Surprise! I’m An Introvert

Should I say it louder….for the people in the back? Or maybe for the people sitting right in front of me saying “You are not!”

Let me assure you – I AM!

I’ve spent a significant portion of my life believing there was something about me that needed fixing. I struggled to understand why I didn’t enjoy the parties and events my friends did. I joined clubs in school. I went to dances and skating parties. I was a cheerleader for nearly a decade. I took positions that would put me in front of crowds. I didn’t hate those things, but there was a relief that came when I could go home and close my bedroom door and shut the world out. I didn’t understand the importance of that relief.

It has taken me to the second half of my life to finally realize who I truly am. I am an introvert. The older I get, the more deeply I feel this and work to embrace my authentic self. It is not easy in a world designed for extroverts and focused on constant group engagement. It feels so damaging to be questioned about my introversion. This is not something others can necessarily see, but it is core to my identity. When someone tells me they don’t believe I am an introvert it feels like an attack on my authenticity. And that is heartbreaking.

I am not shy. I am socially anxious and uncomfortable. I do not dislike people. I do dislike loud, crowded places. I am not lonely. I am most comfortable when I am alone or with a close friend or two. None of these things needs ‘fixing.’ None of these things makes me ‘less than.’

Simply existing in a extrovert-friendly world as an introvert is a challenge. Add to that a need to constantly explain why you are ‘not like everyone else’ and we are taxing our systems too much. I don’t care if anyone understands why I decline busy events or why I am uncomfortable in certain situations. All I want is to be respected for what I am comfortable or not comfortable with.

Why are reserved individuals encouraged to speak up and engage more, while gregarious ones are not told to quiet down? Why do we ask “why are you so quiet?” more often than we ask “why are you so loud?” Why is participation so often part of the grading structure in classrooms and why are extra writing or research assignments not accepted as participation? Why do we continue to build and allow a world that is set up for introverts to struggle and be more likely to ‘fail.’ (note that the definition of failure here is clearly set against an extroverted backdrop)

I currently find myself in a temporary office location due to unforeseen and tragic circumstances. I went from an office of my own with a door I could close at will to give myself the space I needed to regulate my internal systems during the day, to one large room shared by 10 individuals with different work habits and needs. I am 12 weeks into this space and only now beginning to function adequately here. I sit in this brightly lit area, surrounded by sounds of typing and stamping and phone calls and eating. I listen to the joy from others at being together in the temporary space. I hear them talk about how much easier it is to function when they don’t have to move from office to office. Meanwhile, my amygdala is screaming at me non-stop “YOU’RE NOT SAFE!”, encouraging me to run away. I am on high alert my entire work day. It is exhausting. Obviously, I was not actually in danger, but the assault on my (over-sensitive?) system was making me feel this way. Have you ever felt truly scared – with your entire body? How productive or cooperative do you think you could be in that moment? It is has been a monumental struggle for me, impacting my work and my mental health for three months. I am not comfortable in this space and I am working to find ways to make it survivable for the time we need to be here, but I am often surrounded by people who don’t understand my struggles. It does not occur to many people around me that these conditions could feel so aggressively offensive to me. This has been the time I felt like an outsider the most as an introvert. (*edited to note: numerous individuals were displaced due to building damage from a storm. Many people are making temporary spaces work to the best of our ability and understand the need for these accommodations)

I am so thankful for introverts like Susan Cain and Matthew Pollard (among many others!) making waves in the world and quietly shouting in support of introverts. We’re not strange. We don’t need fixing. We don’t need to get out more or push our boundaries. We are whole and beautiful exactly as we are. We are entitled to say “no, that’s not a good fit for me” without further elaboration. We can be boisterous in the comfort of our trusted groups or one-on-one and still be an introvert with a need for quiet to renew our batteries.

National Introvert Week (in March) was developed by Matthew Pollard to celebrate all that we are and all that we can accomplish with the skills innate to introverts. Embrace the quiet within you and learn more about how you can thrive as an introvert. You are valued exactly as you are!


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