If you’re a fellow introvert, I don’t need to tell you what that means.  You know.  You know what it’s like to feel inferior—to be told that you’re not as fun or cool or likable as the “better half” of the population—that the only way to be someone who matters is to be someone you’re not.

There are two ways to deal with this paradox—two faces to the introverted coin.  One is to accept that this is “just the way things are,” to embrace the challenge of being two different people (or perhaps one person with two or more personas), and to make peace with the idea of fooling everyone but your family and closest friends.  After all, there’s a certain satisfaction in being a chameleon—of knowing that you could navigate any social situation without breaking your stride.  Who cares if no one but your nearest and dearest ever know the “real you”?  You can’t be intimate with everyone you meet even if you tried.

I call these people the Meryl Streeps.  Today, most people revere Streep as an acting goddess, but if you look closely at her former self, she wasn’t exactly cheerleader-cum-celebrity material.  As lovely as she was and is, there was no reason to think that the bossy child or the scrappy teen would grow up to be anything but a lawyer, much less a star.  But she did.  And one reason for that was her uncanny ability to imitate the people she needed to impress to get where she wanted to be.  It’s remarkable how popular you can be by letting people glimpse their own reflections in your mirror.  The trick is understanding the difference between who people are and how they wish to be perceived.  Knowing the difference requires a lot of insight; applying that insight requires a lot of wisdom.  If you have both knowledge and wisdom—well, the world can be your oyster.

But what about the other side of the introverted coin?  What about those of us who squirm at the thought of changing our personalities for people we may not like—of trading harmless or admirable traits for ones we may not even admire?  What, we wonder, gives other flawed human beings the right to think that they’re more valuable than we are?  Where is it written that listening is inferior to talking?  Or that introverts aren’t good talkers?  Or that there’s much difference between the two camps near the border of ambiversion anyway?

These are the Bette Davises of the world.  Davis was a queen of classic films like Of Human Bondage (1934), Jezebel (1938), and Now, Voyager (1942).  In an industry where good looks are a prerequisite (if not a substitute) for talent, Davis’s only beauty was her eyes.  According to then-head of Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle, she had “as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville,” one of her not-so-attractive male costars.  In her own words, “I was the Yankee-est, [most] modest virgin that ever walked the earth.”  But the opinionated, unapologetic Davis didn’t let that stop her.  Known for her tempestuous relationships with everyone from costars to studio executives, this force of nature took Hollywood by storm to become one of the greatest acting legends of all time.  The “ugly Bettes” of the world may be forced to fight (not charm) their way to the top, but once they make up their minds which it’s going to be, watch out.  As Davis famously quips in All About Eve (1950), “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

So, there you have it: two smart, successful women with different skills but the same inner strength.  Regardless of whether you’re more of a chameleon like Meryl or a whirlwind like Bette, it takes a lot of finesse to navigate the potholes from childhood to adulthood in an extroverted society.  Part of growing into yourself is discovering that you have both the head and the heart you need to outmaneuver them all.

 


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