I first heard Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts” TED Talk while driving to Emmaus, Pa., for a meeting with my editors at Runner’s World magazine. I had geared myself up for what I considered an “appearance” – not just in putting on pants that did not have an elastic or tie waist band, but in having worlk discussions with people face to face, not over email.
I always enjoy these meetings, which usually involve running and lunch (so, yes, there is an elastic waist band involved though I do not show up in running clothes), but I always feel drained at the end, and I knew that I would expel a lot of energy in the next few hours.
The shortest route to the offices is a complex one, and I still rely my GPS to get there. I was so enthralled in Cain’s talk that I had to pull over. Someone, finally, had put words to why I prefer working at home, think the idea of co-working is insane, and why sometimes I just need to stay home on a Saturday night and read instead of going to whatever event I’ve been invited to, even if it’s with people I really like.
I’m an introvert, and so is Sophia Dembling, who blogs about being so for Psychology Today. In The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, she delves into what it means to be someone who is inward and quiet but not shy or awkward, and why being this way isn’t such a bad way to be.
One of the things people say when I tell them that I’m introvert is that I’m wrong. But you’re so outgoing! You can go to a conference and talk to people all day! You don’t fear public speaking!
This is true, but I can only do these things in pockets of time, with breaks in between. As Dembling writes, “I am introverted and not shy. This means when I want to step out from my own head, I can do so without much trouble. But I don’t always want to. For example, my job often requires traveling and touring different areas with groups of people. Some days, I am right in the middle of things, chattering and joking and bringing my happy noise to the proceedings. Other days, I’m just not interested, so I hang back, let others have the spotlight, and enjoy my own company.”
This happens to me, too. Sometimes I’ll go out to dinner with a group and just listen. I couldn’t identify why before. Now, this book has helped me see why.
Dembling calls acting like an extrovert the “dog and pony show.” I know this because I do this all the time. I must for work. Sometimes I enjoy it. I love going to a big writer conference in New York and talking to editors all day. But I only go for one day instead of three, and I never go to the large group dinner after because after eight hours of it, I’m wiped out and want nothing more to be in my bed with my dog and a good book. Or if I stay later, I’ll have dinner and drinks with one or two people where I can really be connected with them instead of watching a cloud of noise around me.
I realize now that I’ve always been this way. As a teenager I’d mow the lawn because I enjoyed the alone time walking in circles with little effort because it gave me space from my family of six people (I believe this why I enjoy running now – it gives me that same sort of space from people and technology). In college, I would get up extra early and go work in my newspaper office before the noise of the campus woke up because I needed that peace. When I worked in offices, cubicle life terrified me, and now, as a self employed writer, I write from home. No coffee houses or co-working space. The idea gives me the creeps. I want to be in my space doing my thing. It’s how I work best.
I also take Dembling’s warnings about getting too comfortable being alone and using introversion as an excuse to not go out. My boyfriend and I broke up two weeks ago, and since then, I’ve been living with my mother while I wait for my tenants to move out of my house so I can move back in. In those two weeks, I’ve set up an office on my mother’s dining room table, seen a good friend in Washington, DC, and spent a few days with my father. Today, I met with a contractor and my tenants and talked talked talked for hours. My urge has been to hibernate, but I let these well meaning people push me out and into the world, and some of these meetings are necessary so I can go back home.
Now, though, I’m exhausted, which is why on a Saturday night when people whose company I enjoy are out at a bar local to my mother’s house, I stayed in. Mom’s out of town, so I had my quiet. I did my nails, finished reading this book, made myself dinner and watched some TV. I’ll watch more after I’m finished with this review. I could have made myself go out, but I knew I needed this time to be me – really me. I just can’t get too introverted when I am really back to my home and living alone again, which was very easy for me to do before.
My quibble with The Introvert’s Way is that it’s too long. There are many chapters about parties and crowd aversion that could have been consolidated into one. As I kept reading, the quips grew fewer and far between, and my attention started to fade. This might have worked better as a shorter work, though it’s already a short one. I read it in three days.
It’s still worth a look if you’re an introvert, or know someone who is – especially if this is a person who is important in your life, like a partner or spouse. Introversion is hard to explain to an extrovert. This book does a good job with that task.
I ended up pitching an idea to Runner’s World based on that TED talk about how different people run. I’ll post the link when it’s live.