I have disovered over the past few years that I am an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. I would take the personality tests and laugh about that "I" at the beginning of the string of letters. INFJ? Really? HAHAHAHAHA! I, like most people, thought introverts were shy, quiet, socially backward people. I am definitely not shy nor particularly quiet, and I know how to chit-chat with great success. Once I read about introversion, though, I discovered the truth: I AM AN INTROVERT
Habits are, after all, simply learned behaviors
So if all introverts aren't shy, shrinking people, what are they, exactly? For me, this is what introversion means: large crowds overpower me; I am very easily overstimulated and have a difficult time focusing when there's a lot going on around me; I very much prefer to be home, alone, in my favorite chair or on the couch with the dogs, reading and/or watching TV and/or playng video games, and just being quiet. In my case, introversion mostly means that interacting with people, even people I really like, is exhausting. Worst case scenario is the inability to insert myself into social situations, even with people I know very well. I've been to conferences where I barely spoke to anyone the entire time I was there, and found myself skirting the edges of the room trying to find a way to participate. I prefer to be on a stage speaking to or singing for a large group than observing or participating as part of that group. Being surrounded by people is one of the most uncomfortable situations I can think of to be in.
I've been particularly introspective lately (as if I wasn't enought like that before) because I'm currently reading "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking," by Susan Cain. I've really been gaining a lot of self-knowledge from this book. Like the author, I have spent a great deal of my life forcing myself to be more outgoing than I have ever felt. That behavior has become a habit, but is not any easier as the years wear on. In fact, as I get older it is more and more difficult to be chatty and friendly. Habits are, after all, simply learned behaviors. That doesn't make them natural, it just makes them a common occurrence.
It's all about what interaction with other humans takes away from me
In my case being outgoing is how I ACT, not how I FEEL. Even at work, where I have many friends I look forward to seeing, I'd really just be content to sit in my cubicle and work quietly every day with very little interaction with my co-workers. I make a huge effort every morning to stop and say hello to various people, but every day it is a conscious, often difficult, decision to do this, even with those with whom I am fairly close. I want to interact with others, but some days it's so hard. For those who understand this, no explanation is necessary. For those who are reading this with a look of confusion on their faces, here's the deal: My reticence has nothing whatsoever to do with a feeling of inadequacy or awkwardness--it's all about what interaction with other humans takes away from me. For introverts, appeaering to be outgoing comes at a cost.
Being an introvert means that every single time I talk on the phone, or speak with someone in person, or walk through a busy store, I lose energy. Being around people drains my energy faster than any other activity. I can't describe the mental and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or intensive human contact. Being married and having kids is such a blessing, and has also been so very, very tiring. Yes, I get tired of my husband and kids. I suppose that sounds terrible, but I've come to grips with it. I've accepted that it's who I am, and do my best to be what they need me to be when they need me, and I try to make sure I get a break when I need one. It's a lot easier now that the kids are adults and no longer live with me. I feel sorry for my husband who is not introverted, because he really doesn't understand this and has had to live with my grumpiness and detachment more than is strictly fair. Unfortunately, my curmudgeonly self comes out most around him because after more than 30 years it's safe to just be myself with him.
It's so draining to do group work
I think the worst thing for introverts living in a society where extroversion is the benchmark for success is the perception that we don't DO anything. Co-workers could describe us a nost-to-the-grindstone, and we could churn out vast amounts of work, but somewhere in the back of those same co-workers' minds is the belief that, because we don't contribute as much verbally in meetings, or because we don't assert our opinions as forcefully as others, or because our contributions to group projects are less obvious, that we aren't actually doing as much as they are.
I'm fortunate that I'm very comfortable with my team so I don't have a problem (usually) sharing ideas and participating fully in discussions and projects. But truthfully, I prefer to avoid getting roped into doing projects with them, not because I do't like them (because I truly do like them all a lot) but because it's so draining to do group work. And when I have to participate in a group project I'm usually the one to suggest divvying up the work in such a way that I can just do my stuff and report back or pass it along to the next person. And when I offer to help someone who's overwhelmed, I usually ask for an email with instructions and links to documents vs. a face-to-face meeting to discuss what needs to be done.
It's us, not them
So how do we make our introversion work in a world where we are considered odd or backward or distant? Self-awareness is key. Educating others is crucial. Our loved ones, friends, and co-workers need to understand that it's SO not personal. We don't dislike them, we just can't be around them right now. It's us, not them. We also need to stop beating ourselves up for being who and what we are. There's nothing wrong with us, even though the rest of society is pretty sure there is. After all, who doesn't want to spend a full day at work talking too much with co-workers and doing group projects, then going out with those same people (and a few hundred more) and staying out late drinking, dining, and dancing? I see those timid hands going up. Go ahead, introverts, raise them higher. Then go right ahead and go back to your quiet, internal lives.