by Nandini Laddu and Dr. Atul Laddu
To speak or not to speak – that is the question. And it has always been so, the answer to which in almost all the cases has been a big NO!
Let me tell you the story of us two individuals – an uncle and his niece (yup, that’s me!) – and the discrimination they faced from the society at every step of the way. Their fault? Both were introverts.
All about me, Nandini!
“I can’t take it anymore, I want my soul cleansed.”
This is where it all began – my long journey of self-discovery.
Intrigued? Read on…
I grew up as a very shy, timid person, comfortable in my own space. My sister, being the talkative one, used to get all the attention, thus making me invisible to others. I knew she didn’t do it deliberately. Making her presence felt and being social was her nature. Staying silent and away from the spotlight was mine.
The result – I have always been judged by people around me. There were comparisons all the time. All my life I have been subjected to comments with people calling me mute, dull, and whatnot! That used to hurt real bad but never could I explain to others why I was the way I was.
Even while growing up, from school through college, I faced many such traumatic situations. It is only in the last few years that I have learned to ignore and not take it to heart.
I have often questioned myself: “Why am I an introvert?”, “Why am I not outspoken?”, “If I were an extrovert, would I have been accepted by society?”, and so on. But then it also dawned upon me that everyone is unique and I should be happy the way I am.
Being an introvert also meant not being able to share my opinion in general conversations, gatherings, and so on. I was never able to say “No”. People often took me for granted.
To add on, things got worse when my dad succumbed to a sudden heart attack. That left us shocked to the core. I was affected the most in my family. I then went deeper and deeper into my shell. I took a very long time to come out of it.
Life must go on.
In spite of all the odds and my personality issues (as perceived by others), I landed myself a wonderful job. But then my (quiet) nature remained the same. By this time I had realised that I was a hard-core introvert. I preferred keeping to myself and spoke only when I really was required to. And I continued to be judged. This also led to a lot of misunderstandings, for no fault of mine (so I would like to believe)! Eventually, things got so bad and I could take it no more. A showdown at my workplace with colleagues led me to self-introspection. That’s when I realised that my soul needed some therapy. Sounds very deep, doesn’t it? Well, that was really the case.
The Turning Point
One day I realized that I had had enough of this nonsense. Things had to change. I knew very well that society would not change. Maybe I needed to change.
I was introduced to an organisation engaged in peace, culture, and educational activities based on the humanistic philosophy related to Buddhism. The philosophy opened up a new world for me – meeting new people, attending meetings, and taking part in activities helped me come out of my reserved nature. Their mantra is simple – look at every individual as another soul rather than categorizing each person. They also believe in the mystic law of the universe. This was a turning point in my life. And the change began.
And then I did the impossible. I went on a solo trip – this was a challenge to break the limits I had set for myself. Of course, I wasn’t entirely on my own, but with a group of total strangers. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, they say. Interacting, staying, and traveling with strangers turned out to be the best phase of my life. This was another turning point.
Fast forward to the present.
Recently, I read a lot of articles that described the thinking process of introverts such as myself. It is such an amazing coincidence that my thoughts and my perception of introverts are almost identical to what I came across!
Now I can call myself a “selective introvert”, that is, being reserved only with people my wavelength doesn’t match with. Unfortunately, there are very few people who understand introverts like me. That’s when I came to know that my uncle, Dr Atul Laddu, was also a total introvert until age 33 (he is now 80!).
My uncle and I tried to see if our life experiences were within the norm, or are we so crazy that our behavior was very abnormal. It just so happens that both of us have finally “come out” of our shells. The purpose of writing this article is to review our life experiences and see what techniques, if any, did we use to make this significant change. Maybe this will help our introverted friends to come out of their shells and the extroverted friends in society to try to understand us better!
Now let me give some space to my Kaka (which means uncle in our native language), who is all of 80 years young!):
The Introvert in Atul Kaka!
Being the eldest of the four siblings, Atul Kaka had to shoulder a lot of responsibility growing up, while in India. He did his MD at a very young age of 22 years, and his Ph.D. at age 27. He got married at the age of 25 and moved to the US with my aunt and my cousin in 1968.
Throughout his school life, Atul Kaka hardly had any friends as he was a total introvert. His experience was very similar to mine. Even in Medical School, things did not change much. His introversion continued. In spite of working in solitary confinement, all alone, he was a valedictorian all the way, achieving all the highest grades and awards there ever were! As a result, he was a target of jealousy from his peers who felt that he never gave them a chance to get awarded.
Kaka shared an incident when he was in the 2nd year of Medical School. (The introvert behavior was always there). He had excelled in the Physiology finals. But then he had competition. The two competitors had some friends in the Faculty and thus it seemed likely that they stood a better chance to get distinction in Physiology (distinction in 1958 was awarded to those who secured 75% marks). The final result? Kaka was the only one who was awarded distinction! How did this happen to an introverted person like him? Kaka attributes this to a Godly figure (Farishta) who decided to give credit to merits and declared him as the deserving candidate.
A similar thing happened during another round of examinations. Kaka achieved distinction in Pharmacology, Pathology, and Medicine, despite fierce competition with students who had connections in the Faculty. At the end of 5 years in medical school, there was the prestigious Nagaraj Rao Gold Medal to be awarded to the best all-rounder student. There were two semi-finalists for this very prestigious award, one of them being Kaka. While Kaka was not very advanced in sports but had maximum grades in all subjects, the other student was a great cricketer and was in the College cricket team. One of the Farishta professors, a member of the selection team, declared Kaka the winner of the gold medal. He argued that Kaka had been a part of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) for 4 years in addition to the high achievements in all subjects, and working in NCC for 4 years constituted a strong extracurricular activity.
After Kaka came to the U.S., he started working in one of the small pharmaceutical companies. He was still a total introvert. He was being bypassed by all his colleagues for promotions, high salaries, and you name it. His colleague, Mary T. (name changed to keep privacy) in another department of the company was an attorney for the corporation. Mary T. was also an extreme introvert but had excellent qualifications. She believed in completing her work, not talk to anyone, and go home. My uncle also had the exact same philosophy and working habits.
One day, Kaka received a call from Mary T. informing him that she had been fired by her boss and was replaced by someone with significantly fewer qualifications than her, but who was talkative and close to the boss. Kaka had a very similar experience in his life. He was being overtaken by his colleagues with significantly less experience than he had. His colleagues were invited to join important meetings on my Kaka’s projects, in spite of not being aware of all the details. They were also sent to travel on business on projects where they could not really contribute. It was then that it dawned upon Kaka that he had suffered enough in life by being an introvert and that this had to stop.
So overnight, Kaka made up his mind to change his style. His willpower was so strong that overnight he succeeded and became talkative and more social, thus totally coming out of his introverted nature.
This brought about a remarkable change in his life. He got all the promotions and salary raises that he deserved. Since then, he has opened up and can now talk even to strangers. This has increased his friend circle and widened up his network. His one decision overnight changed his life for the better. My Kaku (aunt) often quotes, “Now Atul does not need an introduction to strangers, he can even talk to rocks, and they would respond”.
Being an avid reader and an observer, I have done quite a lot of research on introversion that has helped me learn about my true self. Here, I have summarized my composite impressions in the form of my understanding of my personality traits and behavioral pattern over the years. You are an introvert if you can relate to any of my traits here!:)
- Prejudice: I have experienced right from childhood a bias against introverts such as myself. People around me, be it neighbours, relatives, or friends, have always asked my parents the reason for my behaviour, that is, why did I not act normal (as per their perception). I would often be asked to “open up” but I would never get myself to do so. During my school days, I would be nervous to respond in class even if I knew an answer. At times, I have even stammered whenever asked to read from a textbook. The reason – being the center of attention in a class full of students would scare me to bits! That’s why I have always preferred keeping to myself.
- The Recluse: I have never felt comfortable being in a large crowd of people – whether known or unknown. And that remains the same till date. I have many times made up excuses and (politely) declined invitations to get-togethers and outings (for the fear of being in a large gathering!). I remember avoiding attending a friend’s party as she would be busy hosting the gathering and that would mean having to just sit quietly and ultimately wait to scoot off!
- The Thinker: It was in my growing up years that I realized that I felt comfortable in a smaller group of close friends and family members. I have always felt at peace in such environments. I have always believed that to have a conversation, there has to be a mutual dialogue. And when the other person listens to you keenly and then responds, it feels good. This makes me content. Although I may not have many friends, I do have very few close friends with whom I feel comfortable and who let me be my natural self. I believe I have good listening skills and am proud of it (well, because most of the time the other person does all the talking and so all I have to do is to listen – do I have any other choice?). Right from my childhood, I have lived mostly in my brain – thinking first and then speaking! I seldom speak without thinking. Any news item or a piece of information, I verify it first and then speak. In fact, Atul Kaka admires this, since he says that those who respond quickly without thinking often make mistakes since they do not take time to think properly. So my shortcoming now becomes a positive point for me! And yes, I do dislike casual chit chats for the sake of formality. I am quite open and free with the ones who are on the same wavelength as me. I enjoy intellectual discussions, which I have experienced only a few times though! And yes, expressing my views through the written mode works the best for me as I am able to do justice to my thoughts, and there is no one to interrupt me! On the other hand, if I speak, there are bound to be interruptions!
- The Independent Contributor: I have observed that when given a task to do independently, I do a good job as I tend to focus all my concentration on it. In fact, several of my colleagues have often appreciated my concentration skills – the advantages of being an independent contributor! I never felt comfortable doing group assignments in college as there would be that one person who would take charge and lead. At times like these, not being able to put forth my thoughts, I have even doubted my intelligence! During my Master’s degree, we were to work on individual thesis and I was delighted as I could work freely and on my own, visit my guide whenever I felt like, unlike in a group when you couldn’t approach a teacher without asking the group members. Yes, given a chance to be an independent contributor, I can excel at anything I do. The perks of being the way I am! I also do not believe in multitasking – I like to do things at my own pace, at the same time, adhering to deadlines. I have neither been a follower nor do I aspire to be a leader, for I carve my own path!
- Shyness: Looking back at my childhood experiences, I can say that I was definitely a shy person. As I grew up, I realized that being shy was not going to help. I had to speak up if, when, and wherever required. Though I continued being an introvert, I tried my best to get involved in group activities both in college and at my workplace.
- Quality Work Speaks for Itself: I have always preferred to share my work and my decisions with others only after I ensure its completion. Whatever the task that I take up, I first think through it, visualize it, complete it, and only then disclose it with people who matter to me. This is just how my brain works! Our brains are indeed wired this way and we really cannot do much about it. However, this aspect has led to quite many misunderstandings that have almost cost me my friendships! I feel fortunate to have worked in a small team that respected my ideas, opinions, and made me comfortable. And my work has always spoken for me in the form of awards and appreciation.
- Sensitive Nature: My family will vouch for the fact that I am extremely sensitive and emotional. I am very observant and tend to notice any changes in behaviour in people around me! This is a quality which I feel is emotionally overwhelming for me, as I tend to relate the change in a person’s mood to my doing/undoing! On the other hand, I developed an inclination towards spirituality a few years ago mainly to help me accept the way the society behaves.
- Anxiety: One of the worst nightmares for an introvert like me is speaking in public. During thesis presentations in college, I have often been anxious and have dreaded the moment to speak before a group of people. Although I have mostly gotten through those situations without any major hiccups, it irks me when someone forces me to speak in a group. It is fine at the workplace where you know beforehand and you have ample time to be prepared. There’s a workplace incident that I would like to mention here. Much to my surprise I once mustered the courage to raise an issue with the senior management when I realized no one was speaking up. I have no clue how I did it but I was smiling to myself the entire day!
- Weird and Crazy: The one surprising aspect I have observed is my rapport with introverts. I have never been successful in bonding with another introvert, whereas the very few close friends I have are actually extroverts whose company I enjoy. Only those who know me well agree that I am a crazy weirdo and a fun-loving person. I can entertain with my antics and laugh like a horse (rather, neigh like one)! I do enjoy moments of non-stop chatter and laughter, which people who don’t know me well will find hard to digest!
- Self-belief: To this date, whenever I encounter an extrovert, I do get fleeting thoughts of how smart or intelligent that person is. Despite my introversion and me doubting my intelligence, I do believe in my thoughts and my decisions over any matter. Even though I feel out of place in a new situation, among new people, I enjoy traveling, exploring new places, and capturing all the beautiful moments in my camera. I may not be the extremely shy person I was as a child now, but I strongly believe that I have changed for the better!
How did we change from total introversion to what you would call a somewhat normal behavior?
It is evident by now that both my Kaka and I have been introverts. My uncle is now 80, and had been a total introvert until age 33. Both of us have come out of our introverted nature, though I do have a long way to go. But my point is, it is fine the way you are. If an introvert, accept it. But learn to not let that affect you personally and professionally.
Looking back at all those years from childhood to adulthood, I can confidently say that I have come a long way from the shy, reserved person I was. It was a long gradual process. The Buddhist philosophy helped me come out of my shell. The turning point in my life came when I decided to go on a solo trip. These were all learning phases. Although I have not shed my introverted nature entirely, I’m working on it at my own pace. I also wish to attribute the positive change in me to my colleagues (who turned out to be close friends) for making me comfortable and helping me open up.
In the case of Kaka, he is a very determined person. When at age 33 he found that his being introverted was hurting him in his career, he woke up (I would say better late than never!). When Kaka knows that something is wrong and needs to change, he will take any measure(s) to correct the situation.
Atul Kaka is very determined to avoid the introverted nature of young children. He finds that several of his students in the Global Thrombosis Forum (GTF, www.gtfonline.net), an organization that he founded and where he coaches regularly, are introverts. He has found his success rate of the conversion from introverts to non-introverts to be about 75-85%, which he thinks is not too bad.
A Few Tips
One can easily infer from our stories that it takes a few things to change the lifestyle to make life a better one. We have them listed out for you.
First, self-realization. It is very important to know that something is not right. One has to think all the time, One has to search inside if everything is OK, or something is going the wrong way. A research-oriented mind always helps here.
Second, discipline. We both are very self-disciplined individuals. Despite being introverts, we carried on with our life with significant determination to make the needed changes, and we did it.
Third, we must make a decision to make sure that the changes will be long term and not short-lived. Again, we have worked very hard in our own ways to achieve this success.
Fourth, one must be open to get feedback from others. Both of us were very open to this avenue and the feedback from our relatives and friends only compelled us to make a few changes that worked in everyone’s favour. My understanding is that since it is not possible to change the world, the easiest would be to change thyself! But then you have to decide for yourself how the change will benefit everyone. It can only happen when you feel so from within. I believe just because people judge you, comment on your introversion, advise you to change yourself, doesn’t mean you should change for others.
Fifth, Kaka introduced me to a very good book, “The Power of Apology”. The book emphasizes a very fundamental point: if you made an error, then you must apologize. We have seen countless examples (my Kaka has seen many more than me, due to his age) where people almost destroyed their life because they were adamant and stubborn. These people did not want to make any change. If we go into history, several leaders of the countries were in this category and finally this led to their self-destruction. We are skipping the details here but we want to challenge you, our readers, to look for these people and find out how they have destroyed themselves.
Should one feel proud to be an introvert? Is it a sin to be introverted?
We ask this because first of all, we are human beings. We have a heart, and we have feelings. This reminds us of a dialogue in the Mel Brooks movie “To be, or not to be?” “Don’t we bleed when we get injured, isn’t the color of our blood as red as yours? If you prick us, don’t we get hurt? If you shoot us, don’t we die?”
Why are we targets of negative comments? Why are we not given the same respect in the society as others who express their feelings through talks and are still well respected (many of the talks are invariably useless, and are there only to pass time)?
After accepting all the facts, it is very clear that in our society, an introvert appears to have a limited chance of getting anywhere in life and the roads to advances appear to be rather blocked. So both of us decided to take our case to the World, with the hope that the readers of this article will think twice before making fun of introverts such as us. We hope to be better accepted in society and we hope to make this world a better place!
People are bound to say “Speak up”, “Don’t be mute”, and whatnot! But in the end, listen to your heart for that is where the true voice lies!
We would like to thank my sister, Kalyani Laddu-Javadekar, for her help in editing this write-up; Mrs. Jayashree Laddu, my Kaku, for challenging and encouraging Kaka in his life and to pull him out of his weird (her own words) habits; and my parents Mrs. Aparna Laddu and Mr. Anil Laddu for putting up with my introverted nature and never failing to encourage me. I also wish to make a special mention to my brother-in-law Kaushal Javadekar – for always noticing the change in me and appreciating all my efforts!
About the Author:
Ms. Nandini Laddu has completed her MS and is currently working in Baroda, India. She is an avid reader and likes to work in the community. She expresses here her life story of being an introvert.
Dr. Atul Laddu (MD, Ph.D.) is a retired physician-researcher and loves to work in the community. He is opening his introverted nature in this article, and both his niece Nandini and himself have tried to show the remarkable resemblance in the nature of the two.