I am an introvert.
I’ve been an introvert from the beginning. My mother tells tales of me playing and reading quietly in my room for hours with nary a companion as a child. I liked it like that.
Not much has changed.
When I get up on a stage to speak, in front of a thousand or a dozen, I still feel nauseous. As a speech minor in college (a late in the game decision I made when I decided I’d go to law school), I threw up before every speech I made. I made straight As but suffered through every class.
I comment, every now and again, to an audience or a team, that I tested as one of the most introverted people in a Myers-Briggs test administered to a board of 40 lawyers. They laugh. You’re not an introvert, they scold.
I don’t look like an introvert, I retort, but I am most certainly an introvert.
I married an introvert.
I’m raising at least one, maybe two, introverts.
We exhibit very differently.
My husband hates parties, doesn’t enjoy talking to new people, and has a handful of friends. He prefers to be around family or by himself.
My daughter likes the ideas of parties, but they quickly overwhelm her, and she will hide behind my legs when forced to meet or talk to new, or less familiar, people.
I can speak to a thousand. I make conversation with the people who line up during a book signing. I have a lovely group of girlfriends.
But I still can’t walk into a room full of people I don’t know and strike up a conversation. I’ll hide in the bathroom until someone I know arrives (hopefully an extrovert). And I’m completely drained after attending almost any event.
I love the advice given in Quiet (by Susan Cain) for those of us introverts, disguised as extroverts, who have to survive.
For those of us called to public speaking, Cain advises to minimize the stimuli before a speech. All of those power poses and amping yourself up don’t work for an introvert whose blood is pumping and heart is racing and stomach is flipping.
My own introverted ritual before a speech is to: avoiding eating (I never have lunch at a lunch event because of my queasiness, I eat afterwards by which point I’m starving), keep water handy, pray that God will use me regardless of the topic or audience, and read a few scriptures from a series I wrote about words before I ever knew how handy they would become.
Next up, Cain recommends recharging. She warns introverts can burn out more quickly by having to act out of character – behaving as an extrovert because of our work or circumstances. She well knows the ways introverted lawyers can burn out. She was one.
The key: find a way to recharge. What works for you? For me, a handful of things work wonders. Writing and reading are always deeply restorative activities, satisfying my craving for solitude and quiet while giving an outlet for my love of words. I’ve also come to breathe much more deeply on the porch at my husband’s family farm where I can sit still and watch the sun set. Who knew that this lifelong city girl who used to hole up in her room to survive would come to crave the wide open space of the country?
I love that I’ve adapted to circumstances as an adult so I can engage as an extrovert when needed, but I’m proud of my introverted nature and take care to build in space for me to refuel.
How about you? Introvert or extrovert? How do you adapt to situations which require you to stretch beyond your comfort zone?