I’m an introvert.
Most people don’t believe me when I say it; they’ve only known me as a go-getter. A professional leader. Someone who can talk with any client, lead any meeting. A public speaker. The fact that people think I’m an extrovert speaks to just how well I’ve been conditioned to go against my nature.
The world celebrates extroverts. Somewhere along the way, having a bubbly personality, a group work spirit, endless energy and optimism, and the ability to be the life of the party became our society’s ideal. Those of us who are exhausted just by reading that list have felt ignored, or worse, reshaped to fit the world’s mold.
From the time I entered kindergarten, people have tried to mold me into something I’m not. My academic career was filled with cooperative school projects where in the name of learning to work together I was assigned to a task with a group of my peers.
I hated it.
I was paralyzed by the discomfort I felt working with other people. I couldn’t think well. The noise of the group crowded out the thoughts I was reaching for to complete the assignment. The only way I could function was to let the group talk amongst themselves while I quietly did the project for everyone. Instead of learning the power of collaboration, I learned I was different and awkward. I learned I was easy to take advantage of.
Throughout my formative years, magazines, tv shows, movies, all of pop culture celebrated extroverts and gave me tips on how to be well liked, to overcome my shyness, to be the center of attention. I was bombarded with messages that how I was naturally wired wasn’t right, but how if I worked hard, I could learn the skills I needed to be accepted.
So I did.
I learned to speak up with strangers, fill awkward pauses in conversation, make eye contact. I learned how to function in a room full of strangers. I learned to work cooperatively with others even if I get ten times as much done when I work alone in a quiet room. I learned to smile when I didn’t feel like it. I learned to drink alcohol so I would have energy to converse long into the night.
I learned to fake it. Really well.
It wasn’t until the last couple of years that the world started talking about introversion and what we are losing as a society by trying to mold introverts into something else (thank you Susan Cain for your book Quiet). Reading that my tendencies are not the effect of mis-wiring, but rather classic traits of introverts, was the first inkling I had that maybe there wasn’t something wrong with me, that instead I might actually have a valuable life perspective.
It was freeing.
Since then I have tried to embrace and honor my introverted tendencies. I celebrate that I seek stillness in a world of noise. I rejoice when I happen to catch a bird doing something fascinating knowing most of the world doesn’t even notice them. I give myself permission to retreat and recharge knowing time alone in a quiet place is the only way I regain energy. I dig in to heart issues with people, knowing meaningful conversation is the only kind that fills me up. I carve out time to write, knowing that my reflective nature is able to put words to things others struggle to describe.
But even still, it can be hard. The world doesn’t understand why I need certain things. And since I can’t always explain why, the feelings of those I love can get hurt easily.
It’s far easier to keep faking it, to keep everyone’s needs met and their happiness levels high.
But it doesn’t feel braver.
And I want to be brave.
Being brave means honoring my introverted nature even when it’s hard. Being brave means protecting those I love from who I become when my energy tank is zero by carving out time to recharge. Being brave is having the courage to be who I was made to be even if the world never understands me. Being brave is standing up for my younger bullied self by being now who she wanted to be then.
Being brave is giving myself permission to just. be. me.
So if you need to reach me, I’ll be home alone quietly writing in my journal while occasionally stopping to watch the birds out my window. And if you wouldn’t mind emailing me instead of calling, that would be appreciated.
A request my introverted friends will understand perfectly.