Accepting Introversion

Memorialized on my grandmother’s wall until the day she died was a horrible photo of me and siblings around the time I was ten years old or so. I had the biggest scowl on my face and literally had no other expression throughout that entire day.  

This childhood tomboy was forced to “dress up”, which probably meant a nicer t-shirt and jeans, plus I had to do something with this ridiculous mess of curls.  I never liked having my hair done, hence the mullet I sported in first grade.

In the days of Olan Mills I really do understand why I was subjected to that torture, but the primary problem was that I was accused of being out of sorts or a difficult child.  There was much less understanding and grace for kids learning to navigate their personalities back in the 1980s. 

I dreaded the attention.

I was mortified by feeling ostentatious in nicer clothes.

I had no space to recover after the fact.

No one comprehended that I needed to decompress after a stressful situation like having a stranger pose me, give me instructions, and be commanded to smile. I was just a little kid trying to cope.

College was the best of times and the worst of times.  I got to play soccer for a better school than I could have imagined, but that meant I had to live in a campus dorm.  People. All the time.  I traveled to soccer games, spending hours on buses, in hotel rooms, and never had a moment of head space to chill out.

One of my jobs in my twenties was very heavy on interaction with customers. They were coming to my department because of problems, so it wasn’t always easy helping them through the process.  Ten hours a day is a pretty big draw from someone who needed equal parts of recovery in those days.

I had a negative association with introversion because extroverts were the ones people loved. They were the life of the party, communicated well, and seemed to have favor with bosses and everyone else. I knew I couldn’t will myself to convert my DNA, but I felt I would never be successful with this “defect.”

I wish I had a defining moment to share because somehow those seem much more glamorous. 

Around the time I turned 30 I started a new job and began taking different personality assessments.  I had done Meyers-Briggs as a teenager, but never delved very far into it. After I took the DiSC and Strengthsfinder, I had a great mentor who helped me learn a lot about myself.  

The term “situational extrovert” was explained to me and for the first time I had clarity on why I could be fun and interact so well with people over the weekend at church, then crash on Mondays and recede into my cave of an apartment and sometimes even need Tuesday to recover.  I learned that being an introvert doesn’t mean I have to be shy, the way people had labeled me at times.  

I love people, but I have very definite limits on the amount of time I can love those people in a single situation. 

Allowing myself the grace to thrive in a rhythm that doesn’t make sense to most people was the most liberating awakening. I acknowledged that there is nothing wrong with me and God actually made me this way. It’s okay that I don’t want to be around people at certain times or that I need to cancel plans when I’m not in a place to handle further stimulation. 

For a few years I worked all weekend, then used Mondays as a buffer to recover from so much interaction and stimulation. Usually I didn’t see anyone and although I had great aspirations of doing fun things around San Diego I often ended up laying around watching quality tv like Real Housewives of wherever.

Once I was married, I didn’t have the luxury of a full day to myself, so another piece of growth has been constantly adapting what recovery looks like.  I still need it, but it has morphed over time. Now I have to communicate to Brooks when I know I can’t emotionally handle any interaction, even with him.  And maybe I only get an hour here and there throughout the week. I’ll take what I can get and I’ll maximize that space to the best of my ability.

With any self-discovery it’s possible to use that as an excuse to stay who you are in that moment. It requires dedication to personal growth to take inventory of who you are, but looks for ways to improve and reduce hindrances to the impact you can make on the world around you.

I have way too much left in life that I want to accomplish to stay who I am. I push my boundaries because they are like rubber bands. Your limits are stretchable and you won’t break when you go outside your comfort zone.  

Trying new things is a practice I make myself aware of, not wanting to get stuck in a rut. I force myself to go to networking events, to take initiative in relationships and work projects. I have reduced my recovery time when faced with opportunities to pursue my goals because I know if God is in it, He will provide the strength I need.

A lot of people still don’t get me, but I love my personality because it’s me and it’s why I’m unique. 

You are so cool exactly the way you are. Own it, keeping growing and learning, and don’t let anyone change you just because it doesn’t fit their tiny box of who you should be.