“Come on Heather, aren’t you going to the Get Drunk and Eat Doughnuts Ride tonight?”
“Don’t forget, January 1st is a holiday. See you at the First Day of the Year Ride!”
“Happy hour tonight at the Fifth Quadrant! You’re coming, right? Why not?”
As soon as I started working at the BTA, my “free” time started being eaten away by bike-related events I was not being paid to attend, but was at least in some regard expected to be at nonetheless. Even on weeknights, many of these events lasted until 9pm or later–after which I had a minimum one hour bike commute home. I enjoyed many of my coworkers, and didn’t want to be seen as the Negative Nancy in the office, so I often went, dragging my heels. On the occasions I did refuse, I was often needled about it by someone.
Between on-the-job stress and these extracurricular expectations, by the end of my time at the organization I was starting to come apart at the seams. Sleepless nights. Stomachaches. Excusing myself during staff meetings to go sob in the bathroom because I was just so tired and so unhappy. After reaching out, professing my burnout to my new boss in a teary meeting, I was laid off just a couple of weeks later. Interesting.
It was around this time I first read the book The Introvert Advantage and was reminded of what seemed like a radical concept: constructing your life around your needs instead of trying to fit into everyone else’s expectations. Mindfully preparing for success by drawing lines around yourself. And oh yeah, in the expectation to keep up with the bikey Joneses I had totally forgotten that I’ve always been a textbook introvert.
What’s the difference between an introvert and extrovert? Extroverts gain energy by being out in the world, soaking up a variety of stimuli, like a solar panel. If left in a room by themselves for too long, they feel drained. They need to be out constantly experiencing new things to gain energy. Introverts, on the other hand, are more like a laptop battery. Going out into the world drains us of energy, and to be functional we often need quiet alone time, plugging in to recharge before going out again. If an introvert isn’t getting their proper alone time it shows, as described in this awesome Atlantic Monthly article. And much like our different belly buttons, neither being an innie or outie is really better than the other. They’re just one of our many human variations.
While the introvert/extrovert thing is on a spectrum (meaning most people aren’t 100% innie or outie but somewhere in between), western society values extroverted character traits more. Extroverts are likely to not understand introverts (see here!). And because extroverts are the majority, it’s pretty easy to feel roughed up as an introvert in an extrovert world. Finding like-minded introvert friends is difficult because by definition we spend a lot of time at home quilting, or writing, or studying mayfly variations, or building bike frames.
My introvertedness was likely a product of both breeding and environment. My mother, who people say I am a lot like, spends as much of her free time as possible by herself, and gets cranky when family members won’t leave her alone. Growing up as an only child, I often had only myself and my dog Meggie after school, which translated into memorizing dialogue or the songs from Labyrinth every afternoon. (An eight year old entertaining themselves this easily, and for so long, is unusual.) My brain is so detail-oriented to this day that I can listen to one music album, or mull over one thing in my head all day, and never get bored. Staring out a window while drinking tea and contemplating comes more naturally to me than physical busywork. (This is probably why my yard looks so awful.)
In the time since I was laid off from my job, I have been doing some serious resting up. When I see people, I do it on my terms–one on one. None of this noisy happy hour business, or forcing myself to go to every single party and try to feel comfortable when the noise makes my head spin. (In December I was so drained I fell asleep in the living room at a New Year’s Eve party, without having had any alcohol, within minutes of arriving. I left at 11:55. True story.) If it weren’t for the internets, I’m pretty sure all but a few of my bikey friends would think I had recently died or moved to Sri Lanka.
I’m starting to venture out a bit more these days, and interestingly enough, I’m seeing signs in some friends that they aren’t honoring their 7% or 50% introvert, and how that’s impacting them. This post is partially a quiet encouragement to all to rebel against group-think and do what you need to do for yourself to be happy and functional.
Are you an innie or an outie? How do you successfully balance your needs for alone and/or together time?