A World Gone Quiet

One of my favourite books is Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s one of those books that made me go, “Oh. So it’s not just me then.” It describes all the great things about introverts even though it’s a struggle to get that known because we live in a world designed for extroverts.

The subtitle of her book is “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Well, the world has just gone a little quieter.

Containment measures are being implemented across the world to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. People are being asked to stay in their homes and only go out for essentials. Non-essential activities have been cancelled.

The Australian Football League has just suspended the season. My son messaged me with the news and Messenger gave me the option to reply with “Yay!” It’s a little worrying that my phone knows me so well…

Of course, introverts around the world have responded to these extreme measures with “You mean I have to stay at home, limit contact with people and avoid crowds? Sweeeet!”

 

But what does it mean for the extroverts of the world? Well, dear extroverts, you get to walk in our shoes for a while. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? It feels unnatural and way outside your comfort zone, doesn’t it? It has sucked all the energy out of you, hasn’t it? Yeah, tell me about it. I live it every day.

Do not fear, extroverts. Help is at hand. I have long advocated for extroverts to make friends with at least one introvert. Introverts make deeply thoughtful, compassionate and loyal friends. We may not be good at chitchat but we’ll give serious thought to a request for advice. We’re unlikely to want to go to a party with you but we’ll come around and help you with a task whenever you ask. We won’t be the ones making the speeches but we’ll make sure the dishes are washed and the chairs are put away.

But now, we really come into our own because we know how to spend vast amounts of time alone.

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This will be good for you, I promise. You’ll have more time for reflection, for new activities, for careful thought and consideration.

It doesn’t have to mean hours in front of the television. Read a book, do a jigsaw puzzle, make some art. Lie outside on the grass or sit on your balcony and just watch the clouds go by or contemplate the stars. But do it slowly and deliberately. It’s not a thing to be completed as soon as possible, it’s something to spend time on and as much time as you have (which is likely to be lots, let’s face it).

If you’re craving physical contact, go outside and hug a tree.

If you’re allowed to leave the house, find a remote natural area and spend time in the nature. I promise it’s just as rejuvenating as a boisterous crowd if you allow your mind to settle in it.

Trees

Since contact with others has to be so limited and deliberate, utilising various virtual arrangements, take the opportunity of one-on-one contact to really talk to someone. And, more importantly, listen. Really listen. Who knows what you may discover about a friend that you never knew about them?

Take the time to be less task-oriented and just BE.

Extroverts, you can do this. After all, introverts have survived in an outgoing world for millennia. Surely you can survive a few months?

And remember, if it is all getting too much, your introvert friend will always be there for you. Because that’s what we do.

Just don’t expect it all the time. We’ll be enjoying the lockdown.

Introverts Are People Too

Type “introvert meme” into a search engine and you’ll find a million and one results. This is good for those of us of the internal variety not only to realise we’re not in there alone but they provide some handy resources to circulate in an effort to help the extrovert world understand our weirdness.

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There’s a common misconception that introverts are anti-social. We’re not. It’s just that being social can be exhausting for an introvert. Some people (extroverts) are energised by being around lots of people and talking. Introverts get their energy from spending time in their own heads.

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Does this mean we don’t enjoy being with other people? Of course not. Admittedly, we’re not always good conversationalists. We don’t do small talk. And for those of us with the double whammy of introversion and shyness, maintaining a conversation, especially with someone we don’t know well, can be agony. On the plus side, we make great listeners.

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Introverts can do social. We can even like it. It’s just that we prefer meaningful conversation with one or two people we know well. In a large social gathering, you’re more likely to find us clearing the table or in the kitchen doing the dishes. We like a large gathering if we have the option of moving in and out of social interaction with a job to do.

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Unfortunately, introverts – along with those ubiquitous memes about us – can sometimes be our own worst enemies. A plethora of memes about how we’d rather stay home or how social occasions cause us anxiety can have unintended consequences. Often it means that other people hesitate to invite introverts out for a social date. Let’s face it, an introvert will never be the life of the party (although personally I kill it with the Under 5 crowd) and rarely tops an invitation list. People think we’d prefer not to go, that we’re happiest at home alone.

Okay, yes, we are.

Just not all the time.

Introverts are people too and people need people (cue Barbara Streisand…). We can do alone but we also do lonely.

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So, if you’re not an introvert yourself but you’re lucky enough to be friends with one, don’t forget your homebody friend may be getting too much of a good thing. Ask them out for dinner or a drink or to see a movie. They’ll welcome it. Just don’t bring ten people with you.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Actually, given it’s from an introvert, this has been a Privately Expressed Suggestion.

 

In Pursuit Of The Other

Pursuit of the Other

I’ve been pushing the boundaries lately. Mine. The ones that surround my comfort zone. It’s…uncomfortable.

Participating in activities that are not usually the realm of introverts and certainly not shy introverts, my main fear is attracting attention.

Whenever I say that to other people, I can just hear the comment in their head: “But you act on stage! How is that not attracting attention?”

Yes, well, I can’t really explain that. It occurs to me, though, that I know a lot of actors who are shy or introverted or both; who are not natural centre-of-attention types. (I know plenty that are, too, but they’re often just in it for the fame and glory, rather than the craft.)

What is it about us as human beings that we feel compelled to pursue ‘the other’?

Like the sad comedian or the speech-impaired public speaker, what makes us push ourselves beyond our natural inclinations and voluntarily engage in activities that frighten us? What makes us want to do things that belong to a personality type the complete opposite to our own?

Of course, I only see it from an introvert’s perspective. I wonder if outgoing, extroverted people do the same, but in reverse? Are meditation classes full of highly active and talkative people? Are solitary retreats attended by people-loving extroverts? Do they find them just as frightening?

That’s a lot of questions. I don’t have a lot of answers. Perhaps it’s a pursuit of growth, an urge to know if we can do more or be more than the narrow view we may hold of ourselves.

Or maybe I’m just a little bit nuts.

 

 

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The Girl Who Wore Hats – From Introvert To Extrovert

The young girl stared at the book clutched in her hands on the desk in front of her. “Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me.” The litany went around and around in her head. “Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me. Don’t…”

She heard the teacher say her name. Hands shaking, a new litany began in her head. “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”

She stood, almost unsteadily, locking her knees stiff to stop them from shaking, staring down at the book. She risked a look and seeing the teacher staring at her, quickly looked away, embarrassed.

She began to read, her voice barely a whisper, conscious of the tremor but unable to prevent it. She reached the end of the assigned passage and sat down, relief and mortification intermingled. Even as the teacher thanked her and congratulated her on her expression, she continued to stare at the book on the desk before her, wishing she were somewhere else.

That was me, before my current incarnation. Those who know me personally but have only ever known the Current Me, would be surprised, perhaps even bewildered, to believe that public display was such torture to me once.

I am an introvert, with the added bonus of genetically inherited shyness. Ask anyone from my Earlier Life and this concept of Me will be confirmed. Ask anyone from my Latest Life and they will laugh and tell you, “She’s no introvert!”

People tend to think of introverts as shy and retiring, socially awkward, even anti-social. This is often not the case. My Fellow-Introverted-Friend recently shared an article listing the attributes of introverts (see Related Articles below). It is me to a T. Or an I, rather. (Thank you, Myers-Briggs.)

So, if I am a Tick All The Boxes Introvert, how is it that I am now mistaken for an extrovert?

Hats.

I wear hats. Imaginary ones. If I am invited to a party, I put on my Party Hat before I leave the house. If I need to stand up in front of an audience and make a speech, I wear my Speaker’s Hat. Teacher Hat, Actor Hat, Traveller Hat, Protester Hat… I’ve got an invisible wardrobe full of them, for all occasions.

Party Hat

Party Hat

Wearing my hat, I can be whatever I need to be, do whatever I need to do, say whatever I need to say.

I actually have quite a collection of real hats too and sometimes they can serve the same purpose as my invisible ones, helping me believe I am someone else.

There are places I go hatless. Places where I feel safe, like home, or places where I know in my heart that to gain all I can from the experience, I need to be the Real Me. Going hatless in public places can be risky. As long as I am left to be the Real Me, in all my introverted glory, I can cope. However, throw me unexpectedly into another role – ask me to announce something without warning, for example – with no opportunity to find and put on the appropriate hat, and I am left tongue-tied and embarrassed.

So next time you’re at a party, take a look around. There may be introverts among you. Try looking for their Party Hats. No, not those ones. The invisible ones. (Did I just tell you to ignore the real party hats and look for the imaginary ones? Boy, we must be at soooome party.)

 

 

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