I just got done with an 11-hour strategic brainstorming session with a client and my brain is mush. Now, let me explain that I’ve met all of the attendees before, this is a client I like, and the ideas we were discussing were interesting to me. Nevertheless, I’m completely exhausted.
Why? I’m an introvert. And trying to be “on” all day has resulted in the depletion of my energy. Worse, I had something on my mind that was troubling me—nothing to do with anyone in the room—but for someone who wears her emotions on her face, it required overcompensation to not look as though I was bothered by any of the topics we were discussing.
This introversion comes as a surprise to a lot of people, because I’m not necessarily lacking in self-confidence and people don’t think of me as “shy.” For example, I once gave a sermon at church—something I know many people would be terrified to do—and was fine with getting up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and expounding on the topic of faith. Yet, this sermon was delivered by the very same person who religiously avoids going to parties if I don’t think I’ll know anyone but the host.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to be invited to my friend’s slumber parties, but I didn’t really want to actually go to them. I remember one time when I was trying to leave a friend’s house after an afternoon of playing together. She wanted to continue our games, but I was completely drained by all of the togetherness. I needed to go home and read a book or something and literally begged her (an extravert, clearly) to let me leave.
Because of this tendency toward introversion, people who don’t know me tend to think I’m aloof and unfriendly. That’s not true, however. I just detest small talk and polite conversation for the sake of filling the silence. Cocktail parties find me either talking to a small group of people I know or staring at my phone pretending I just got an important text or email to which I must respond.
On the other hand, once I know you and trust you, you’ll have trouble shutting me up. Heck, if I’m comfortable and in a sociable mood, I can be downright chatty. (My dad lovingly called me “Motormouth” as a teen—a name that I’ve used to describe my daughter Lucky once or twice.) However, even in these discussions I disdain small talk and usually prefer talking about Things That Matter over sports and weather.
In fact, those who know me well can attest to the fact that I rarely hold back my opinion and enjoy engaging in a lively debate. This can make people uncomfortable—particularly when you come from the land of Minnesota Nice. However, there’s usually no hostility involved. I just appreciate a well-articulated argument. In most people, these traits add up to an outgoing nature, so many of the people who have observed me in these situations are surprised to learn that being in groups for too long can suck the life out of me if I don’t get a chance to recharge.
As a working parent of young children, I’d try to step outside of my comfort zone and chaperone a field trip once or twice a year. (Here’s a tip for the rookies: Choose a play over the zoo, it’s much easier to chaperone kids when they’re sitting still.) But as much as I enjoyed getting a peek into my child’s school life, these outings always left me horizontal on the couch for several hours afterward, lying in the dark with a glass of wine, repeating to myself: “Must…recover….sanity…”
But part of being an introspective, introverted grown up is realizing these things about yourself, so I know when I’m being “taxed” by too much extraversion and need some alone time to recharge. My husband understands this, too. For example, there was always a predictable point on a family trip—the epitome of togetherness—where I’d declare “I need to be by myself for a while.” (In my defense, we didn’t have cable TV at home, so my kids viewed any stay in a hotel room as their chance to have a Nickelodeon marathon. By the third day of this cartoon smorgasbord, I felt like an Animaniac myself.) But my patient, indulgent husband would grant me temporary asylum and hold down the fort while I abandoned him at the Embassy Suites with three squirrelly kids watching Pinky & The Brain.
One of the most challenging places to deal with an introverted nature has been at work. Marketing and Sales teams are heavily comprised of extraverts. So, since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, I’ve had to convince each new set of coworkers that I’m not unfriendly or stuck up, I just work more effectively on my own (with input and review at appropriate intervals, of course). Just don’t ask me to create a PowerPoint while a group of sales people sit around me throwing out ideas. These same folks can toss ideas back and forth all they want and I’ll sit and patiently listen. And, then I’ll go back to my quiet little office and try to make sense of it all. Trust me, you’ll have a better end product letting the introvert get her way. Being a manager of people has been challenging as well, since most introverts gravitate toward individual contributor roles. My marketing team may tell you I’m not the most nurturing boss, but (I hope) I make up for that by working very hard, looking out for their best interests and advocating on their behalf.
While I am probably a bit atypical as an introvert—I think most of them are “quieter” than me—I’ve noticed that Facebook gives introverts a way to recognize and acknowledge each other in a heavily extravert-oriented society. The Internet has numerous “quizzes” a person can take to determine where they fall on the introversion/extraversion scale, and it’s been interesting to learn via Facebook just how many friends and acquaintances are introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world…like me.
In my family, four-out-of-five of us are introverts (on the other hand, my youngest daughter, Blossom, could be the Poster Child for Extraverts), so adaptation is the name of the game. But I’m encouraged by the increased awareness around the differences of introverts and extraverts. It’s a positive step toward gaining acceptance—or at least understanding—for those of us who are otherwise too easily misunderstood.