Why do I love being an introvert? Because I can spend time alone without angst and without feeling a sense that I am missing out on something. There is comfort in feeling total acceptance in a quiet space or at work, particularly if I am surrounded by nature or if it is nearby.
As a child – despite being a middle child of 4 and middle children are rarely introverts – I could spend hours playing without needing regular or constant attention. (My mother later said that she appreciated this.) As a young adult, however, I received negative messages that I was odd. I had friends and enjoyed a few social events, but I intuitively I knew I needed alone time. I did not have a clue why this was a part of who I was.
It was not until I was nearly 30 years old that I discovered more about myself. I learned where my psychic energy came from, why I sought nature for solace and what essentially made me tick. How did I learn this?
Soon to be married, I requested my then fiance to attend a couples’ weekend workshop. (BTW, we have been married 30+ years!) Prior to attending, we each completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory. This questionnaire provides guidelines on how we each perceive and react to our world. It is designed “to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives.” Each workshop attendee was given our results and then we learned more about ourselves, our partners and how we tend to communicate. It was a real eye opener. Here are a few of the activities we were asked to do by the presenter. She would present a situation and then asked each of the 30 of us to physically stand and line up in a continuum:
- If you are going to celebrate a significant birthday, line up between wanting a) to spend it with one or a couple of close friends, to b) inviting a lot of people for a boisterous party.
- When you travel for a vacation, where would you land on this spectrum? a) spend it at a quiet cabin with some exploration, to b) go on a cruise with a tour group with tons of activities all day long.
- If you are needing to solve a personal problem, what are you most likely to do? a) go for a walk in the woods, to b) call up several friends to discuss the problem.
There are obviously exceptions to every situation and it is important to understand there is gradations from one end of the spectrum to the other. However, these exercises, plus several others, provided me with necessary and helpful insight.
The real light bulb went off when she defined what it means to be an ‘introvert’ versus an ‘extrovert.’ All I remember her asking was, “Where does your energy come from? Does it come from within or externally?” Wow! Now I knew why I was mentally and physically exhausted after conducting a workshop (I was a corporate trainer at the time.) or became overstimulated in large group events. Also, I understood my mother – a true extrovert – and why she could not ever really understand me.
It is unfortunate that our society continues to define introvert incorrectly which fuels misunderstanding. Even as I researched for this article, I read too many misconceptions. Which are: we are shy, we are anti-social, we do not speak up, we hold our emotions close to the vest, we are hermits, avoid eye contact and that most creatives are introverts.
I can turn on my social skills when it is required, I can be funny, passionate and energetic. I like to make presentations and was the President of the Minnesota Watercolor Society (membership of 300) for two years and I was a corporate manager. People who know me do not consider me shy. 🙂 However, the key for me is to protect my expenditure of energy. For example, my social calendar is well spaced out, I have to plan for down time after teaching or making a presentation, we cannot have house guests back to back and I prefer one-on-one interactions with close friends versus group settings. Often when I tell people that I am an introvert, they proclaim, “No you’re not!” or they look at me as if I have two noses. Then a third nose is added when they learn that I annually spend a solo month every summer in a remote mountain cabin.
This leads me to outline why there are times I do not love being an introvert:
- Trying to de-mystify the myths of being an introvert to extroverts. We want to be understood;
- Living amongst the extrovert majority where most choose not to understand this minority of folks (we represent 15-25% of the population);
- When I have to over extend my energy which leads to loosing precious hours/days resting because my fuel tank is too low for me to think or work;
- Not being able to take advantage of several career opportunities because I must protect my energy;
- At conferences/workshops, etc., I have to pay extra to have a single room to help restore my energy at night.
Though there are those rare times when I wish I could ‘toughin’ up’ and become an extrovert on a full-time basis, I do truly love being an introvert. I also know that I cannot be re-wired.
As an artist, being an introvert is an asset for me. I can spend an entire day in the studio and not need to talk to anyone, or I can spend time painting outside and not need a companion. On the other hand, it also means that I cannot paint with other artists. When I attend large painting workshops I head for the corner and shut myself off from others. I suspect the latter could make me appear aloof.
Not all artists are introverts! Most are extroverts and have to learn how to operate in a solo occupation while giving themselves opportunities to express their extroversion regularly. Perhaps the location of a studio in a building of other artists is important? It may be interesting to note that many celebrities – such as Diane Sawyer, David Letterman, Barbara Walters and Michael Jordan – are introverts.
The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, is one of the most enlightening books on the subject (check your local library for a copy). I highly recommend it for everyone because it explains in easy to understand examples, how we all respond differently in different situations because of how we are wired.
Where do you land in the introvert to extrovert continuum? Do you love being an introvert or an extrovert? What do you do to assure your personality is fully expressed?
Footnote: My husband is a light extrovert. He has learned to understand my introversion and we often participate in what I call ‘parallel play.” In other words, we are both occupied with our hobbies or our vocations, but we do not need to be interacting. We also developed a rule early on in our marriage. If we wanted the other to attend one of our events (he is a musician with lots of concerts and I with my many art events), we must stipulate that it is important for the other to attend. We do not assume or expect attendance at all events.
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