This week I went to see ‘First Man’ – the film about Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon.
I really enjoyed it.
By all accounts Armstrong was most definitely an introvert – and this was certainly how Ryan Gosling portrayed him.
I’d like to think this was close to the truth of the man because I liked what I saw – someone who was thoughtful, humble and gentle and who didn’t waste words, speaking only when he had something to say.
The film felt, to me, like a celebration of introversion – not just in the way Armstrong was portrayed, but also in the pace of the film itself. Even the music seemed appropriate and powerful, yet understated – and not too loud (as film scores these days so often are, I find).
My understanding, and what comes across in the film, is that his wife at the time, Janet, helped him when his natural tendency was to avoid difficult but important conversations – such as talking to his sons before going on ‘the’ trip from which he might not have returned…
I also loved the very last moments of the film. In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what happens – but, if you watch it after reading this, I think you’ll understand.
A line from the film (which I hope I’ve captured correctly from memory) and which may have been his actual words or might be a dramatisation:
After leaving a funeral to spend some time alone, a colleague followed him and Armstrong said to him:
“What is it about me leaving that makes you think I want to talk?”
This made me smile. As an introvert myself, I find extravert friends and family often misunderstand my need for solitude. There’s an Instagram I follow: ‘genuineintrovert’ which captures this really well and their latest post says:
“You might be an Introvert if solitude is your drug of choice.”
I rest my case…
53% extraverts, 47% introverts.
But they, and I, think this probably includes some ‘introverts under the skin’ – introverts who answered as if they were, or even believing themselves to be, extraverts – maybe from lack of personal awareness (and this used to be true of me, by the way) or giving in to social pressure to conform to behaviours and values that we believe to be in the majority.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.”
And I think Armstrong achieved this…
In my experience, the world pulls us towards extravert behaviour and seems to value it more than the ways in which introverts tend to present themselves.
Extrovert behaviour is valuable and has its place in the world, for sure, but it’s often interpreted as confidence when sometimes it’s the complete opposite. It can also be ‘bluster’ that masks a lack of confidence.
We’ve all heard of ‘quiet confidence’ and quietness and shyness aren’t the same thing, either. Not all shy people are introverts.
As Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet, also pointed out, the two are quite different. While introverts may need time by themselves, while not necessarily caring what others think of them (Cain uses Bill Gates as an example) a shy person may well crave company, while also feeling nervous and anxious about the way they are perceived.
In this way it is perfectly possible to be a shy extrovert – to simultaneously fear and crave the limelight.
I also like Brian Little’s book ‘Me, Myself and Us’. From a BBC article on this:
“Brian Little, one of the world’s leading experts on personality psychology, is renowned as a public speaker. If you watch his TED talk on personality, as millions of others have, you will see an engaging and witty orator holding his audience’s attention with aplomb. You’d probably conclude that Little is an extravert: he’s not only good at what he’s doing, but he seems to be revelling in the opportunity.
In fact, Little is a self-proclaimed introvert. After his talk you would quite likely find him seeking a few minutes of quiet refuge behind the locked door of a toilet cubicle. This is one of the ‘restorative niches’ described in his 2014 book Me, Myself, and Us, which he uses to recover from the exhausting demands of acting extraverted.
Little can behave extraverted when he needs to, he explains, because he is enacting what he calls a ‘free trait’: behaving out of character in pursuit of a deeply meaningful ‘personal project’, which in this case is to engage and educate his students and others in the value of personality psychology. This isn’t a peculiar quirk of this Cambridge University professor. He believes that each one of us is able to act out of character when we are motivated by an important and meaningful personal goal.”
I also like his TED talk, take a look for yourself (15 minutes):
Introversion and extraversion come up generally in discussion with my clients and also more specifically if we complete the MBTI questionnaire. I heartily agree with Little about not using it in a way that restricts people, however, and I place more weight on self-reported type than the questionnaire results.
When we know our preferences – where we go to and the behaviours that come most naturally when we’re tired, stressed or unhappy – then we have more self-awareness and this can be very useful – and an early indication of the times we might need extra help.
Recognising how we might be different from other people in our lives can be enlightening, too.
And we can experiment by trying out different behaviours – as Little explains – particularly when a situation seems to call for something other than what we usually do, habitually.
And that’s how we grow…