An Introvert in an Extrovert’s World

Today’s post is supposed to be titled “Favorite Nonfiction.” And it started out that way. But, I couldn’t leave that as the title, because, while this post is about my favorite nonfiction book, it is also about much more than that.

Susan Cain published Quiet in January 2012. Where was I in January 2012? Dating. Online dating to be specific. Meeting complete strangers for drinks at bars. It was absolutely terrifying. I was terrible at it.

And then I heard about this book. Or maybe it caught my eye at a book store, I can’t remember. But Susan Cain came into my life hard. Quite frankly, she saved me.

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For those of you who don’t know Quiet, this is a book about being an Introvert in an Extrovert’s world. Cain not only describes the differences, but also goes to great lengths to help us understand ways to be ourselves and still feel comfortable and confident in today’s society.

Not too long ago, my sister had my whole family take personality tests. I was not surprised to hear that everyone, except me, was some variation of extrovert. I had known that for years. They call laughed, though, when I told them mine:  INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging). The rarest type in society. Only 1% of people have this personality. Where this comes from in my family, I don’t know, but I’m definitely the odd man out.

Growing up in an extroverted family was not easy. I very much wanted to keep up with all of the social activities, sporting events, and oh please god just let me get a word into this conversation! But mostly, my brain kept telling me that my books were waiting upstairs in my room.

School, especially college, was hard. For many people, college means parties! New friends! Clubs! For me, college meant feeling extremely out of place in a very big environment. People seemed to cling together quickly and easily, and I didn’t understand why that didn’t happen to me. Classes required group projects, and because I was in the business school, my groups were filled with aspiring sales people and entrepreneurs. Extreme Extroverts! All of my ideas were overspoken and thrown out…if I even tried to speak them at all. It has always been a very big frustration to me when I try to add something to a conversation and I get interrupted. I’ll try again once, maybe twice. After that I usually give up trying to participate.

But let me get back to January 2012. Remember that very dark place I talked about the other day? I was desperately trying to pull myself out of it. I needed something positive, fun, anything. So…online dating. Fun right? I was going to meet people. Yeahhhhhhhh….mmmk. Introvert’s Nightmare.

But then I read Susan Cain’s book. And she taught me that introverts need to recharge after social stimulation. I also learned how to prepare myself when I knew that I was going to be out in a big public place or bombarded with social stimuli.

So, I’d pick a bar or a restaurant that I could easily control. I’d show up 15 minutes early, and make sure I already have a beer before my date arrived–through the door that I could easily see. It made me much more relaxed and able to enjoy myself.

And hey…I found my husband that way, so it must have worked right? (Except he came in the wrong door on that first date. And I spilled beer all over myself.)

Applying these methods have also worked in other areas of my life too. R knows very well my “Haley Limits,” as he calls them, and helps make sure I’m recharging when I need to. My work is busy, but I am careful to watch and make sure I’m not multitasking to the point of overstimulation (and that is a problem for me sometimes, as a bit of a control-freak). I’m blessed to be able to work out of my home, so that helps too–and I’ve made my office a very calm place to focus.

My relationship with my family has grown up quite a bit as well. Maturity has a lot to do with it, but also, I know now that I will never be able to keep up with all of their activities. When I’m home though, there is nothing we like to do more than open a bottle of wine and play card games. And that, I can most certainly enjoy.

I would encourage you, at the very least, to watch Susan Cain’s Ted Talk. She discusses themes from her book–specifically our society’s obsession with GroupThink. (Confession time, I’ve probably watched this 10 times.) And I really do believe that everyone, Introvert or Extrovert, should read Cain’s book. It is that important. Especially for managers, teachers, religious leaders, parents–anyone who has any type of coaching or teaching role, especially with children. It is crucial that everyone is included in this world, that no one’s ideas are left unheard just because they are not as bold or loud as others.

Because some of us sit here, behind computers, behind books. We have ideas too. Some of the most brilliant minds in this world have been introverts. And they only become leaders because they have to. Susan Cain mentions this in her Ted Talk. They come across more genuine because they aren’t trying to steal the spotlight. They are up on that life stage because there is something out there that needs doing, and who else is going to do it but that introvert who is going to make it happen? So they stand up, even though every part of them is resisting. And at the end of it, they are beaten and exhausted and drained and small. Sometimes, it kills them. But it must be done.

Who are you listening to?

A Lack of Baby Fever

A blog buddy of mine over at Pure Geekery posted yesterday about the battle between those who are childfree and those who are parents. After writing a very long comment in response, I thought I’d write my own post about it. This is something I haven’t yet blogged about here, because it is 1) not at all book related, and 2) a very personal topic. To see the original post that Nicole wrote, check it out here.

I will not be having children. Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I am married. And, as far as I am aware, I am capable. But, I will not be having children.

I say I, instead of we, because while my husband fully supports my decision on this, it is my body, and ultimately my decision. It is also a decision that was made, for the most part, long before he came into the picture. I’ve known since I was able to say baby that I was just missing whatever that THING is that maternal women have to make them great mothers. That need, that drive. I don’t have it. When someone would hand me a doll, I would look at it with incomprehension. Playing house to me meant building it, organizing it. It certainly did not mean taking care of babies.

However, the older I got, the more I realized how different I was. The societal pressure to have children is a real thing. Mommies are everywhere in our culture. I grew up in a very small town where, for the most part, the goal was to get married and have children. Sure, there was college and career goals. But, for women, many of those career goals all cycled back around to having kids. I don’t say that to cheapen it. Don’t get me wrong here. I have absolutely nothing against mommies, and certainly nothing against working moms. Dude, those women are killer. But, it’s what I heard, over and over and over again. Graduate, go to college, find a husband, have babies.

Why didn’t I feel that way? I wanted to travel! I wanted to read every book in the library! I wanted to see things, do things. Kids just were never on the agenda. I struggled with it for years while I was trying to figure out who I was.

When I met my first husband, the pressure became real. Over and over again, babies were on the menu for conversation. Every family gathering, every social event.

Now that I’m married again, those questions come up again, but because we’ve been more open about our intentions with our families, thankfully it’s a little easier this time. The questions mostly come from strangers making small talk.

Those conversations usually go one of three ways.

1. On rare occasions, I find someone who actually gets it, says ok, moves on to something else. They may ask why, but usually in this instance it’s a nonissue. I love these people. There should be more of them.

2. The person says, “Oh, I bet you change your mind. Having babies is the most important thing.” These people I want to smack. Because it isn’t the most important thing, not to me. See above. I have a loving husband. I read, I love to travel. My life is AWESOME.

3. Flat out judgement. These are pretty rare too, thankfully. But I’ve experienced them. They think I am broken, damaged. Something is clearly wrong with me. These are the conversations that shake me, make me questions myself.

 

Now that I’ve told you all that, to address Nicole’s article. I agree with almost everything she said. I wish this was a much smaller issue than it is. I wish there was not such a big divide between the women who have children, and the women who don’t have children. I realize it hurts people outside of those of us who are able to actually make a choice in this matter. I don’t want that. I know too many people in my circle who have struggled, to ever intentionally hurt them. I wish that not having children was more socially acceptable so that women were not instantly asked the question, “Oh, when are you having children?” It would solve so many problems.

This is a very real, very personal issue for me. This is not a fake fight, not for me. There are many women in this world feeling the pressure to have children who know that it is not the right path for them. I have made my own choices. And I am absolutely happy in those decisions. But that does not mean that it hurts less to be judged sometimes. And if I am vocal about my choices, or stand up for what I believe in, it is so younger girls know that it’s ok to feel this way too. You can make decisions for your own mind and body. They are important decisions. Think hard on them, think long on them. Don’t take them lightly. But you do not have to do what everyone else is doing.