke that during the same amount of time that extroverts have already settled down, had a few kids, and bought a house together, two introverts will have agreed to their first date!
Seven of Nine
Seven is the ultimate introvert role model, bar none. When I was younger, it was a well-known fact in my household that I wanted to be a Borg. And when I say “younger,” I mean fifteen. There was something about them that just resonated. Not the automaton drone aspect, but the brutal efficiency, the need for perfection, and the desire to assimilate all knowledge. As a character, Seven dislikes social norms, often cutting straight to the point. She’s blunt and painfully honest. Introverts don’t play around with niceties if they get in the way of progress. This was one of the reasons why she was so successful at everything she did, she zeroed in to a task and made it her priority.
Spock often dismissed any conclusions that originated from a place of emotion. Many introverts rely solely on logic when it comes to making decisions. In a sense, one could argue that almost all Vulcans are introverts. Like Vulcans, introverts don’t show emotions easily. But also like Vulcans, introverts tend to feel deeply and passionately — we just don’t think we should be controlled by our feelings, especially when they can be unreliable.
Michael shows us what happens when a deeply thoughtful introvert meets an extrovert, and somehow, somewhere an unlikely but beautiful friendship is formed. I can feel Michael’s pain when she realizes she’s stuck with Tilly as a roommate. But slowly and surely, Tilly helps break Michael’s introverted shell. The resulting friendship is nothing short of magical. They balance each other out perfectly.
If you’re dealing with an introvert, have patience. We may appear aloof at times, too enveloped in our own thoughts to contribute to a conversation. But trust me, it’s not because we’re not engaged — we’re just looking for the right thing to say. Personally, I think there’s also plenty that non-introverts can learn from their introvert friends. Learn that it’s OK to cancel plans. You don’t have to attend every Facebook event you’re “interested in.” There’s nothing wrong with ordering pizza, lounging on the couch, and rewatching Voyager on a Friday night instead of going out. And, if you’re an introvert, always remember that you have a superpower that a lot of extroverts don’t: You’re able to be alone with your own thoughts. It may not seem like a big deal, but during difficult times, such as the current pandemic, it’s a valuable and useful trait. Extroverts are lauded and encouraged in our world — we’re social creatures, so it makes sense. But introverts can teach us a great deal... we just have to listen to them, on the rare occasion when they actually do speak.
Hrisoula Gatzogiannis (she/her) has a B.A. & M.A. in Classics and now works in digital strategy. She loves writing and has authored a few books on various subjects. She currently resides in Boston. Follow her on Twitter @MissHrisoula]