At last it is January. This is the time 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 this week we can relax; we made it through.
I speak from experience. My name is Diane and I am an introvert. It does surprise 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 part of myself 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, finally, I got it.
This is one of the blessings of being over 50. Along with the wrinkles comes a, “What you see is what you get” self-acceptance. It is a great relief to stop trying to be who you’re not.
But it’s no wonder that we introverts get 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 at the holidays saying, “How long do we have to stay?” Or we’re the ones in the center of the room assessing other people and slowly backing toward the door. Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.
Just so it’s clear: 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.
We saw that play out in the last presidential campaign. Most introverts knew immediately what that campaign-killing screech from Howard Dean was all about. That was the consequence of an introvert trying to act extroverted. I’m sure he attempted to follow the bad advice of media consultants: “Dean should be more outgoing, more vivacious.” Well, ya know what? Howard Dean wasn’t any of those things (nor was John Kerry for that matter).
I do think though that many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son. No, maybe I’m not 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.” But we Introverts do.
So let’s make January Happy Introvert Month. 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 we’ll have to stay home.