You’re an Introvert? But I thought…

I have spent enough time on my own with my thoughts to understand that I’m an introvert. I’m single, and happily so. I depart social gatherings of >5 people within about two hours. I spend extended periods of time taking walks on my own or hanging out at home with no great desire to require the presence of other people.

And yet…

At last count, I had over 1,100 LinkedIn contacts and something like 860 Facebook friends. My primary place for walking around “alone” is Epcot at the Walt Disney World. Certainly those can’t be the behaviors of an introvert!?

Actually, they can. The internet is a curious place, and a great environment for an introvert who normally wouldn’t talk to others much to open up and share his or her creativity. Here’s the thing extroverts miss: you don’t have to talk to make friends on the internet.

Okay, and yes, I do actually talk to people in public. This has apparently become a misconception among those who speak more often. I’ve run conferences. I’ve managed events for crowds of talkative cheerleaders. It can be done, but there is a price to be paid. That price comes in the form of physical tiredness from trying to give every person you meet the benefit of your full attention. That’s simply the way introverts are wired. We can’t do “small talk” or “chitchat” without wanting to know the how and why behind why someone said something. Call it Compulsive Analysis Disorder if you like.

If you’re someone who spends a lot of time alone, you get used to certain things, like time, peace, and quiet to collect and organize your thoughts. I made the mistake of attending a college football game in person yesterday, and I was a bit overwhelmed and drained by all the noise around me. I’ve been watching football games at home, at the homes of friends, or in saloons for over 25 years. The number of people and level of noise present in an actual stadium is considerably more than what I normally experience in my preferred locations. In similar wise, I haven’t attended a live concert in 15 years and am no longer a regular movie goer. Both activities involve large crowds, over-stimulation (too much/too loud noise), and a need to speak more loudly than I might prefer.

All that said, I spent most of the first half of my life rather talkative–even too loud or outspoken, now that I think about it. That made me (initially) a good fit for Disney, where talkative and sociable are an accepted and expected part of the schtick. However, it was in my twenties that I came to realize that I was happier in quieter areas, away from large groups of people. When the opportunity came up to apply for the Disney Cruise Line, I considered it, then recoiled in horror: imagine interacting with the public all day but then at the end of the day being unable to drive some distance away from the crowds and enjoy the peace of your own space! Cabins are shared on the cruise ships, and there really isn’t anywhere you can go to “escape.”

It wasn’t until I started working as a writer for a living (a relatively quiet job) that I began to relax with the Mouse. And as I was moving on to technical writing, I realized it was just in the nick of time: the “Guest Letters” department was about to be transitioned from a literary to primarily a verbal activity, with guest concerns handled over the phone. The thought of talking to strangers all day–apologizing for problems, no less–was a bit too much to take. One of the office extroverts was excited–she couldn’t think of anything better than to do that all day! So even before “introversion” became more of a social [sic] phenomenon, I was learning a lot about how I operated among people. And while I can work with groups–even large crowds–that doesn’t mean I prefer to do it every single day. If I do have to work with large groups multiple days in a row, I come out of it tired, grouchy, and in deep need of time alone.

Again, I have friends who are surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert because I’m “so friendly” at work. Introverted does not equal unfriendly. It’s perfectly possible to be friendly and talkative as an introvert. However, at the end of the day, that introvert often will go home or some other quiet place to savor silence–others’ and their own. It’s not a reflection of others (most of the time), it’s simply the way we’re wired. And it’s a mistake to underestimate an introvert’s ability to interact with others. We understand people rather well; but we can be selective about how much we put that understanding to work. Just some food for thought from an introvert with more connections than one might find “normal.”