Ahhh, January 2. The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief. We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone, and to stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Hip Hip Hooray! The holidays are over.
Yes, from mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.
I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and, in fact, very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time.
I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side. But I finally got it.
This is also one of the blessings of being older. Along with the wrinkles comes a, “What you see is what you get” self-acceptance, or perhaps for introverts it’s, “Who you don’t see is what you get”. It is a great relief to stop trying to be who you’re not.
But it’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion, while being disdainful and suspicious of reflection and solitude.
I’ve learned to spot us though. We’re the folks walking toward a festive house saying, “How long do we have to stay?” Or we’re the ones in the center of the room assessing other’s interactions, and slowly backing toward the door. Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.
Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us. So does pretending to be happy or excited or anything that we’re not.
Many great leaders are introverts and I think that many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son. No, maybe I’m not being totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” and “make friends” or told they’re not leaders. We’re hounded to “be more outgoing” and tortured with invitations that begin, “Why don’t we all…” …No thanks, we don’t want to do anything that involves “we” and “all”. We prefer to visit you, just you, and not a dozen other people.
The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” Introverts do. So let’s make January 2nd, Happy Introvert Day. We’ll be quiet and happy. As a bonus, January’s weather is on our side.
You say it might snow? Oh darn, I guess I’ll have to stay home.