Before I learned I’m an introvert, I didn’t understand why I sometimes felt so icky around people.
For years, I used to think of “introversion” in the more conventional, dictionary sense — I equated it with being shy. For that reason, I didn’t identify as an introvert until I was well into my 20s. I’m not shy and I don’t have much social anxiety — traits many people (wrongly) associate with introversion.
But something always felt off when I was in groups, especially in casual settings. I did better in formal settings where there was a clear agenda for the discussion, like a brainstorming session at work. Yet, if my colleagues got together for an informal “just chill” session after work, I’d feel completely lost. I’d be visibly uncomfortable and unable to carry on small talk with colleagues I didn’t know well.
It wasn’t any better at home. Throughout my early adulthood, I lived with a bunch of roommates. That meant constantly having to adjust to the people around me. On Friday nights, I’d often want nothing more than to go back to my room and curl up with a book. But my roomies usually had weekend plans they were super excited about. Not wanting to be the only spoilsport, I reluctantly tagged along.
I like people — well, at least most of them — so it confused me that I couldn’t pinpoint what made me feel so icky around them sometimes. After a while, I just couldn’t stand anyone, and it started to show.
This went on for quite some time until one day, during a college class, a business professor offered a different definition of introversion:
Introverts tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large gatherings.
This was a eureka moment for me. Yes! This is what I am! This is exactly how I feel.
Introverts Have a Different Social Tolerance
It was the key I’d been looking for, one that helped me understand that I was not the problem, and just as important, people were not the problem. It was all about the type of interaction and how much energy I had to spend on that interaction.
Once I became aware of this energy equation, I was able to analyze my socializing issues in that framework and everything started to make sense. Slowly, I could make out clear patterns in my behavior. Soon, I knew what worked for me and what didn’t.
With this new perspective, I could clearly identify some ground rules for myself to manage my own introverted energy in a positive and constructive manner. Some of my reflections became fodder for my webcomic illustrations, which became a way to express my thoughts and frustrations.
I’d like to share some with you. Here’s the introverted life, illustrated.
Conserving Your Inner Battery Is Critical
I understand that I have different capacities for interacting with different sets of people. With my close friends, I feel at home and could go on for hours. With just casual acquaintances, I can activate my “power mode” for a limited amount of time, if I need to. However, my appetite for large gatherings is very limited.
With enough experience and perspective, I’ve come to understand that I gain nothing from attending noisy parties and large events. And, really, I don’t lose anything by skipping them. If I still choose to attend a big wedding, for example, I go with a clear understanding of my reason for showing up. (It’s a close friend’s wedding, so I’m there for her.) That lifts the pressure off trying to make it more important than it should be.
I also go with a clear exit plan, if possible. This simple realization has actually made my social interactions much more pleasant.
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Solitude Is Precious
I have also come to understand the importance of guarding my solitude.
I am no longer defensive or apologetic about having to say “no” to group plans. As much as my extroverted friends need to “go out,” I need to “stay in” and recharge over the weekend. By communicating that clearly and directly to my friends, they also feel less awkward about the times I end up turning down their offer. The “she never joins us vibe” turns to “yeah, she’d like to be left alone today.” That is so much easier for everyone involved.
Also, there are some things that I can do only when I am alone. Anything that needs my complete focus or anything that is creative requires me to be alone. If I don’t set aside specific time, I know they’ll never get done. I’ve tried getting a creative project done with people around me, and it doesn’t work. It just ends up creating frustration.
When I’ve had enough alone time, I feel refreshed and ready to meet people. I even look forward to it! Knowing that the social interaction is intentional rather than an obligation gives me a sense of control and thus makes it much more pleasant.
Happiness Means Finding Your Balance
By balancing social interactions with time alone, I ended up finding the energy I needed to manage my relationships better.
I also realized that some situations are better suited to my communication style. I like one-on-one conversations as opposed to group meet-ups. So, if I want to connect with a new person, I will try to set up a coffee meeting with them. It has worked out so much better than trying to make quick connections with random people in large “networking” dinners. Now, I limit myself to enjoying the food at such events!
At the end of the day, it’s on each one of us to figure out what works best. We can’t check all the boxes and make everyone happy all the time. Sometimes, it’s okay to say no. Sometimes, it’s also okay to step out of your comfort zone and say yes. Push your boundaries, but do not lose yourself. Make time for some real connections. Also, make time for yourself.
Go find that balance!