Follow Your Heart

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.

 

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Happiness vs Contentment

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.

Stepping Out of Your Introverted Self

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.

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.

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