On Being an Introvert
Ice Queen. Stuck up. Snob. Believe me, I have heard them all. They were names flung in my direction a lot when I was growing up.
I always felt like an outsider and I didn't seem to comfortably fit in with the groups of loud and boisterous kids as they chatted and squealed in the playground. Lunchtimes were arduous with large groups of friends sitting in circles always vying to be the loudest, always vying to be heard. Sleepovers and parties were even worse. I would always escape to the solace of the bathroom, a quiet back terrace or a shadowed corner while my friends danced in circles in the lounge rooms of our suburban homes and later as we grew older, while they drank and kissed boys in dingy backyards with loud music thumping in the background.
At high school I was aloof and distant within a loud and popular group who ruled the hallways with their loud opinions and a flick of their blonde ponytails. Amongst the cut throat world of teenage hormones and torment, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful, quiet and gentle hearted friend called Tim. He and I would sit and talk for hours and hours in hidden places while our class mates raged and partied around us. We didn’t realise it at the time, but we were two introverts finding a like-minded friend in an extroverted world. I don’t think I would have survived high school without him.
I always worried that I had some sort of issue that stopped me from fitting into these large groups of so called fun. I just didn’t/couldn’t mix well with others. I hated team sports; team activities; group discussions. I spent years thinking that I had a social problem. I felt that I, as Eric Malpass wrote, "...had gone through life with one skin fewer than most". I found the world too loud, too brash, just too… too… too.
What I did know was that I liked being with me. I liked to swim at the local swimming pool. Just the black line beneath me and the quiet, soothing sound of the water rushing over my ears resetting, re-centering myself as I swam lap after lap. I liked riding my horse. Quiet moments of meandering through the bush together with the constant thud of her hooves on the hard clay beneath us and an occasional bird song to keep us company. I also loved a small select group of trusted friends who were allowed into my inner sanctum where we watched movies, painted pictures and read books together on picnic blankets in the backyard. These were the things that made my heart full and happy.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20’s that I was introduced to the ideas of Introversion and Extroversion. I remember filling out the long Myers-Briggs questionnaire - dubious about the results. I pictured the outcome to be something similar to a horoscope – very generalised and one size fits all. Instead, what I got was a major (as Oprah would say) AHA! moment. I WAS AN INTROVERT.
For the first time, I felt empowered. And most of all… relieved. Relieved that a door had been finally opened to a world that gave me the answers I had been searching for. I wasn’t a snob, an ice queen or any of the other nasty names I had been called over the years. I was a bona fide INTROVERT! And there were others like me! Lots of other people in fact. Albert Einstein, J.K Rowling, Bill Gates and Eleanor Roosevelt all shared this trait with me. I was in good company!
So armed with this new information, I contemplated what being an introvert meant for me:
- I knew that I didn't do well in large social groups, so I now allow myself (guilt free) to turn down invitations to big social dinners and nights out;
- I make time to see friends in smaller more manageable groups that don’t leave me locked in a bathroom stall of a trendy restaurant trying to catch a mental breath;
- I limit myself to one social activity per weekend to allow myself to recharge from the week before and regroup for the week ahead;
- I like public transport (no, really – I do!), it gives me the time and space to think and digest where I have just been so please don’t be offended when I say no to your kind offer of a lift home;
- I escape into books and movies any chance I get to allow my mind to rest, to let it relax its hold on the thoughts and ideas that do laps around my head.
I won't lie. It isn't always easy being an introvert in an extroverted world but I do what is right for me. As Susan Cain wrote "…the secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting", and in that respect I have learnt to accept, and now heartily embrace my introversion. It’s like a secret society. A society that you won’t hear introverts talk about much, or see any large groups of us brandishing our introvert membership badges. Instead, you may see us in a café with a book held close to our noses; or sitting comfortably alone in a dark movie theatre; or yes, even giggling with our best friends in a wine bar…