What Introverts Do Not Understand Part I

Lately, I have seen a number of people, both young and old, that seem to have forgotten their earphones. Know what I mean?

Well, as an introvert it is beyond my comprehension why you would feel the need, or even want to, play your music to everyone around you, especially if you are in a busy street or in the Underground – buskers excepted. It’s like this obsession with fame has made people believe that they are in a music video or that they must be heard to know that they exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I love music. I play music any time I get a chance. If I’m home alone which is very rare nowadays, I play music loud and sing along at the top of my voice. As an introvert however I am aware that we live in a noisy world and people around me might not want to hear my music or they don’t like the kind of music I like. Hence, one of the modern world’s best inventions – earphones. Nowadays, they come as personalized as you could ever want them to be.

And for those who feel the need to play a sound track to their life for everyone else to hear – you are annoying. More so, you are as beautiful, important and valuable without tiresomely drawing attention to yourself. Your existence is not diminished just because the rest of us can’t constantly hear you.

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Travelling with Introverts

I’ve been on holiday. Everyone in my family loves to travel, well that is, to see new places and experience new things. We’re also, to various degrees, introverts. What difference does that make?

Although some parts of travelling can be learnt to deal with, such as to plan to avoid unnecessary stress, to be ridiculously early at the airport and to brace yourself for the security check queues. Other things may be less obvious and less of a need to adjust to.

My favourite part of last year’s holiday to Garda Lake was to sit on our hotel balcony, with a vineyard stretching in front of us, watching the sun go down. It was so serene and just what I needed at the time. This year’s highlight was to walk on top of Metropol Parasole in Seville, a building few know about but I absolutely love. The experience of seeing it in real life did not disappoint. On the other hand, visiting Florence and Venice a few years ago was not such an positive experience. Crowded with tourists, impossible to see anything and I felt I needed to find an escape route.

What am I trying to say? Although you still want to see all the typical tourist things when you’re an introvert, it might not be those moments that matter most. The big, noisy crowds and the shuffling in long queues can take away some of the experience. Especially now that I live far away from the rest of my family, moments of just spending time with them far outweights the experience of seeing famous sites.

I’m more likely to fall in love with a city’s little quiet streets and the local quirky restaurant we stumbled across than the busy city centre and to see a certain landmark. My family sit on the beach and only chat occasionally while our “neighbours” chat away in a non-stop fashion. The busy restaurant with loud music and a greeter who is trying to persuade us to pick their restaurant, we’re likely to just walk by. When the waiter tries to place us near to tonight’s special live music, we ask for a table in a corner further from the action.

Perhaps, we’re not as introverted as I think we are though. We do pick cities before a whole week on the beach. Come on, we want to see some of the place we’re travelling to as well.

 

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Walkway on top of Metropol Parasol, Seville

What do you do on your own?

Does having no one to join you, stop you from doing things you’d really want to do? Do you go to see your favourite band by yourself, the long awaited movie, a dinner on your own or go for a walk in the park? Do you join that yoga class or local gym? Do you travel solo?

Chances are that if you are happy to do things by yourself that are not normally seen as solitary activities, you’re likely an introvert. Introverts are much more comfortable in their own company and therefore, I would think, less likely to opt out of doing something because they don’t have someone to go with. Possibly with the apprehension of having to talk to people they don’t know. Extrovert on the other hand might see going somewhere solo as an opportunity to get to know new people, much more likely to interact with the new set of people.

Yes, we all read in our own quiet corner, or even to put a barrier between us and the rest of the world, such as communting on an overcrowded tube train. We watch TV in our own favourite chair at home. We have a coffee or maybe even a beer at our local cafe or pub. Most will go for walks in the park when the weather is warm without needing company. But how far are you willing to push yourself?

When I moved to London, on my own, which I’m sure many would see as a brave step, I was quite aware that if I wasn’t prepared to go places by myself, I would spend my entire time in London confined to my rented room. Not much fun! I believe I already had this ability, to do things solo. I went seight-seeing, to the museums, to photo exhibitions etcetera by myself and I still do. Sometimes prefereing to experience things without anyone else’s opinion.

Later I started going to the movies by myself, went out to dinner as a treat, attended events that are local to my community. I confess that there are still things I don’t do by myself. It’s more about feeling vulnerable than that I care about whether it’s socially acceptable or not. Medium-to-big concerts, dancing, late-night pubs, travelling, are things where I don’t feel comfortable. But, even smaller concerts, I love sitting in my own corner listening to a really talented musician.

So how solo are you prepared to go? Or are you dependent on having someone with you to share the things you love doing?

Are Introverts Shy?

I have never perceived myself as shy although I think it’s fair to say that a lot of introverts are. I would think most of us are not comfortable to be in the spotlight. We don’t want to be the centre of attention and speaking, even in a group of friends, can be perceived as more attention than what we really want.

The online Oxford Dictionaries defines shy as being nervous or timid in the company of others, slow or reluctant to do something or also having a dislike of or aversion to a specific thing. Well, I guess that I am shy then. I have a dislike of being the centre of attention, which can make me nervous in the company of large groups or reluctant to do things that will draw attention to me. That is not to say though that I will NOT attend functions that include large groups, or that I will NOT speak my mind in such as group, or that I will NOT draw attention to myself if so is necessary which I think a genuinely shy person would. For instance, all my life I have enjoyed performing…as long as it’s in a group, a choir or a dance troop where I share the attention from the audience. Reading my own texts on a stage is not something I enjoy even if I do it more and more frequently.

I have for a long time harboured the dream of becoming a writer. Story-telling is something that has fascinated me all my life. The modern author’s apparent necessity to be famous, a literary pop-star, to be able to be successful has intimidated me to go after this dream. Again, I think this is more my introvert side saying, “we don’t really want that much attentions do we,” rather than shyness. I have overcome this in two ways: one is a firm belief that I can be successful on my own terms; two that the readers I seek are like me – more interested in the stories than who wrote them – and if finding a readership comes with the baggage of more attention to my person than I like, well, I’ll learn to live with it.

Are introverts shy? I say not necessarily. Some are but others just have a preference for the slow, for the small and for the quiet and would never seek attention for its own sake.

Observe – Learn -Play

This concept of observing, then learning and then you play, is loosely related to being dropped at the deep end to see if you sink or swim. It’s something I have been battling lately in my belly dance class. I sensed that I felt unhappy about something that normally makes me happy – dancing – I started trying to figure out why.

My dance teacher has the well-intended and sometimes ambitious goal of making us independent dancers. She wishes us to not only be able to improve our technique and learn a few steps in a sequence but to be able to dance freely and maybe even make up our own choreography. Lately that has meant that we’ve been asked to improvise to whichever song she’d decided to play. I’m rubbish at improvising – always have been. But why bring this up in a blog about being introvert?

Well, I can’t even count the many times I’ve been put on the spot: music has been turned on and I’m asked to improvise, I have been sat infront of an video editing board and told to play, or at work, I’m supposed to rely on youtube videos to learn the skills I don’t have. But for an introvert this senario is one of the most frustrating situations that exists.

Introverts, and I am again refering to the book Quiet (reviewed in an earlier post), tend to focus on meaning, we work slowly and deliberately and we tend to practice our skills methodically in solitude. We prepare, digest new information and aim for accuracy. We observe, we think before we act. Improvising to a piece of music goes against my nature no matter how much I’m willing to give it a go. There is no sense of playfulness in this as it requires an enormous effort and concentration trying to get my brain to follow in the quick pace that’s required. You don’t think when you improvise, I hear you extroverts say. True, which is why it’s so difficult for an introvert because your mind will still try.

When do I play? I play once I have had a chance to observe and internalize, and afterwards I can spend time practising, practising and practising again – then I can play with it, knowing that it’s in my backbone.

If you’re a teacher and you have this one student who sometimes seems to just stand there, don’t write them off as not trying. There are several reasons the student doesn’t seem to participate – one is that they are introverts and need a chance to observe and internalize before they jump in.

To See Your Friends or to Not See Your Friends

Today’s topic is a tricky one. Perhaps I will get myself into trouble writing this but here we go.

Everyone needs to spend time alone. For extroverts I imagine it can be a challenge since they tend to thrive on interactions. For introverts it’s a necessity and the more of an introvert you are the more alone-time you need to recharge your batteries.

Introverts are not hermits because of this. I love meeting up with friends for a coffee or going out for dinner. Outdoor markets and festivals are great for lazy days in the sun together with friends.

I must confess though that I prefer a smaller circle and a calmer environment where you can have proper conversations. A large party or going to a club with loud blip-iti-blop music can be draining and that has not come from growing older.

Just as much as I enjoy seeing friends, I love going for a walk in the park, to the movies or reading a book in a coffee place ALL BY MYSELF. I have had many coffee dates with my books in half empty cafés and had a really nice time.

Finding that balans can be tricky. I often forget to ask friends if they want to come to the park, or the movies, or to see an exhibition, even to do things that I prefer to do together with friends, such as a live concert.

And this is where it gets really tricky. Even spending time with a few close friends in the right setting can leave me drained. It can be like going on an intense holiday. You come back happy with so many impressions and ideas but also feeling that you need a holiday to recover from your holiday.

In the end only you know how much time you need by yourself. If you’re an extrovert, don’t forget to spend time alone. It’s good to find out who you are when no one else is around.

Buzz and Flow

Do you like the challenge of being dropped into the deep end and coming out successful? Do you admire adventurers who conquer steep mountains and sail around the world all alone? Do you like the buzz of winning the highest price? Maybe even simple things like winning £10 on a scratch ticket? Then you are probably an extrovert.

Introverts are more likely to go for the flow than for the buzz. Personally, I hate the sink-or-swim situations. It used to give me very bad self-esteem after struggling through assignments not knowing what the heck I was doing. As an adult I have realized that the low self-esteem after these situations are very unfair on myself. Most of the time, I do come out of it, having completed what was asked of me, if not to my own satisfaction then at least the everyone else’s. With that said, any sink-or-swim situation I’ve had to get through has left me with the feeling of: “Great, that’s done. Now let’s NEVER do that again.” I’m sure extroverts react differently.

What I like the best is, for example when I write, I get so into what I’m doing that, suddenly, time and space does not exist. The words just keep coming and sometimes it’s even difficult to keep pace with the words trumbling out of my head. I’m not aware of what is happening around me, I don’t notice sounds, the day can shift from day to evening and I don’t notice. I could miss my lunch and forget I’m thirsty. I’ll just keep writing until the flow is gone. Then I look up and it’s hours since I last ate something, the sun has gone down and I’m bursting to go to the loo.

I’m sure introverts and extroverts experience both buzz and flow moments in their lives but how we react to them is different. I always seek the flow moments, whether I’m writing, at work or just going for a walk. That elevated state of functioning has been part of some of the greatest moments of my life. The buzz moments however I quite easily forget. The kind of pushing yourself beyong your preceived limits that produces the buzz feeling, I’m sure, means a lot more to an extrovert than it does to me but perhaps they don’t value the flow of the moment the way I do.

Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated. Are you a flow or a buzz person? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does it correspond?

Quiet – a book review

One reason why I started writing this blog about being introvert was that I recently read the book Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I have always known I’m an introvert. This book however made me reflect on what that means for my life. I sometimes feel that there is not space in society for me and when I read the beginning of Quiet, that outlines how extroversion has become the ideal in today’s society, I started to understand this feeling more. Most places from schools, to work places, to social activities are targeted to extroverts. No wonder that introverts like me sometimes feel like there isn’t space to breath.

I liked this book a lot for its throughout explanation of how our society is working from an extrovert/introvert perspective, the different strenghts and weaknesses of being one or the other, but also how we can make use of these differences. How do we find that space to breath when we struggle as introverts to find our place in this extroverted society?

It has also helped me understand why some of the advise and some of the situations I have ordealed over the years, haven’t work for me at all. For instance, I worked in a very noisy open plan office for a while. Music was on all day, everyone (although we were a small team) kept talking over your head while you tried to do your job. I was irritable, frustrated and sometimes felt like I couldn’t get anything done. To quote Quiet: “Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory.” On top of that introverts prefer to work independently and in solitude where they can concentrate on one task at hand. I have since changed my job. It has it’s own challenges but now there’s just two of us in a smaller office space with no music. I enjoy work more now that I can concentrate on what I’m doing with fewer distruptions. In worse case, I stay late, and do the important details when everyone else has gone home.

Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert or, perhaps you’re not sure where you fit in, this book is worth a read. It’s an eye-opener and you will find yourself trying to figure out to which category you belong as well as all other people around you.

 

Quiet

Being an Introvert

Why a blog about being introvert?

I’ve always known I’m an introvert. All my life I’ve been happiest when by myself. Only recently have I started exploring how this impacts my life.

Supposedly 1/3 of the world population is introvert, and the same goes for most other species. That’s 1/3 that think, act and perceive the world differently, a bit like whether you’re a man or woman. It’s not better or worse being an introvert or an extrovert, or man or woman for that matter. It’s simply different strenghts and challenges.

It also means that, just like growing up in a minority, being introvert in a predominantly extrovert society can leave you feeling misunderstood and marginalized.

So here is an atempt at giving insight in to what it’s like living life introverted. I’ll start with an anecdote:

A few weekends ago, I went to Greenwich Market. It can be a bit busy if you’re a reclusive kind of introvert but I’m quite social for an introvert and I like disappearing in the crowd, watching people, finding fun and interesting products, odd figures and patterns etcetera.

After a while I wanted lunch – I found a little cafe on a side street and ordered my lunch at the counter. There was only one other couple there apart from me but I had seen a sign that they had upstairs seating and so asked if there was.

“Yes, but you might be a bit lonely there,” the cashier observed jokingly.

“Mm, I might like that,” I joked back and then went up the stairs to sit by myself in a parlour-size room.

Introverts will recognize this behaviour and understand it. Extroverts might find it a bit bonkers. But this is what we like –  a quiet corner to ourselves. I was very comfortable watching the street below, eating my lunch in silence and observing the room. I could let thoughts and reflections from the day come and go. That’s how I recharge my batteries.

By the time the room started to fill up with other customers, I was ready to go on – with renewed energy.

 

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