Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. – Unknown
Simply put, travel makes you a better human being. You develop empathy for others, make new friends, begin to understand other cultures, start to question the pros and cons of your native country, but perhaps the most often cited benefit, you find out a lot about yourself. With travel you’re stripped down to the bare essentials of what you need for survival (food, shelter, and companionship), without the distractions of your job or social life preventing you from facing your own problems. I’ve traveled extensively around the world but have never really had any earth shattering epiphanies about myself (besides that one time driving across America where I realized the depth of “happiness only real when shared”), but on this epic trip through South America, in my last days in Buenos Aires, I learned something about myself that almost brought me to tears.
Early on in this trip when traveling through Colombia with a friend named Andrew, who happened to also live in Los Angeles, I noticed I would get cranky on a lot of mornings. I know that I usually have to recharge alone before I can effectively be social, but I never knew why. The same thing happened in Bolivia where I took a three-day jeep trip through the Salar De Uyuni (Salt Flats) with my friends Amish from New York, Susanna from Italy, Karen from Holland, and David from Germany. After spending three twenty-four days with them there was a point where everyone fell asleep in the car and I had the alarming thought, “ah finally, I can relax and read,” but immediately felt guilty for thinking such a thing. It wasn’t until my friend Suzann Luu Guayasamin posted an article on Facebook, that led me to another article called “10 Myths About Introverts” that I suggest everyone read, regardless of your personality type, to understand how your brain works and the differences between you and your friends.
I’ll let the author, Carl Kingdom, answer the question you’re probably asking right now, why did it take you so long to realize you’re an introvert? Kingdom points out that he had no idea he was an introvert himself, because “labeling someone as an introvert is a very shallow assessment, full of common misconceptions.” I never labeled myself as an introvert because of said “common misconceptions,” and I always believed my symptoms were all part of a residual shyness that I triumphed over in my early twenties. After reading the article and then the book it suggested, Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, was when I finally came to the same epiphany that Mark did, “it felt like someone had written an encyclopedia entry on a rare race of people to which I belong” — I am an introvert.
So all the questions that I had about myself, and guilt that I felt over the years for trivial things like hating dance clubs, feeling awkward in groups of friends that I’ve known for years, and becoming moody when I didn’t have enough solo time, finally made sense to me. It was like I was finally able to wipe the fog off the mirror to see my true reflection.
Physiologically, an introvert’s brain is wired differently than that of extroverts, the other 75% of the population. Introverts have a hyperactive dopamine system in their brain, meaning they’re highly susceptible to exhaustion from the stimuli they take in. Because introverts take in a mountain of external information, more than that of extroverts, they’re easily fatigued which makes them appear cranky or aloof when they’re merely just “recharging.” Contrary to popular belief, introverts aren’t antisocial, they actually love people, they just need to pick their spots for activities like bars or musical festivals because they know it’s going to overload them. For example, an extrovert can look at a building and say “what a beautiful old pink building,” while an introvert will look at the same building and think “what a beautiful building. I wonder why they decided to make it pink. Look at the symmetry of the windows. You would think purple trim would be gawdy but it works as a whole. I wonder how old those doors are. How many people live inside of it or has it been zoned as commercial…” You can quickly see the difference between introverts and extroverts and how they’re different. Both introverts and extroverts and have their advantages and disadvantages, but extroverts are more rewarded in Western society. Introverts are the people that make better artists, scientists, listeners, have deeper experiences, and generally live longer than extroverts. The book even mentions famous introverts like Clint Eastwood and Albert Einstein and celebrated fictional characters like Atticus Finch.
It didn’t surprise me to find out that most writers are introverts. I noticed my attention to detail, characteristic to introverts, is also what makes me a good photographer. It also explains my affinity for design and preference for women with a sense for fashion. The same hyper-awareness to nuance is also why I’m able to write so much about the nebulous world of dating.
Basically everything I always thought was peculiar about myself, that I judged myself for, and felt guilty about, was explained to me in this book that made me realize that I’m not the only one on the planet that feels this way – there are others out there. I sat in a café in Buenos Aires reading this book, and it wasn’t just like a light bulb went on, it was like the Sun turned on in my head; I had to put the book down because I almost started crying.
I only found this out about myself a week ago, but since then have fully embraced it and have been doing whatever it takes to make me centered and happy. A girl I met at my hostel in Buenos Aires, Rachel from Chicago, who discovered she was an introvert at a very young age, put it best when she said to me, “welcome to the rest of your life.”
[PHOTO: Street Art in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires — Share this with your friends that you think may be introverts. It could change their life.]