Being an introvert can lead to unexpected challenges in everyday situations. As I live my life, I am not always thinking first and foremost about being an introvert. So I sometimes find myself unexpectedly uncomfortable, and other times I know that I must face down a scary situation. Here are some of my personal challenges in living as an introvert.
- Let’s get the big, obvious one out of the way- crowds. What I don’t think is obvious to the extrovert is that I don’t need to interact with anyone in the crowd to become overwhelmed and exhausted. Simply being among a large group of people can drain me quickly and leave me on the verge of tears. For this reason, I tend to avoid festivals and large events. My ideal New Years is NOT a loud, boisterous crowd. Instead, it involves me being tucked in at home with snacks.
- Personal Grooming- I am a woman, and supposedly, women like spa days, manicures, and getting their hair done. For me, this might as well be a form of torture. All of these involve being trapped in one spot for a long period of time making small talk and probably being touched by strangers. Currently, I am growing my hair out, which is code for I literally can’t deal with a hair appointment right now. I read once that a salon was offering a quiet chair with no small talk expected and that right there is my idea of how haircuts happen in heaven. Give me a puppy or kitten to hold at the same time and I will get my hair cut right now.
- Making/Keeping Friends- Friends like to do things together and talk. Me, not so much. It is a constant struggle to decide how many times I can say no without people giving up on me. I have to balance my desire for friendship with my need to be alone. And yes, introverts do get lonely, so I have to figure out ways to balance my loneliness and my need for human interaction with my need for alone time.
- Work- I once had an employer tell me that I wasn’t so much a people-person but more of a paperwork-people person. She was being charitable. I am happiest working on paperwork, knee deep in policy and procedure. And yet, my job at a university has a high level of interaction with co-workers, students, and parents. I encounter a number of difficulties at work as extroversion is valued in the workplace.
At work, it is expected that you will be friendly with your co-workers, talk to them around the proverbial water cooler, and eat lunch with them. I attempt to do this as much as I can, but when co-workers are in my office talking at me, I am often hiding my hands under my desk and picking at my fingers in anxiety. I have to remind myself to say hello in the mornings, ask about weekend plans, etc. or else I’m am perceived as standoffish, unfriendly, and “not a team player.”
My job also involves the dreaded phone call. I am so excited when someone calls and chooses not to leave a voicemail or when they don’t pick up when I call them back. Of course, then I have to leave a voicemail and I often realize halfway through that I sound like an idiot but it’s too late. My mind is yelling, “ABORT! ABORT!” but I just keep speaking awkwardly and eventually hang up in shame.
Networking is luckily not a large part of my job, but we are part of an association that has large conferences where I am expected to form meaningful working contacts and instead I spend a lot of time looking at my phone and pretending to be very busy so that my neighbor does not talk to me.
- Speaking Up- Making myself heard has always been a problem for me. Even back in elementary school, I never wanted to raise my hand to answer questions when I knew the answers. Nowadays, I find it extremely difficult to ask for help as an adult, make conversation, tell people no, and advocate for myself.
Asking for help comes up in lots of different scenarios. If I can’t find something in a store, I will probably just leave without asking. Thank goodness for GPS because I would otherwise give up and go home. I don’t even like going to the doctor to ask for help and I’m always a little shocked when they understand what I need and actually help me.
Whether in meetings at work or at a social event, adding to the conversation is a challenge. I’m either feeling too shy to interject or I am overthinking things and take too long to decide on a suitable comment and the moment has passed. I recently started an online class which is a joy as I can comment fairly comfortably. Writing is my friend.
I am simply terrible at telling people no and, as a result, have become a master of excuses as that seems better than a more direct refusal. Like telling people no, I do not feel comfortable criticizing others openly or telling them anything negative. I absolutely hate to be the bearer of bad news, which unfortunately happens in my job at times.
Being “Difficult”- Any time I think I will be seen as being difficult, I just keep my mouth shut. I have silently accepted being overcharged, receiving bad or incorrect food orders or other goods, and not fully understanding what was told to me, all in the name of avoiding being difficult.
- Shopping- My two big pitfalls with shopping are running into people that I know at a store and pushy salespeople. I will go into ninja mode to avoid being noticed by an acquaintance in a store. And I always say, “If I need help, I’ll ask for it, so I wish they wouldn’t bother me”. But truth be told, I will probably just leave if I need help (see above).
Regardless, having a salesperson, or multiple salespeople, attack me when I come into a store is a pretty sure way to get me to leave the store. On the reverse side, I’ve been known to buy things I don’t really want because I don’t know how to say no to a salesperson. For this reason, I don’t make eye contact with those people in the kiosks in the middle of the mall. And though I love trying samples at grocery stores, I always feel guilty for taking them and often end up buying the thing just to be able to get away from the salesperson’s pitch without feeling guilty about that nibble.
Being introverted definitely affects how I maneuver through life, but it also gives me a really crazy, rich inner world. And though I have only a few friends, I value them and I’m loyal to them. At work, my skills with paperwork have gotten recognized and I have even been elected as VP of Records in the university-wide advising network, which means that I get to sit quietly and take meeting minutes. Being an introvert is different, but not a lesser form of being, and I try to remember that every day.
Edited by Viveca Shearin