Introverts Unite. Or Not…

“I’ve always been the one who runs from everyone, ‘cause everyone’s just too weird.” – Foo Fighters, “Gimme Stitches”

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a joiner. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

As a kid, I would find myself in some new situation and immediately gravitate to whatever spot in the room was furthest away from everyone else. I avoided birthday parties and school activities, unless I absolutely knew that one or two close friends would also be in attendance. Even then, it wasn’t a sure thing. I remember once my mom was dropping me and a friend off at another little girl’s house for a birthday party, and I saw a boisterous group of kids I didn’t know filing in the front door. I turned around, walked back to the car and said “I changed my mind. I want to go home.”

Back in my day, girls didn’t play sports, so I dodged that bullet. But there were the Girl Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls. They sold candy and cookies. I liked candy and cookies. I even liked the little uniforms. But I didn’t like any of it enough to join either group. If I could have dressed in a uniform and sold cookies from the beanbag chair in my bedroom, I would have been thrilled. But you had to attend meetings. And even at the age of eight, I hated meetings.

Things didn’t change much after I grew up, except that I had to learn to navigate new situations with a bit more diplomacy. On a social level, I could call the shots and pick and choose those things I would or wouldn’t do, but work would frequently put me in an uncomfortable situation (you can read that as any situation where I didn’t know anyone and had to attend meetings where hiding in the back of the room wasn’t acceptable.)

One of those uncomfortable situations came up just last week, but instead of calling it what it was – an awkward conglomeration of a meeting/conference where we would be subjected to PowerPoint presentations, speeches, and “icebreaker” activities, they called it a retreat and bribed us with breakfast and lunch.

To get to the retreat, I had to leave my house before 7:00 a.m., something I would normally not do unless said house was on fire. But I had to do this, because the retreat began promptly at 8:00, and was a good 40 miles away from home. In order to be there on time, I would have to navigate some of the worst rush-hour traffic spots in the DFW area. I had built in enough time to stop at Starbucks on the way, so at least I had that to get me through.

Except I picked the wrong Starbucks. It was the same one every other person in North Fort Worth picked. The drive-thru line wrapped around the building. It wasn’t looking promising. Undeterred, I parked the car and dashed inside. The line inside is never as bad as the one for the drive-thru, right?

Wrong. The inside queue was at least a dozen people deep. Back to the car. Sadly, this was the last known Starbucks between me and the Oklahoma state line, and I wasn’t going that far north. I made myself a promise to stop for an afternoon pick-me-up once I escaped the retreat.

I made it with nearly ten minutes to spare. I went to the check-in desk to claim my name badge, which was marked with a colored sticker and the number 11 on it. “What does this mean?” I asked the checker-inner. “That’s your table assignment. Look for the green sign with the 11 on it.”

Wait…NO! What fresh hell is this? I knew immediately. I was about to walk into a room with 300 other people, and I had randomly been assigned to sit at a table with six or eight of them that I didn’t know. Later in the morning, this strategy would be explained to us (as if I didn’t already get it) as a method of getting us out of our comfort zones and giving us an opportunity to meet new people and “network”!

Yes, because eating meals with strangers always brings out the best in me. To make matters worse, the coffee was nasty, breakfast was Continental, and it dawned on me that we’d been tricked. The event didn’t actually begin until 9:00. I could have traversed either long queue at Starbucks, gotten my coffee (and a breakfast sandwich!) and STILL made it there, on time and in a much better frame of mind.

Not too many years ago, I found an article online that described me to a T. It turns out that I am a classic introvert. And I’m not alone. Some of my best friends are introverts. Both my kids are. Author Dan Buettner, a contributing writer with Psychology Today, estimates that anywhere from 15-50% of the world’s population is made up of introverts. So what does it mean to be an introvert?

As explained in another article from Psychology Today, “Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits. Their disposition is frequently misconstrued as shyness, social phobia, or even avoidant personality disorder, but many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to.”

Exactly! I socialize easily, but mostly, I would just rather not. I throw great parties. I love happy hour with my girlfriends. People often tell me I’m a fun person to hang out with. When our daughter was married in 2012, I played hostess to a few hundred people, shook lots of hands and gave lots of hugs. I table-hopped all evening and tried to see as many guests as I could. It was great fun.

And the next day, I never got off my couch. I didn’t even leave the house for two days. It’s not that I don’t want to be sociable. It just takes so much mental energy, and being alone is the only way to replenish it. Perhaps that’s why I’m so happy when I’m in the kitchen. It’s the best place for me to recharge my batteries.

So how do I reconcile my introvert self with my overwhelming desire to go to work for an iconic rock band? How would I manage my dream job, or my plan to create a foundation that focuses on the job of feeding hungry kids? You can’t do those things from the safety of your couch or your beanbag chair.

I guess it comes down to this: when it matters, when it’s something that’s important to me, like standing by my husband at a campaign fundraiser, or celebrating a family milestone, or playing Jewish mother to the band that I love, or making a difference and changing someone’s life for the better. When it matters, I can always rise to the occasion.

And I will.

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