A few years ago I stood in a friend’s wedding. On the Friday we had to drive an hour outside of town first thing in the morning to set up the venue, and then drive back in to town in the evening to have a rehearsal dinner. On the day of the wedding we had to get up at the crack of dawn to get our hair done, get our make-up done, get dressed, and make the one hour drive back to the venue for the wedding. Then the pictures. Then the dinner. Then the polite mingling with the happy couple’s friends and family, very few of which I knew. Then the long, slightly inebriated hour long ride back to town. While this may sound like a typical wedding event for some, this was positively draining for me. I slept for over 36 hours in the next two days. I was so mentally and physically exhausted I couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour at a time. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me? This was supposed to be fun, everyone likes being around people right? Everyone likes a good party! Me…I sat my drunk ass on the barn basement floor and played with a very friendly barn cat. That was more fun to me. Being in a quiet place with a quiet animal was the most relaxing part of the whole experience for me. What is wrong with me? Why am I so weird and different?
After the wedding, I came across Susan Cain’s book, and I just cannot put it into words how amazing it is. It was life changing for me. Seriously! After working in a book store and seeing all of the self-help crap that came in, I wasn’t too thrilled to pick this up, but I had seen a review of it in a magazine so I thought I would give it a try. Non-fiction, especially books deemed self-help are really not an area I tend to grab a book from, but I am really so glad that I did with this one.
The world views extroverts and extrovert tendencies as ideal. We are taught to believe that people who are outgoing and social do better in life. We are taught if you want to succeed, you have to be this way. After all, all of the CEO’s of big business are that way, that’s how they made their millions and became a success, right? Well, not quite. But you get what I am saying. Extroverts are just looked at as “better”.
When I worked at the book store, the manager said to me that the company was changing directions. It is no longer enough to know books, in fact the company didn’t give one flying fig if you knew the product anymore. You had to like people. Like people? I didn’t get in this job because I “like people”, I got it because I love books and love shopping for books, so what can be better than helping people spend their money on books? Now, you are telling me that the company doesn’t care if you know the product, just dig people? Seriously?
Introverts are looked down upon in our society. We are seen as quiet, to the point of being perceived as snobby and rude. Generally speaking, we are less likely to talk in a crowd of people we don’t know, and often come up with the perfect thing to say about 10 seconds too late and the conversation has changed directions. We are taught that it is not okay to be quiet, to be different. We have to be seen and heard to be a success. No wonder I thought something was wrong with me.
I loved that Cain filled her book with research and science that backed up the book, and made so much sense to me. Yet, at no point did she say that being introvert or extrovert is better than the other. We all have a place and a role in society, it really is just figuring out who you are and surrounding yourself in the environment best for you.
I did skip some of the book, in full disclosure. She has a section on being an introvert parent, and another section on having introvert children and how to raise them. Neither applied to me so I didn’t read them, but I got so much out of the book just the same. One of the research tests she had discussed that I still remember is a lemon juice test where university students were asked to identify themselves as introvert or extrovert, and then put a drop of lemon juice on their tongue. Those that identified as introverts tasted the lemon juice much more strongly than the extroverts did. Their senses were stronger. It suggests that perhaps introversion and extroversion isn’t just nature vs nurture, it is actually a part of us, we are born with it. We introverts just sense things more, we feel things stronger than extroverts do.
When I was younger I could fake it better. I would go to the bar and surround myself with people because that is what I thought I should do. And let me tell you, people have no idea how exhausting it is or how much effort is needed for what is considered basic social interaction. I can make friends with just about anyone, but I surrounded myself with people who were considered ‘cool’, people who were essentially extroverts, because that is what I thought I was supposed to do. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bad people, they just were people that didn’t understand me (how could they when I didn’t), and ultimately took advantage of me and I totally let them.
After reading Cain’s book, I finally understood myself and I can’t tell you how LIBERATING it feels! There was nothing wrong with me; I just viewed the world different. I need some quiet solitude to recharge my batteries. Parties with a large group of drunk people just is not my thing. I hate meaningless trivial conversation. Small talk bores me and I am not good at it. Want to talk for hours about our existence; I am totally down for that. Want to talk about how our day is going and I just want to stab a fork in my eye. That is just who I am.
I now understand why I needed 36 hours of sleep after two full days surrounded by people I don’t know, hardly getting to eat, and filled with anxiety the entire time. I even understand why I made a barn cat my best friend for probably the better part of an hour while everyone danced and drank upstairs. It was all just too much for me.
Finally, some decisions I had made in my life made sense. Working on a busy medical unit surrounded by noise and smell and people was a total onslaught on my senses. I do better in a quiet environment surrounded by paper I get to organize. I can be slightly OCD and it is totally okay and considered an asset where I work now! My weirdo tendencies in an extrovert dominant environment are actually assets in other environments. I may not be making millions as a big time CEO, but I have made a positive name for myself in my job, and have shown that I have equally valuable skills. And I have cut all of the people out of my life that brought drama, people that took advantage of me, people that made me feel like a lesser human being. I am happy with who I I am comfortable sitting at home with a good book or crocheting. I am comfortable letting my nerd flag fly and going geocaching. Another Harry Potter marathon? Yes, please! I am comfortable being myself. I am a proud introvert!