I’m an introvert.
What does that say about me? Does it say anything about the activities I love, the profession I’ve chosen, my level of creativity, or the way I interact with people?
It does not. It can not.
What it does say is simple: What energizes me most are my own thoughts, my own observations, my own analyses. I am a deeply engaged listener. I look for patterns in the world around me, in speech, in architecture, in nature, in music, in art. I delve below the surface. And this involves a certain amount of living in my own head, in being comfortable in being alone. I prioritize this time. It’s one of the reasons why I am finding writing these posts so rewarding.
It’s also why introverts tend to be seen as more creative–because we’re comfortable in the process needed to create, in being alone with our thoughts, in processing information, in understand how things impact us emotionally. But the stereotype is that we shun performance, that we’re wracked with anxiety any time we’re out in public. So the thinking goes–actors, business leaders, performance musicians–those are extroverts. The introverts are home hiding from people with their books and their cats. We’re homebodies. The cartoon above underscores this belief. “Be OK with low key,” it says. “We enjoy going out every once in a while but mostly we long for quiet evenings at home.”
There are absolutely introverts for whom this is true. I’m not one of them. If you know me, you know that I seem to be constantly in motion (literally, as well as figuratively). I love travel, seeing the places I’ve read about. I love going to concerts, hearing the music that’s played over and over on my headphones. I love just driving or hiking through dramatic landscapes, or looking at the sky, lost in wonder. And I love doing these things alone, or perhaps with one or two other people who will not demand constant chatter. That’s the introvert coming out. It’s not the activity, it’s how I participate in that activity. I want to observe and process and to allow my emotions free rein. I can be surrounded by people, yet be alone, so long there is no demand that I interact with others. Home is a lovely place with books and cats and all my craft supplies, but I rely on my own personal experiences of the world beyond those four walls to inspire me. If there is one dream I have that I know I can never realize, it is that of unlimited time and resources to travel to see and experience the world. I do what I can to look around me whenever I can to realize some small portion of that dream. I can find that crucial time I need to decompress and process wherever in the world I might find myself. I often do it while driving, or on the train coming home from work.
But yet, I do not hide from people. A get-together with good friends, geeking together over a shared activity, or talking about movies or history or current events? Sign me up! I’ll even talk to strangers during my travels or at a concert, if they’re sharing thoughts about something I care about (as opposed to small talk).
That’s why have I come to love the performance impact of speaking publicly–whether it’s giving a formal speech or presentation or something more impromptu, such as heralding SCA courts. To me, it’s an exercise in taking all of the thinking and research I’ve done and being able to transform that into something with a deep impact on the listener. I like to pull back curtains, to give glimpses into the things that matter to me, to try to instill the enthusiasm and the emotions into what I’m saying to make it more meaningful.
Surprising fact? I’ve never been nervous about speaking publicly. What did concern me was my tendency to ramble. All of those facts in my head, fighting to get out. I knew the impact those facts had had on me from an emotional standpoint, but I was not comfortable sharing emotions (a legacy of being bullied) and I did not know how to instill those emotions in others.
I remember in high school, making a video to run for a City Council position in our “youth in government” organization. I had always been interested in politics and government, and those who won would shadow our actual city councilors at a real council meeting. I did not prepare–after all, I was smart, so I’d be fine, right? Wrong. I was all over the place. I had no clue of how to transform words into speech. It was embarrassing, and I did not perform well in the “election.” So I did the only thing I knew how to do at the time–I pulled back so I would not get hurt. Those of us who had run but not won our positions were appointed to other positions in our mirror city government, with the same opportunity to participate in a shadow government session. I was given the position of City Treasurer. I didn’t even show up–probably one of the greatest regrets from my high school days.
Over the years, however, I started to slowly develop skills in how to present information to others. Being able to listen well helped, and I started to be able to understand and analyze what would captivate and intrigue those who would be listening to me. It took joining Toastmasters to teach me the skills of being succinct, that sometimes there is such a thing as too much information, and to use my observational skills on people to read body language in response to what I was saying. In recent years, I’ve been working on the emotional component of presenting information. How can I convey the emotional impact of standing in Fallingwater, or listening to Shostakovich, or holding a purring cat on my lap, or reading the history in the lines of a Gothic cathedral or an Art Deco skyscraper or the roar of the Merlin engines on a Lancaster bomber? And I found that I really enjoy it, will even seek it out–and it gives me a rush of adrenaline that I’ve learned to harness to my advantage.
Being an introvert is about finding strength in being alone, in listening and observing and analyzing and rejoicing in that process. For many years, I thought I was in some way broken. I don’t believe that anymore. I’m finding ways to create emotional connections with others in a way that makes sense for me, as well as to better understand others and how I can support them (even if it’s not the way I would do it). But it’s not about wanting to hide away from the world–at least not for me.
Still, I think for many introverts, our most significant personal relationship is with the one person who has the time to take to really know and understand us fully–ourselves. Being comfortable in that knowledge lends confidence. I stopped long ago looking for people who complete me. I am not missing anything. My friends I value for who they are, perhaps sometimes for how they inspire me, but not because I am somehow lesser without them.
But yet, the process of understanding myself, of turning my thoughts into actions, of being who I know I can be–that never ends. I hope I will be doing it up until my final breath. I should be so lucky.