I’m sitting here trying to motivate myself to do something with the day. ‘Only boring people are bored’ said my friend’s mum, when we were lounging about during the school holidays. The words live on in my brain. Sometimes I’d shut my eyes and try to imagine the universe in the strange shapes forming against the darkness. Stillness, mindfulness, meditation. All things that came naturally as a child but take practice and dedication as an adult.
Clearly there are things to do: sheets to hang up, cleaning, the tidying of paperwork and food shopping. There are decisions to make. But sometimes I give myself the treat of not bothering for a while, just allowing time to go by without any productivity. And this time feels somehow important.
I’ve been helping to run a group called Quiet Strength, set up by Em and Juliette. Quiet Strength is about providing a space and community to celebrate introverts, people whose personality can mean they often feel overlooked at work or in social settings. We run monthly meetups with a small number of people, to chat about different topics.
What’s the difference between introverts and extroverts? Extroverts tend to be outgoing, talkative and openly expressive, people often described as assertive and gregarious. They usually have a wide social circle and gain energy by socialising in groups of people. Introverts still enjoy social interaction, but prefer to have a smaller number of deeper friendships. They enjoy 1-2-1 chats and may dislike small talk. They like to think before speaking, taking time to process their thoughts. Introverts can find socialising in large groups draining and may need time alone to recharge afterwards. Of course, all personalities are on a spectrum and you may be a little of both. See the Myers-Briggs personality profiles. I love the illustrations!
The world is designed for extroverts. My mum tells a story about taking me to nursery class where I sat on my own reading quietly. The staff were concerned and asked if I had been socialised enough (poor Mum). I’m guessing I just felt a bit shy talking to new people and knew I liked books. It’s been a recurring theme through life that I’ve been told to smile more, be more confident, approach people more or be more approachable. ‘You are a lovely person, I just wish more people knew you!’ Yet now we understand introvert characteristics more, I wonder if I’ve always been ok rather than someone who needed to change. It’s great to talk to people who have their own version of this story. As someone who doesn’t always manage to connect with people, it’s a joy when I do.
Susan Cain wrote a book about introverts called Quiet which raised so much awareness of the topic, and now she has a new book called Bittersweet – how sorrow and longing make us whole. I haven’t read it yet, but Susan recently gave a talk at work about the theme of embracing a bittersweet or melancholic outlook to life. According to the quiz on her website, I am a bittersweet type of person (preferring poetry to sports was one of the questions!) She says:
Readers of my book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking will be interested to know that exploratory studies by Yaden and Kaufman show a high correlation between high scorers on the Bittersweet Quiz and the trait identified by psychologist and author Dr. Elaine Aron as “high sensitivity”. (“Highly sensitive people” might be described as those who respond intensely to all that life offers, whether a screeching car alarm or a gorgeous sunset.) Yaden and Kaufman also found a high correlation with the tendency to “absorption”—which predicts creativity—and a moderate correlation with awe, self-transcendence, and spirituality. Finally, they found a small association with anxiety and depression.Susan Cain
During the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations, I attended no parties but watched the crowds assembled for the royal family on TV. As the planes flew over Buckingham Palace, through my patio doors I heard the sky fill with noise and I realised those same planes were heading over my flat. I stood outside in the car park to watch. Then I went back to my sofa.
In the return to socialising, I’ve noticed those introvert traits swirling around. I had a big day out this week at the Chelmsford races on Ladies Day for my friend’s birthday. It was during the heatwave so there was lots of sunshine, music, colourful dresses and fascinators everywhere. We had a fantastic day in the lovely restaurant. Afterwards I needed to recharge and put my headphones in, using music and podcasts to block out the world. This has been the way of managing the solitude of the last 2+ years working from home. I walk around but I’m in my own bubble, in my head and in my thoughts. Branching out of this comfort zone is a muscle that needs stretching.
Slowly and steadily, I am trying.