One of my big problems is that I don’t talk to people. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I talk to some people, of course. But not enough, and not sufficiently often.
I am an introvert. Jonathan Rauch wrote a brilliant column several years ago about introverts. I always knew these things about myself but until I read that column I had never seen my particular situation characterized so accurately. Anyone who is not sure they understand introversion ought to go read that column.
The shortest way to explain the (affliction? trait?) is to say that people make me tired. When I was a kid and would get home from school, my mom would ask me how my day went, what I learned, etc., and I literally could not put more than a few words together in response to her. Most often I would say “I don’t remember”; I did, of course, remember but it would have taken serious mental effort to recount the day’s events and so I didn’t want to. Perhaps I’d retreat to my room to put on some records. This frustrated her to no end and from time to time she would complain that I didn’t “open up” enough but in retrospect the truth was that I was simply tired from spending however-many consecutive hours in the presence of other people and I needed some time alone to recuperate, in an almost tangibly physical sense.
For me, being around people is like acting. It is being on stage. Continuously, with no breaks or intermissions. When I’m around others I am super-conscious of everyone around me and their eyes upon me (when they are), listening to what they say and reading their body language, and I am on my guard. Surely you can understand how this can be tiring? It is certainly not relaxing.
Ironically, I spent several semesters in grad school as a TA – teaching small sections of 20-30 students. And “it’s like acting” is precisely how I always characterized it. And yes, it was extremely tiring. Maybe it’s not all that ironic to have gravitated to such a role. Some people say that actors themselves are often introverts and suffer from similar feelings.
By the way, one of the reasons I believe people are so tiring to me and, perhaps, people like me is that – I believe – I pick up on others’ feelings very easily. Rauch talks about introverts getting a lot of input from other people. Yes. The input is always coming in, and I’m processing it. So if I’m in a group of people, and one person’s unhappy, I might be the one who picks up on it. If someone’s rude to the waitress and she walks away scowling, I might be the only one to notice it and feel bad. If I’m in a crowded supermarket I know whether I’m likely to be obstructing someone.
I am the opposite of oblivious to other people in this regard. And that is because my brain is on such high alert around other people. And that is tiring.
So, as a result, I act introverted. In one-on-one conversations I’m fine but in a group I might clam up. With so many people around it’s “hard” to think of something to say, calibrate my statements, and pay attention to how others are reacting, all at the same time. So, more often than not, I just don’t. At parties I stand to the side. At “social” events, say a work-related wine and cheese social or something, I am completely hopeless: the socializing part seems like so much effort that I invariably think “why bother?”, grab my stuff, and go somewhere quiet to relax. Or home.
The reason I bring all this up is that, while I’ve generally achieved some good things in spite of my introverted nature – a wife, beautiful children, good education, decent job – it is starting to cause me real problems career-wise.
For I have, somewhat haphazardly, found myself in a job where introversion is going to be a career-killer, and it’s frustrating and depressing. The fact that I don’t “talk to” people (other than one-on-one, or if I already know them, etc.) isn’t just some cute quirk, it has and will continue to have real negative effects. But I don’t know what to do about it.
I’m pretty sure that blogging about it isn’t the solution, but at least it can’t hurt, I don’t think.
Anyway, that’s one of my problems.
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