Sometimes it’s hard being an introvert in an extrovert world.
This year I sort of ‘discovered’ that I’m an introvert. Of course, I have always been one, but it was only by reading the book The Introvert Advantage, this year that I actually realized that lots of those funny little quirks I saw in myself were in fact the natural characteristics of an introvert. It was like fully recognizing a part of myself for the first time. I guess it’s what Oprah would call an ‘Aha moment’.
I finally understood why I often felt reluctant to go to parties, even though I would often have a good time when I eventually pushed myself to go, and why I found them quite draining. I now knew it was perfectly normal, as an introvert, to prefer more intimate gatherings of friends where I could have deep and meaningful conversations as opposed to battling away at small talk with people I don’t know, and why I would often be happy to have weekends in the comfort of my own surrounds, reading books, watching DVDs.
I had always just assumed I was maybe a bit antisocial, shy, slightly retarded. I would wonder what was wrong with me. My mum (an extrovert) would nag me about going out, or get concerned that I was a Ngaire No-Mates if I stayed home on the weekend. (I do have friends, Mum. Promise)
The Introvert Advantage explained how I was not socially retarded, (whew!) only introverted, and that a lot of the difficulties lay in the fact that only 25% of the population are introverts, and those skills that we generally tend to associate with extroverts – social butterfly, good at small talk, being a ‘people person’ – are thought of as desirable.
I have to admit, though, that after reading the book, I’m not precisely sure what the introvert advantage actually is. That’s not to say there aren’t things introverts do well, or even do better than extroverts, such as forming deep and meaningful relationships, but I don’t see how it’s actually advantageous to be an introvert in a world geared toward extrovert success and where extrovert characteristics are the measuring stick for normality. But advantageous or not, the book definitely helped me understand myself more.
Anyway, I was reminded of some of the difficulties of being an introvert this week when I was invited at the last minute to an impromptu dinner out. I was kind of thrown by the invitation and had to really think about whether to accept or not, which is silly in some respects, as most of the people at it I knew well, but I wasn’t sure of that at the time. It annoyed me that I wasn’t the type of person who would just immediately say yes to something that was slightly out of my comfort zone, or that I felt better once I knew who was attending out of the people invited. I had to give myself a little pep talk about it, and even had a look online, googling ‘deciding on whether to go out for introverts’. It helped to go through the reasons I maybe didn’t want to or shouldn’t go, and also the reasons why I did want to and should go. It made it more of a logical decision. Anyway, the whole thing ended up in me deciding to go, and despite being apprehensive, I actually had a great time.
I was invited out for drinks on Friday night, again at the last minute, but ended up not going, which I also think was the right decision, as I only would have known one person there for sure and I was also really tired from going out for dinner and a movie the night before, which is not the best frame of mind for me to be going into a situation like that.
I think it’s been useful for me to be able to think about these things from a more measured and rational position, rather than just immediately reverting to my introvert nature and saying no, or completely ignoring my nature and saying yes to everything. It’s given me tools for really considering things, such as how much I’ve been out already, how much I’ve seen these people, how I’m feeling at the time, how important it is to the person who invited me that I go, what kind of social situation it is – is it a dinner, is it drinks, is it a party etc – as all of these things add to the stress of it. I know that I can end up isolating myself if I indulge my natural tendency to spend time alone too much. I can also become inflexible, and that was something that was really highlighted for me this week – the importance of allowing spontaneity into your life. I’m fine when things are planned in advance, as I guess I feel I have more control over it – I can plan for it; when it’s spontaneous, there’s less room for that, but beautiful things can come from spontaneous events.
The idea of spontaneous versus planned makes me think of a scene from one of my favourite movies of late, (500) Days of Summer. There’s a scene with a split-screen of Tom’s expectations versus reality of a party he’s going to at Summer’s apartment.
That scene really spoke to me, as I’m someone who tends to run through possible scenarios or build expectations a lot, which can often be very different from the reality. With spontaneous events, there’s less time to build up expectations. You’re heading into something without expectation, which is so often the best way, as you’re more open to the endless possibilities that the evening could bring. So I’m hoping I can start to live life with a bit more spontaneity.