Confessions of an Introvert, by Steve Safran

Steve, rather splendidly, invites you into the mind of the introvert.

Here’s what you might not know about introverts: we love to party. Man, we love a good party. Stock a room with a dozen friends, cold beer, cheese cubes and The Beatles, and we’ll have a blast.

But then we have to go. And man, do we have to go. It’s nothing personal. Introverts need to recharge.

And that is the best and most brief description of “introversion.” We’re not necessarily shy or aloof or jerks (although I’ve been called those.) Instead, we’re running our engines at a different RPM. We’re not anti-social. At least, I hope that any of my friends will tell you I more than occasionally RSVP, “oui” and leave the home. But after being social, what I need, desperately, is the opposite. My friends know this to be true: Steve needs recharging.

Here is what introverts are not:

1. Shy
2. Anti-social
3. Wallflowers
4. Hateful of large crowds
5. Unwilling to speak in public
6. Unhelpful
7. Self-centered
8. Scared to try new things
9. Lazy
10. Constantly on edge.

Here’s what introverts are:

1. Open to new ideas
2. Comfortable around friends
3. Often gifted public speakers
4. Sometimes stupid and thoughtless
5. Helpful, but needing a little reinforcement
6. In need of quiet time
7. People who get it the first time. Or don’t. But repeating won’t help.
8. Easily frustrated by people who assume them to be on the previous list
9. Loyal as all get out
10. Seriously, we’re not shy. But we like to observe.

In my days as a speaker on the topic of local television, I would often be invited to conventions or station group meetings. What I loved: doing my presentation. What I hated: the small talk before. The times I’d get in the night ahead of the talk and a group would gather were social torture for me. I’d feel obliged to chitchat, but was so awkward that I came across as aloof (possibly feeble-minded). “Who the hell is this guy? He can’t even talk while playing pool.” Give me an audience, however, and Awkward Guy disappears. It was, therefore, a great compliment when one of the station managers said to my boss “Steve comes across as this shy wallflower, but get him on stage and he’s a dynamo.” (His word.)

But when the talks were over, I’d need to go back to my hotel room. Need. Show me Vegas, and I’ll show you a guy happily entombed in room darkening drapery. Vegas is an introvert’s biggest challenge. It’s like our final exam.

The best of my friends are used to my unpredictable recharging requirements. I can’t say they love it, but they know it happens. The nights will come, and I simply can’t go out. I will happily host a small gathering, but a large room full of strangers with Solo cups is, unquestionably, my darkest hell. I don’t work rooms. They work me.

Which isn’t to say I can’t handle crowds. Take me out to the ballgame. Fenway Park is my second home. (It certainly costs a second mortgage.) It’s the context. If I’m at a function full of people I don’t know, I can be OK – and if I have a “party sherpa” who will stay with me, introduce me to people, and not leave me stranded with the closetalker, I may even enjoy this. But when I need to leave, I need to leave.

Introverts, therefore, present a conundrum to those who love them. How can someone who is so outgoing at times be so quiet? Why does he save his “Big Personality” for other people and not me? Isn’t it convenient to suddenly need to leave? The answer lies in what’s left in “the tank.” After about six or seven innings, a manager may ask a pitcher if he has anything left in the tank. If the answer is “no,” the pitcher is out – no matter how good a game he has been throwing.

Think of an introvert as a gas tank in a gigantic, earth-unfriendly SUV. We can be big and loud and charming right through the appetizers, but if used too fast, we’re going to need to fill up again. And we intend to do that. After a nap. Trying to keep us going on “empty” will be as difficult as trying to push the Land Rover to Citgo.

(Extroverts, I’ve noticed, don’t run dry. They have a tanker on standby ready to refill them in midair with high-octane jet fuel, Red Bull, another witty anecdote, and a “funny dream” to share.)

I can see why anyone involved with an introvert would find it challenging. I’m here to tell you: we’re worth it. We’re sensitive – and we’re wicked empathic. We feel. We feel like crazy. We feel our feelings and we feel yours, too. We’re friggin’ feeling machines. This isn’t plain old sympathy – “Oh, Kimmy… that’s so sad your Aunt Esther died.” It’s being sad, right there with you, going to your aunt’s funeral: “I can’t believe Aunt Esther died!” I’ll lament. People will console me.

There’s something about “coming out” as an introvert that surprises people about me. It’s right up there with telling folks I have depression. My personality type is not what people expect, and once, rather unkindly was characterized as a passive means of garnering attention: “You just want someone to sit there and hold your hand.”

But that’s exactly it. That’s how you deal with an introvert. No solutions, no cheap sentiment or chipper clichés. You hold their hand, find their coat in the pile on the bed, and then the door. Maybe you even draw them a bath, pull the shades, and leave them be. The down time passes. The battery recharges. The tank refills. And now we’re able to be your dynamo.

Time to go home.

Time to go home.

 

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3 responses

  1. I like to call myself an ‘eccentric introvert’. (Feel free to use this). This was brilliant. Thanks for pillaging my mind and making me question whether Jung’s collective consciousness is more than just a theory.

  2. It’s very popular to call ones self an introvert now, thanks to the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” I guess. Also it probably sounds better to most people to claim to be an introvert than an extrovert – extroverts just seem so damn confident and cocky and unemphathetic, don’t they?

    I most relate to the *needing to leave* to be alone to recharge myself. I am as fun-loving as the next person, but I always get to a point at every social occasion where I feel like my skin is going to crawl right off of my body if I have to make small talk with one more person.

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