Two years ago I was completely fine with being alone. I was completely okay with going to class, taking notes quietly at my desk in the corner of the room, walking to my car and driving to work where I sat at a desk and didn’t have to be a social wizard. I was okay with going an entire weekend without talking to anyone other than my mom or brother.
I was okay with being alone because it was easy. But then I realized something kind of awesome: people are kind of awesome, too. I don’t want you to start thinking that I was that hermit kid who was home schooled and never had friends. Okay, maybe I was home schooled for a few years, but I promise I had friends. I was the kid that spent more time in her room reading than wandering the mall with a group of teenage girls. I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but I am so glad that I’ve found joy in community. That being said, I think sometimes I forget something: I’m still an introvert.
To avoid any confusion, let me make sure that we all know what I’m talking about when I say I’m an introvert. I think that sometimes it’s a little too easy for our culture as a whole to get these very extreme images of what introverts and extroverts are like. Mike Rugnetta talks about introverts in an awesome PBS Idea Channel video on YouTube, and he has a perfect way of describing just what introverts are not:
The caricature of the introvert is pretty familiar: Quiet and reserved, smart, and not too interested in social interaction. They retreat from spectacle and, much like a unicorn, appear only briefly on the horizon before retreating to their mythical book-lined intellectually stimulating home, which is built inside of a library which is itself built inside of CERN, underneath a mountain also made of books.
As incredibly awesome as that house sounds, I can promise you that, as a card carrying introvert, I am not quite that terrified of people. In fact, I think it’s important to remember that just because someone is an introvert does not automatically mean that they are terrified of people. For me it’s actually the opposite. I love people. I love having deep conversations with my friends. I even enjoy meeting new people.
So what exactly do I mean when I say I’m an introvert? Among other things, it means that I get my social energy from having alone time or quality time with one or two other people. Think of it as social batteries: whereas an extrovert usually needs to have high levels of social interaction to feel energized, an introvert usually spends their energy during social interactions. The degree to which this is true for each individual will vary from person to person.
For example, I’ve found that I feel energized most when I am either by myself or spending time with one or two of my close friends. For some reason, as soon as a third person joins the group, I find myself spending more energy to keep up in the conversation. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spending time in larger groups of people; it just means that I will probably be pretty tired later. Some of my other introverted friends can spend more time in large groups without getting worn out, while others can spend less time. It really depends on the person.
The important thing for me, though, is to make sure I remember that I need to recharge my batteries every once in a while. The last year or so I have been trying harder than usual to spend time with other people. The result of this has been great. I’ve made a bunch of new friends. I’ve pushed myself to do things I would have otherwise never done (i.e. studying at Oxford, making YouTube videos, going on an epic road trip, and even starting this blog). I’ve definitely come to better appreciate the joys of being in community and developing new relationships. But every once in a while I realize how exhausted I am because of it, after which I end up hiding in my room for a week reading Greek Mythology, Harry Potter, and watching reruns of Friends.
Hanging out with friends and pushing yourself beyond the boundaries of comfort is great. But paying attention to what you need to be healthy is important, too. I guess I’m still trying to find the balance I need to push myself without breaking myself.
Question of the Day: Do you struggle with finding the right balance between social time and alone time, either as an introvert or an extrovert? Let me know in the comment section below, and if you have any tips for how to find that balance please let me know!