Originally Posted on September 09, 2013 by Heather Hershey
It’s official: I am definitely an introvert.
Graduate school has put the issue to rest. My assistantship has doubly reinforced it. I get invited to parties and get-togethers all the time and have, as of yet, only gone to a few. Last week I went to watch someone’s band play for the first time and found myself reading an article in the NYT on a barstool instead of engaging with the drunks. When it was all over, I couldn’t figure out a way to my friend near the stage through the sea of inebriated coeds with minimal awkwardness…so I bolted.
The stange thing is – I’m not shy.
This is a seldom -noted aspect of introversion that a lot of introverts report. We can be shy, but most of us are only moderately adverse to social situations in general. The real defining trait of an introvert is the loss of psychic energy during interpersonal social exchanges. We’re the ones who think creating and maintaining a social persona is hard work (re: “emotional labor”), unlike extroverts who tend to find maintaining that social façade an energy-giving creative outlet and a generally good time.
I’m a performer. Public speaking and singing are EASY for me. I shine in social media exchanges and on YouTube. These are obviously highly impersonal exchanges and less reciprocal than the give and take of an in-person conversation. Being larger than life in choreographed, anticipated bursts takes much less energy than being “me” one-on-one for long stretches of time. It takes a lot of work to cork the bottle containing my jittery over-thinking. I am not very good at doing this while anticipating the moods of others and can get easily burnt out by the process.
I can be quite a jovial, charismatic creature when in small, familiar groups of people in comfortable settings. Large crowds are exhausting and the incessant overstimulation thrown at the undergrads around my college campus makes me want to burrow under my bed with a 500+ page book about the biochemistry of human metabolism and the neurology of the enteric nervous system and never re-emerge.
I hate small talk. I would much rather hear about your subjects of study or something that matters to you. I want to hear about things that make you YOU. YOU are interesting. Random trivia, not so much.
I don’t have ADHD. I am incredibly uncomfortable living in an extroverted paradise of neon ADHD-ticking delights and the myriad accompanying voices vying for attention. I just want quiet. Or some really good music. The point is I wish I could be without some of the noise and distraction.
Most of my friends think that I’m extremely extroverted. I don’t think that’s true.
I remember one time in eighth grade when I made myself go to a party for an acting group I was involved in. I hid in the stairwell while the other kids had fun. I cried because I wanted to go home, yet I refused to call my mom. You see, I wasn’t crying because I didn’t like the other kids; I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to navigate these tumultuous social waters. I was frustrated for wanting to hide and equally angry at myself for engineering a social situation in which I would have to feel like this.
I was a painfully shy kid. I force myself to act in a more extroverted fashion – even when it is painful – and over time this behavior has allowed me to build up the skill set necessary to survive in an extroverted world. It is internally difficult for me to reconcile this behavior with the notion of somehow being a little less of myself in the process. At the end of the day, though, I am still ME.
I am not a social butterfly. I just play one during the day time. The chronic discomfort means I’m growing. In 2011, IBM’s Ginni Rometty said, “Growth and comfort do not coexist.” I guess this is something most of us know intuitively. I know it’s true through my experience. I would be in pretty sorry shape if I didn’t have the gumption to take on these challenges proactively. I intentionally put myself in positions that require heavy social interaction in the hope that I will rise to the occasion.
If you are an closeted introvert like me, don’t worry. We’re in this together. And if your supersmartsuperbrain is pondering what I’m pondering, someday we’ll take over the world.