Confession: I am an introvert.
There are some of you who know me who are currently starring open-mouthed at your screens genuinely surprised by this admission. If you’re one of those, take heart! This post is about you. If you don’t know me from a stranger passing on the street, keep reading…because I’ll never stop you on the street to make small talk about this! 🙂
I’ve always known I was an introvert. I prefer small groups of friends to large crowds. I prefer individual work to group work. I enjoy golf, by myself, and soak in the quiet and solitude of the course. I enjoy movies, by myself, and don’t feel strange about sitting alone in the theater. I have no problem being in a restaurant or coffee shop at a table-for-one with nothing more than a book and a few hours to pass. I’ve always expressed my strongest arguments better in writing than in conversation. I’m not particularly keen on small talk, but I enjoy a deep conversation with someone I know well. I don’t like being over booked. And my husband and I have a deal that he will never plan a surprise party that involves me unexpectedly walking into a room full of people waiting to see me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-social. I have a great group of friends that I love spending time with. Nor am I a reclusive hermit. I enjoy being outside and in public settings around other people. But I am an introvert. So I like to socialize in doses and people watch the crowds instead of jumping in with them. And I’m learning more and more that this surprises people.
“You are not an introvert!” a friend once declared defensively after I admitted that the tendencies which she was criticizing in a co-worker were tendencies I very much identified with. As if she knew me better in the few years we’d known each other than I knew myself from thirty years of self discovery. It was as if my admission to introversion was personally affronting. She proceeded to rattle off a string of reasons that precluded me from being an introvert. I was in theater in high school, and now directed my own drama program. I was articulate and could hold an intelligent conversation. I was well liked and had friends. I told excellent stories when we got together and could make people laugh. And the biggest reason, “Oh my God, you’re a teacher Kate! C’mon!”
I pointed out that by default she was suggesting all introverts were expressionless mutes who lacked social skills, senses of humor, friends, engaging life experiences, and the ability to teach. “You know what I mean!” she insisted.
The thing is, I did know what she meant, because the things she rattled off did seem like extroverted qualities. And in a society that prizes extraversion over introversion, perhaps admitting to the “weaker” of two personality styles is as shocking and appalling as she made it out to be. In her exceptional book Quiet, Susan Cain writes,
We live with a value system…the Extrovert Ideal, the belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight… We like to think we value individuality. But too often we value one type of individual, the type who likes to ‘put himself out there’
And these were the things my friend was seeing on the outside. I teach in front of 100 students everyday. I lead the drama program. I like to tell a good story and make people laugh. I “put myself out there.” So how can I possibly claim to be anything other than an extrovert, especially when that is the ideal!?
Well let me enter the confessional. I offer these confessions not as an apology for who I am and how I act. It took thirty years, but I don’t feel the need to apologize for the person I am. Instead I offer these confessions so that you might understand me a little better; so that you might recognize some of the real experiences that people you know, though may not realize, adapt to; and so that, if you too find yourself living as an introvert in an extrovert’s world, you might find you’re not alone! Though let’s be honest, if you’re an introvert, you never minded feeling alone anyway!
Confession #1: I love the stage, and hate the stage
I love theater, was a fair actor in high school, a much better crew member in college, and have found my real niche in designing and directing now as an adult. Directing is great because I get to plan out how the whole thing works, where the actors go, what everything looks like, and then not get up in front of the audience to actually perform it. It is still very nerve-wracking to watch the whole thing unfold, but my most nerve wracking moment is actually the minute before the show starts when I have to go on stage and welcome people to the performance, ask them to turn off their devices, and refrain from flash photography. I have a colleague who will vouch for this fact. Before a show, I will pace backstage and practice what I’m going to say to the audience. Up until the moment I walk onto the stage, I’m reciting the same, stupid four lines over and over and over to myself, and though I generally deliver them without incident, and there is a way different kind of fear that comes with watching a cast and crew actually perform the show, the 45 seconds it takes to make those opening remarks is the scariest part of the show’s run. “You looked so nervous!” the parent who took the accompanying photo wrote when they sent me the image. “All those fears, and the kids did great!” The kids did do great, if only this parent had known what all those fears were really about!
Confession #2: I tell stories to avoid small talk
Among the nicest compliments I’ve received, a dear friend told me I tell the best stories. I’ve always like telling stories, and often tell them in a way which includes at least three tangents and multiple subplots. I find that the friends I’m closest with not only can follow this multilevel storytelling, but also tell their own stories in a similar fashion!
In conversation, I choose to tell stories a lot. There are those who will say that I do this for attention and to command the conversation or the room. Those people would be mistaken. I got good at telling stories because: 1. In social situations I like to make people laugh; and 2. I’m not particularly good at general small talk, and a story can fill that conversational void. In essence, this is a coping mechanism, a coping mechanism I got good at! The fact that I got good at it doesn’t suddenly make me more extroverted; it just means I have something other than the weather to talk about when required in a group.
Confession #3: Sometimes, as a teacher, I do all my talking for the day at school
Bless my husband who is introverted enough in some of his tendencies that he isn’t bothered by this, but sometimes I come home from work at night and tell him I’ve done too much talking at school and need to not talk for a while. We can sit quietly and enjoy each other’s company, or he can tell me about his day while I make dinner (assured that I am listening, if not responding), or sometimes he does his own thing for a bit while I do my own thing, but it’s as if I used up my allotment of words for the day all at work, and I need silence to regroup. Sub Confession #3: I worry about this sometimes when my husband and I talk about having kids. I might be a terrible mom on days all my talking happens at school. Sub Sub Confession #3: If you’ve ever called me on one of the evenings following a day that I’ve done all my talking at school, I’ve ignored your call. Sorry.
Confession #4: I have considered not coming to your event
First, a disclaimer, this does not mean every event I’ve ever been invited to! As I said, I very much enjoy my close friends. I get on well with my family, and enjoy spending time with them. There are some people with whom I am most comfortable that I see quite frenquently and love every moment of our time together. But, if you’ve ever invited me to a kind of generic get together, or suggested that I just meet up with you and some people I’m not familiar with, or thrown out an open invitation for some casual hangout or party, I probably thought about not going, and there’s a really decent chance I didn’t show up. Also, if you asked me to do something with little warning or planning, I likely considered saying no. Also, if I thought the event would require me to introduce myself to a lot of new people and make endless small talk, I guarantee I considered not going! Please don’t take this personally. Again, it’s not that I’m anti-social, but I have a preference for small groups, one on one chats, and some advance notice of what’s coming up!
Confession #5: You say introvert like it’s a bad thing, and you say extrovert like it’s a bad thing, and it’s annoying
Last one. It’s super annoying to be told I am not an introvert. Why is this something I would fake or make up? It’s also super annoying to be told that someone knows I am an extrovert because ( insert reason here ). If you want to read more about constructing identity and compliments vs. insults go back about a week and read I am_______________. Here’s my jist of it. I was recently told it surprised someone that I said I was an introvert because I wasn’t shy. Shyness, in this instance, was suggested as a negative attribute. When asked why they thought I was extroverted they said they often thought of me as the center of attention. Being the center of attention, I think, in this instance, was supposed to be a good thing, but phrased that way, it really didn’t feel like it. So you’re saying, I’m damned if I am, and I’m damned if I’m not?
Either way, here’s the thing. I’ve already stated that as an introvert, I’m most comfortable around a small group of people who know me well. Guess what all of those people have in common? They have never told me who I am, or how I should be, or how their perception of me is more correct than my perception of myself. These confessions might surprise these people in a different way, in that they may be surprised I felt it necessary to confess them at all.
To them I say thank you. To those of you still starring at your computer in shocked confusion, I say it’s time to get over it and accept that perhaps, you’ve been fooled by my excellent coping skills! To those visiting ink. for the first time I say welcome, this is a community for all and whether you actively engage as a blogging extrovert or read and move on, I hope you found something uplifting and worthwhile. And to all of you I say,