Maybe There’s Nothing Wrong with Me After All

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

I was talking to a friend of mine (let’s call him Jeff) about a recent business trip he took. He said it went well—the business part of it anyway, but he said after spending long days in meetings, he was expected to socialize in the evenings by having dinner with his client and the local staff. And this presented a problem for him.

“I’m an introvert,” he explained, “I like being with people for a few hours, but then I really need to be by myself to recharge.”

He went on to say that he couldn’t bow out of the dinners because he couldn’t risk offending his client. Consequently, he came home feeling worn out, and had to lay low for a few days to recover.

I was probably standing there listening to his story with my mouth hanging open, because all at once I realized something about myself—something I wish I’d realized a long time ago. . . .

When I was growing up, rarely a day would go by when we didn’t have guests at our house. Our house was kind of a visitor drop zone. And the visits were very often all-day affairs. Even if the guests were people I genuinely liked (and many of them were), I began to feel upset after a few hours, wishing the house could be quiet and I could move around in our space without having to interact with anyone.

Because everyone else seemed to be having a good time, I began to think there was something wrong with me. I thought perhaps when I had a home of my own, I’d feel differently, but I didn’t. So for most of my life I’ve worried that there was a flaw in my personality. That is, until that eye-opening conversation with Jeff.

Jeff is a very fun guy. He likes having company. He loves dancing with his wife and acting silly with their karaoke microphone. He enjoys telling stories and telling jokes. So when he referred to himself as an introvert, I was surprised.

But then it occurred to me that sometimes when I’m at their house, I sense that Jeff is withdrawing. And I know it’s time to say our goodbyes and go home. I recognize these social cues because I also send cues like this. Could this mean I’m an introvert, too?

I never thought I was an introvert, because I like people. I have a lot of friends, and I genuinely enjoy spending time with them. (I always thought introverts were people who stayed in and read books when other people were out socializing; I thought they were shy and avoided human contact as much as possible.) My problem arises when I recognize it’s time for me to retreat and recharge, but I can’t find a gracious way to let my friends know that it’s time for me to call it a night.

After doing some research, I learned that introverts fall within a range of characteristics (some actually fit my preconceived notion); I recognize that I fall somewhere within the less extreme end of that range.

If you happen to be an introvert, some or all of these traits will apply to you:

• Being around a lot of people drains your energy. (Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by being with people.)
• You enjoy solitude.
• You have a small group of close friends.
• People may describe you as quiet and find it difficult to get to know you.
• Too much stimulation leaves you feeling distracted and unfocused.
• You are very self-aware.
• You like to learn by observing.
• You are drawn to jobs that involve independence.

Although introverts tend to be misunderstood (and undervalued) by extroverts, being an introvert is actually a good thing, as introverts share some very valuable qualities:

• They are good listeners.
• They think before they speak and are unlikely to act rashly.
• They are observant.
• They make quality friends and tend to be trustworthy confidants.
• They make compassionate leaders.
• They are happy working alone: a vital trait for those in many professions, such as scientists, artists, researchers, and writers.

So, if you know an introvert, give them their space when they need it; watch for cues that say, “I need to be alone now.” And recognize that they are people you can seek out when you need to share a confidence or get a thoughtful perspective from a listening ear.

And if you are an introvert, carry your introversion with confidence; some of the world’s greatest thinkers, inventors, musicians and artists are/were introverts, and the world needs what you have to contribute too.

Photo by Naitian (Tony) Wang via Unsplash


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