A few years ago during one of my periodic mental health checks, my therapist gave me the Myers-Briggs Personality test, which I had taken before many years ago. At that time, I pretty much ignored the results, not really understanding them and not having them properly explained to me, either. But this time, it was much different for some reason. Perhaps because I was older now, in midlife, and I started to feel a bit disconnected from myself and the ones I loved which made the results a lot more relevant and enlightening.
It said I leaned 98 percent towards being an introvert.
Maybe the ones I took in the past said the same thing, but I dismissed it summarily. After all, I didn’t consider myself shy at all and thought I was quite friendly in certain environments. That made me hardly an introvert, I thought.
But this last therapist slapped away those notions just as quickly as I had done because she had the wherewithal to provide me vital background and an explanation of what being an introvert actually was. I found, like so many others, that I was grossly mistaken and, after further investigation, that there was no doubt that I was who they said I was. It was an epiphany like none other I ever had before. It was a huge paradigm shift.
When I was younger, the thought of partying in a dorm room filled with drunk people, music blaring and lights flashing, was normal and something I looked forward to. A few years had passed and by my mid-20’s, I realized that that lifestyle had actually caused me much anxiety and I began to feel out of place and like I didn’t belong in the company of my own friends. I began to go to smaller gatherings and I felt more comfortable, but still had some anxiety if I stayed too long in any one place. Eventually, I became a blob on the couch, not saying anything and sticking to myself, which made me look quite anti-social. I even bowed out of any social life at all because I believed myself to be somewhat of a hermit. I felt more myself by being myself.
After that therapy session, I became engrossed in reading what it was to be an introvert so I could actually come to terms with who I was and attempt to regain some control over my identity. The book I read that exposed the lies I told my hermit self was The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney. What I learned blew my mind, what I found was a manual on how to be me.
First, it’s important to define upfront that introverts are not shy. They are selective. Their minds are wired in a way that requires them to recharge their batteries by being by themselves. They can attend, even host, large parties, but there is a limit to how much input they can handle before they need to simply walk away and gather themselves. This held true for me, as I found myself having an approximate two-hour limit on any gathering before I had to step away or, if I had no escape route, I may have needed a day or two to recoup.
Introverts are also bored by small talk. Oh, how true is this for me. I can’t begin to count how many times I avoided reunions with old friends simply because I didn’t want to do the whole “So, what have you been up to? How’s work? How’s the family?” type of dialogue. But, if you get me engaged in a topic I am interested in, I can’t seem to shut up. I can sit quietly all day on the couch during Thanksgiving, but if you start to talk football, I am all in. Talking about religion or politics? Hell, they ain’t no taboos for me.
I also realized that I am more productive at work when I actually do so from my virtual office and not when I’m seeded in the cubicle farm. Having the time to sit back and think without being interrupted allows me to fully vet my ideas and think through the process to the end.
I’ve always considered myself to have a real bad memory except when it comes to 1980’s pop music. For some reason, I’m a real idiot savant when it comes to that. My wife often jokes about how I don’t remember our first date, but I remember Timbuk3. It turns out that introverts have poor memory access unless they have an anchor to relate a specific memory to. Ask me to recall something on the fly and I look like I have poop on my head. But, if I happen to run across something random, like a song on the radio (e.g. “Never Say Never” is performed by Romeo Void) and I can probably tell you the first time I ever heard that particular ditty.
There are other things to note about us introverts, but that’s not necessarily the point here, I guess. This realization certainly helped me deal with my hobgoblins, but it doesn’t do too much good unless other people also have awareness as to how to deal with my kind. For example, in the workplace, there is a particular way to deal with an introvert to get the most productivity from them. Assigning them a task they have no interest or proficiency in will get you nowhere fast. But, if you have that introvert who is also very analytical, he/she may be able to crunch numbers like no one’s business. In the creative world, setting deadlines for an introvert is just fine, but standing over their shoulder watching their progress will only lead to them shutting down and becoming frustrated.
For kids, it is also important to identify an introvert. An introverted child will not be apt to raise their hand to answer a question, but when they do, be sure they will have the answer. If you call on them when their hand is on their desk, they will most likely stumble through and become very uncomfortable. Likewise, asking them to do an oral report on something they are disinterested in will probably yield an average grade and a bland performance. Get them to talk about their own interests and you will probably see their eyes open wide and an eagerness for them to share what they know or will learn through their studious efforts to learn more.
Everyone has a bit of introvert in them, that is true. Likewise, everyone has a bit of extrovert as well. It’s not so clear cut, so not everyone fits neatly into the mold, but when we are able to recognize and modify our means of communication and interaction with one another, we can all get along just fine. It takes some observation and consideration (something an introvert excels in, by the way) to understand and adapt, but it can be done. Extroverts marry introverts all the time and spend happy lives together. Workmates excel in teams when they are able to play to each other’s strengths and, finally, children learn and become more productive citizens when their teachers encourage their students to maximize their assets, rather than put them on the defense.
So, I’m not sure I have any other message but to inform and gain your consent that all people are not created equal. We each have our foibles, a different colored aura, a character that makes us unique. We have experiences that create our individual worlds and chemistry that shapes how we live within them. My world is my own, as is yours, but I am more than willing to share it as long as we’re talking about football, religion, politics or MTV.
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