I’ve been trying to think of a positive subject about introversion since most of the posts so far have been rants about this, that and the other. The thing is I’m at a point in my life where I have yet to figure out how to use my introvert strengths to my advantage. They feel more like hurdles keeping me from living a full life.
Why isolation in the title? Introverts are supposed to enjoy solitude, spending time on their own etcetera. We do and I do but I also perceive it as very isolating to constantly feel that I’m in the wrong place, forced to function in the wrong environment, forced to handle life in a way that is opposite to what comes natural.
I would prefer to live by myself, or possible with one other person. In London that is close to impossible. No one can afford it. Instead I house share with three other people. I get along with all of them for the most part but it is draining to always have someone else in the house – seven days a week. I actually leave the house to find my restorative niches where I can re-charge my batteries.
The same goes for work. I’m lucky to work in a small company. I share office with only one other person who, like me, prefer that it is quiet. In a lot of the companies I have worked for the structure has been lacking. Get stuck in wherever you’re needed at short notice. Juggle several things at once but also make things up as you go along. I like structure – I need structure. To improvise my way through the day makes me do a bad job – or at least not as good as it could be. Part of my current job is to answer the phone for my department. On busy days I have the impression of not doing anything, because as soon as I find my focus the phone rings again.
Most of my socializing is through various writers groups and arts organisations. I love these groups and what we do. I like the people there but we are always in a group. Even when I go home to visit my family, my sister arranges for us to have dinner with our friends. It makes sense since I can’t see them that often, to try to see as many as possible in one go. But I’m an introvert, I prefer a quiet coffee with one or two friends, not a dinner with 5-6 of them in a busy restaurant.
We often hear that we need to step out of our comfort zone. I hate that phrase, because even if I understand the underlying meaning and agree with it, most days, I don’t feel that I’m ever in a comfort zone. How would an extrovert feel if they never got to be themselves on any given day of the week – or all of them?
After a bit of hiatus I’m back writing about being introvert. Last week I read at a open mic night. I’m part of an arts organisation that organises events, theatre performances and work shops. Most of the friends I have in London I have met through this organisation. It’s great in many ways, as I can show up at their events and there is always some of my friends there. When I had just moved to London that was invaluable.
Like most introverts however I don’t function very well in a group. Many of my friends would never guess that I’m introvert so it’s likely that they have no idea of the problems I face in group settings. When in a group I find it hard to focus on whoever I’m talking to. Other sounds, movements etcetera, is constantly drawing my attention away from the person I’m talking to, especially if the sounds are the voices of friends, and movements are people I know but I have yet to say hello to. Introverts prefer in-depth talks. For me that doesn’t have to be as serious as it sounds but in a group I’m either unfocused or I’m forced to talk briefly to many different people. It makes me feel as if I’m not paying anyone enough attention. It makes me feel as if I didn’t really talk to anyone.
Another aspect is that groups can be draining. As many introverts will know, especially in a setting with people you like, you’ve suddenly exhausted you resources and you need to make your escape. I’m forever struggling to get enough sleep. This is what happens. I feel tired, I look at my watch, I realize that I should probably have left for home half an hour ago. Here comes the next dilemma. I can either turn to whoever is closest to me, say that I need to leave and say goodbye to that person, maybe wave goodbye to whoever I happen to get eye contact with on my way out. Or I can try to say goodbye to as many of my friends as possible which will probably take me another 30 minutes of mingling around the room before I can leave. I normally choose the first option which has prompted the comment from one of my friends: ‘you just up and leave.’ I feel really rude and anti-social on my way home after an event like that. Not the greatest ending to a nice evening.
I obviously still go to these events, I hang out with my friends in group settings, I try to make the most of it. But to be honest I would prefer to meet for a coffee in some quiet cafe or go for a walk in the park. At events and social gatherings I would prefer to settle in a corner where friends can find me. But how, to quietly slip away home without feeling like a horrible friend?
When I was a child I barely answered when people spoke to me, or so I have been told. Personally, I think I was so much in my own head that when someone spoke to me they invaded my world – and it wasn’t welcome. I’ve never perceived myself as shy so there must have been another reason why I didn’t reply.
As an adult, who firmly believe in always trying to be polite, I’ve learnt to small talk even when I would prefer to stay quiet. That doesn’t mean it comes naturally, but when required, I do and few people who got to know me as an adult would guess that I’m an introvert.
I recently read on My Little Piece of Quiet’s blog about being “reprimanded” for being quiet (link below). There have been many moments in my life when I have been told I’m too quiet but perhaps most notable, my silence made someone else uncomfortable. As an introvert I think we are so comfortable with silence that we find it difficult to understand that the same restful silence we are experiencing is very unnerving to someone else, which prompts the question “why are you so quiet?”
Perhaps as an introvert it’s worth remembering that sometimes a little goes a long way. A few acknowledging phrases will suffice to keep the other person at ease. As an extrovert, perhaps learn that silence can be ok. Take a few deep breathes; take advantage of the fact that there are few moments in our daily lives that are quiet.
Happy New Year everyone!
New year, new adventures and new possibilities. Did you make any new year’s resolutions? If you are an introvert you probably have your sight set further afield than just the next year. You’re working on long-term goals, and slowly but steadily are making your way there. What’s a new year when you’re working on a 10 year plan or a life goal? I have been re-reading Quiet over Christmas and I’m really fascinated by the concept of the personal core project. I’m starting a quest to find mine.
Core personal projects is a concept that Professor Brian Little has developed and which is explained in Quiet as part of how introverts can live and thrive in an extroverted world. Basically, anything we truly consider important, or people we love, or something we value highly, will enable us to take on traits we normally don’t identify with as a means to an end. Introverts can be right out extroverted when pursuing a goal that matters to them. If it is a core personal project, it also doesn’t steal as much energy as other situations might do when we feel forced to take on extroverted traits.
It’s funny looking back over your life, I’m now firmly part of the middle-aged, and realize that certain things have always been in your life. A lot of them are typical introvert activities too, like reading. I loved listening to mum reading stories to me as a child. I then grew to be an avid reader myself, devouring pretty much anything that came my way. Later I started writing stories myself. Even a lot of my other activities over the years have their base in story-telling. Other things are not so obviously introverted but I guess that is to be expected, to create some sort of balance.
What’s most important is to stay true to yourself. I believe we are much more likely to be happy and to succeed if there is a connection between the heart and the things we pursue.
I’ve started to re-read Quiet – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. As I read through the chapter about how our society have gone from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality it reminded me of my own recent journey to recover from a near burn-out.
The chapter describes how, in this case the American society, went from a more balanced society of integrity, manners and duty to a society where charisma, charm and ability to entertain are our ideals. Basically, society went from where introverts with their quieter ways were respected, to extroverted ideals where there is little room for shyness, timidity and deep thought.
While healing my body and mind from the effects of long-term stress, I have countless times been told that “you will be happy again.” The emphasis also seems to be on the outward signs like laughing, going out more, expressing joy; it has almost been a new form of stress that I have to be smiling all the time and never find life frustrating.
I can’t help wondering, if this is another form of our focus on extroverted ideals. What is wrong with contentment? What’s wrong with just feeling at ease with yourself and your situation? Why is it not alright to feel quiet bliss? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good laugh, but I also love little things like finding adorable Paddington sketches in the newspaper, the beautiful sunset we could watch from our hotel by Garda Lake, getting a message from someone I haven’t heard from in a long time, or holding hands while watching a movie.
It doesn’t have to come with pomp and circumstance to bring you joy. Often collapsing in the sofa with a cup of tea brings just as much contentment as a night out with a group of friends.
Today I’m supposed to do a reading of my poetry or flash-fiction at a poetry and spoken words event. I do this every so often, this event is monthly and I’m a member of the organisation that holds the event, but today I opted out.
I have two reasons for withdrawing my participation at tonight’s event and both of them relate to being introvert. Last time, I wrote about performing with my dance group and pushing yourself out of your introvert persona. What I didn’t mention then, is that most performances I do, I do them in a group. Whether it’s singing or dancing (or even acting) it has always been with a choir or with a dance troupe. I like that no one is necessarily going to focus on me the entire performance. Just like you can disappear in a crowd, so you can in a group performance. The exception is doing a reading. The whole purpose is me reading my writing… I don’t enjoy these readings but I have accepted that it’s part of becoming an author.
The second reason is that, like most introverts, I want to be sufficiently prepared. If you are an extrovert you probably think that I over-prepare but how much is too much really is relative to each person. If I’m going to read, or do any other performance, ideally I would know my pieces enough that someone could wake me in the middle of the night and I could stumble through it. I would mark up my notes for where to stress certain words and make notes for what to say between pieces. I’d even like to pick out clothes, hairstyle and make-up that are comfortable and goes with my personality and the event.
It’s fare to say that I’m rarely as prepared as described above but this time, life has caught up with me with all it’s demands and I would have had to wing it. No, thanks!
Being introvert or extrovert is one of many ways to describe people. At least 30 percent of humans are introverts. This seems to be true of many other species as well. Any kind of classification has its limits. So does introvert/extrovert definitions. According to Quiet… by Susan Cain (see a previous blog post) we can step out of our natural persona, especially if we are motivated to achieve a heartfelt goal.
One of the reasons why I like writing this blog is that I have started thinking more about these things surrounding my daily life. I have always loved dancing…and believe it or not, I have always loved performing. There is nothing about dancing that goes against being introvert but performing is not an introverted activity.
While I was discussing an upcoming dance performance with a friend (who is about to perform in a play), he said: ‘Why do we do this to ourselves?’ It’s a valid question. It takes dedication, practice, and nerves to perform. While the dedication and practice might come naturally, the rest, certainly doesn’t. Which made me really think about that question. Especially when my dance teacher asked me for the umpteenth time to ‘smile’ and ‘enjoy’ while I was dancing.
There are reasons why I don’t ‘smile’ and ‘enjoy’ while practicing for a performance. One is that I’m still focused on learning the routine as well as I can possibly learn it. Another is perfecting that routine; I don’t have time to smile. But I also have to confess that my introverted persona makes it taxing to perform. I prefer to ‘save’ that for the actual performance. As stated previously, learning, practicing, preparing – all of that comes natural, but to performing – put on a smile, projecting to the audience, that doesn’t come natural. I can step out of myself to do it, but not all of the time.
But why do I perform despite it going against my nature. I spend a lot of my life exploring other ways of being, through books, music, film etc. and I love the idea of giving that back. To give other people a chance to escape their everyday life and experience something that hopefully gives them joy.
How DO you spot an introvert? Chances are that you don’t. Most of us learn early on to blend in with the crowd and therefore, it might not be obvious who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. It’s not clear cut either, as it moves on a spectrum where most of us are probably near the middle, not one of the extremes.
For instance, I would describe myself as an social introvert. Although I was very quiet as a child (didn’t always respond when spoken to), I can come across as talkative. Most people probably don’t notice that I rarely start a conversation, I only become chatty if you start talking to me. You will find me at a corner table at the pub with a few friends or alone but never centre stage. I can be very engaging and opinionated when talking to you one-on-one but if you’re trying to get to know me don’t do so in a large group where I’m likely to be unfocused and quiet. The more ad-hock stuff you throw at me the more stressed I’ll become.
Perceptions can be deceiving. Even if the nuances of introverted and extroverted people can be fine, there is one clear difference. We all need alone time but introverts need more time alone to recharge our batteries. To navigate an extroverted world can be draining to our souls. We also have different needs when going about our days. Your boss putting more pressure on you thinking it will make you perform better, when actually achieving the opposite; the radio playing at the office, although pleasant, is tiring the mind; when being asked to talk on the phone all day, it makes you avoid talking to anyone once you leave the office.
Some days feel like a battle to keep my sanity, or to step thru a minefield to stay in balance. I do wonder if extroverts perceive their days the same?
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.
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.
Walkway on top of Metropol Parasol, Seville