My friend sent me a card the other day. On the front it says, “All up in the club like I want to go home.”
It made me laugh. It’s me all over. I’ve never really enjoyed parties. By 10pm I’m eyeing the door, exhausted from all the small-talk and noise and overwhelmed by the music and people.
For a long time in my life, I felt like a fucking weirdo for feeling like this.
And I also felt like a massive fake and contradiction.
I find being around people exhausting, you see. And yet I love being around people—and as a coach—spend a large part of my day, talking to lots of different people about lots of different things.
This contradiction led me to believe that maybe, deep down, I didn’t really like people. Which would explain the dread I felt about going to the birthday party of someone I barely knew and having to make conversation about the weather and various other topics that kind of bored me.
I also used to believe that maybe I was just awkward and rude. That I was flawed in some way.
I’d watch my partner smoothly work a room. Laughing in the right moments you’re supposed to laugh and gently nodding her head as she listened to Barbara talk about how she likes pork but doesn’t like lamb but also is partial to a bit of beef on a Sunday, all the while I’m stood next to her eyeing up the corner of the room where there’s fewer people and a tempting sandwich platter.
“Maybe you’re just shy?” My friend once said. But I knew I wasn’t shy around people. I love public speaking. Hosting workshops is one of my all-time favourite things to do. I used to be in a band and I’ll always speak up.
I am not shy.
I am an introvert.
It took me 10 long years to fully understand, and accept, my introversion.
I used to think introverts were these strange social recluses—still living at home, age 50—sitting in their rooms all day playing computer games in their pants with the curtains shut.
I didn’t realise that introversion has little to do with social skills and everything to do with emotional energy.
I didn’t realise that introverts can be some of the most fun, friendly, out-going and gregarious people you’ll ever meet, but that they also quickly become over stimulated in social situations and need to duck out.
I didn’t realise that introverts can be confident and assertive and brilliant public speakers.
I didn’t know any of this because introversion is not really talked about, is it?
We live in a world that sees introversion as something that can be fixed or helped in some way. “You must go over there and join in” we tell our children. “You just need a few drinks in you, then you’ll enjoy yourself more” we advise our quieter friend. “You’re always in your head!” we’re told, as fingers are snapped in front of our face, “Where are you?”
We work in open-plan offices where there’s little or no relief from the whirring of computers and people talking and telephones ringing.
Most social get-togethers are based on ‘the more the merrier’ and loud music and even louder conversations.
Team-work is lauded and we cram as many people as possible on a conference call to get our ideas and creativity popping (yet spend most of the call trying to dial in Roger from the New York office. “Are you there, Roger?”)
Nearly 50% of the population, however, find it hard to function this way.
Because they’re introverts, not weirdoes, as one of my clients realised during our sessions together, when I recommended she read the revolutionary book, Quiet, by Susan Cain. “Reading Quiet freed me from the feeling I always had that I was less than I should be. Less sociable, less confident, had less to offer than my more dynamic, outgoing, bolder colleagues. Finally I understood my need for solitude was to help me be at my best, not because I was antisocial or selfish.”
It’s been scientifically proven that the brain of an introvert is wired differently to the brain of an extrovert, a theory that explains why as an introvert:
—I prefer spending most of my time alone or in small groups of people.
—I’m often massively overwhelmed by excessive noise and lights and stimuli. A trip to IKEA or travelling through an airport or train station leaves me needing to lie down for what feels like at least a week.
—I prefer deep, one-to-one conversations over general group chit-chat. Conversation for conversation’s sake feels kind of pointless and mentally draining. It took me years to realise that when someone asks, “How are you?” they don’t actually really want to know how you are and the socially acceptable reply is, “Fine, thanks!” and not, “Well, I’ve been working through some really deep shit with my therapist recently.” (Party starter right there, Ladies and Gentleman). Similarly, the client who I mentioned above recently wrote in an email to me: “In contrast to my earlier acceptance that I had nothing interesting to say to people I found that I was just not comfortable with small talk and chit-chat, yet get me onto a subject I hold dear and I won’t shut up. So I am learning more self-compassion (after all 40+ years of being told I was too shy takes a while to unravel)”.
—I listen intensely, preferring to think things through first before speaking. It’s a skill I am proud of and something my clients often tell me they really like about our coaching sessions together.
—I find it hard to focus when working in a team environment, finding the barrage of information and opinions and ideas too much to take in—and I’m far more creative when left alone.
—I process and analyse situations internally and deeply, rarely blurting things out in the moment. This is why I enjoy running alone, swimming alone, reading and writing so much. I need time to unravel the confusing, spaghetti mess of thoughts in my head. (Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to process externally. Finding clarity and making sense of something as they talk it out).
—I slowly feel de-energised in groups or loud, stimulating environments (as opposed to an extrovert, who feels more and more energised). I’m like an iPhone battery that’s seen better days.
“Where do you feel most energised?” is a question I often ask my clients.
Extraverts feel most energised around people and objects outside of themselves whereas introverts are energised from within. (Which might explain why my friend’s fiancé takes books to read when he goes to parties.)
He’s not a weirdo. He’s an introvert.
How about you?