I am an introvert.
This does not mean I have nothing to say. On the contrary, as evidenced by the over 20k words I’ve written on this blog to-date, my head is full of words. However, you may not hear me speak them unless I know you well and feel comfortable in your presence, and even then the conversation may be spartan at best (just ask my poor wife if you don’t believe me).
This does not mean I am a mute. People close to me know that I talk all the time — in-depth conversations, jokes, debates, silly songs and phrases, you name it. But put me in a group of strangers, or worse, make me the center of attention, and I’ll do my best Marcel Marceau impersonation for you.
This does not mean I am a poor communicator. Rather, I communicate in different ways. Whereas most people have no problem talking, I cannot properly organize my thoughts fast enough to speak what I want to say. Writing gives me the time to slow down and work through what I want to convey, allowing me to express myself in the most concise, thoughtful way possible.
This does not mean I have a fear of people. What some would see as social awkwardness is rather a defense mechanism created to reduce over-stimulation from large groups of people, whether I personally know the group or not. I thoroughly enjoy family gatherings, lunch dates with my work group, and outings with friends. 90% of the time I will be engaged, have fun, and add to the camaraderie of the moment. But I fully admit that 10% of the time I will occasionally need to step away and collect myself for a few moments.
[Makes my heart race just thinking about it.]
This does not mean I have no friends. Granted, the amount of friends I have is probably far less than the amount you have. To take it one step further, many of my closest friends are people I’ve only met in person a couple of times, or not at all. I’ve frequented online message boards and forums for two decades now, wherein numerous friendships have blossomed as a result of talking about books or movies, and those folks mean as much to me as the friends I’ve made via work, the community, or friends of other friends.
This does not mean I’m scared of the world around me. I am not a hermit. I do not yell at kids to get off my yard. While I do find that I need a certain amount of alone time, I *love* being in the world around us — walking, hiking, exploring, and experiencing new people and places. I may want an hour to myself to collect my thoughts or read a book in peace, but I will never shutter myself inside.
This does not mean I am lonely. I’m perfectly fine sitting at a bar by myself, sometimes chatting up the bartender, but often just watching the TV or having my face buried in a book. I’m not embarrassed to go to a movie theater by myself. I enjoy the solitude of a park bench or a walk in the woods. What feels uncomfortably isolating to you is akin to Heaven on Earth for me.
This does not mean I am depressed. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that you won’t find many people in this world who are happier than I am. I have a loving wife, great kids, a job I enjoy, a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a library full of books and music at my disposal. What else could I possibly want?!
[See? Look how happy I am!]
This does not mean I am arrogant or standoffish. Trust me, I do not think I am better than you just because I’m quiet and keep to myself. If anything, I’m a little jealous of my extroverted brethren because life seems just a little easier for them (even though I’m sure they struggle with their own set of problems).
This does not mean I can hide behind my walls. To hide is to isolate. Isolation left unchecked leads to emotional and mental breakdown. As tough as it is to step outside this epic fortress I’ve surrounded myself in, it is essential that I do so. My growth as a person becomes stale without risking exposure and yes, even pain, in the world around us.
[I don’t want to be the inspiration for a Simon and Garfunkel song.]
This does not mean I’ll get it right. I try my damnedest to stretch myself, to put myself in situations in which I’ve left my comfort zone, to enter into one of those “growth experiences.” Nine times out of ten everything will be a-ok. But that one other time, when I dip my toe in the water and back away, shaking my head from side to side? I’ll admit to my failure and, more than likely, learn more from it than I did the previous nine positive experiences.
This does not mean you’ll see me at my best. Sadly, the people who watch my shortcomings are *all* the most important people in my life — wife, kids, family, co-workers, close friends. It is not easy to disappoint people when you’re an introvert because, well, they’re all you have and they’re in short supply, and it was hard work letting them get to know you in the first place, let alone allowing them to see you screw up in glorious splendor.
Most importantly, this does not mean I will give up. Some days are a struggle — a home with eight other family members in it, an office full of dozens of colleagues, a world overflowing with people — but in truth they’re few and far between. I have never looked at my introverted nature as a problem; in fact, I wouldn’t have this life any other way. I may be misunderstood at times, but that’s ok, because I don’t fully understand how other people work either. What I do know is that all of us have something to offer, whether you’re quiet or outspoken, a wallflower or the life of the party. Don’t miss out on someone special because of your preconceived notions about either side of the personality spectrum, but especially those people you’d normally write off because they seem withdrawn. As the saying goes, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.
Until we meet again…