Monthly Archives: February 2011

Being an Introvert

All my life, I’ve struggled with the fact that I am an introvert.  Wait…that’s not entirely true.  I’m an extreme introvert – possibly the most extreme you’ll ever meet.  And I’ve realized that I haven’t struggled with being an introvert as much as I’ve struggled with the world’s definition of an introvert.  I was always taught that being an introvert is a bad thing.  How could I possibly be happy unless I was an extrovert like the majority of the world?  For most of my life, the introverted part of my personality was the thing I wanted most to change about myself.  I felt like it isolated me, it made me different, and I didn’t want to be different.  I wanted to fit in.

Over the last few years, I’ve started to understand what being an introvert is really all about.  In the last few months, it’s something that I’ve not only understood, but something I’ve accepted – proudly.  I love being an introvert.  Yes, there are still times when I wonder what it would be like to be an extrovert, but the main thing that I’ve learned over the last few months is that the world misinterprets introverts, probably more than any other personality trait.

Most people lump the word ‘introvert’ in the same category as ‘shy’, ‘reserved’, ‘withdrawn’, ‘quiet’, and ‘antisocial’.  None of those words have anything to do with being an introvert.  Over the course of my life, I have known many introverts.  For each of those words that the world considers synonymous with ‘introvert’, I can think of an introvert in my life that does not even remotely display that characteristic.

Shyness is ultimately based in fear.  That is not to say that shyness is a bad thing.  Shyness can be beautiful, especially in today’s world of ‘tell all’, attention grabbing, spotlight mentalities.  But it is rooted in fear.  Fear is not always bad.  We steer away from danger because of the fear of what may happen.  The little hairs that stand up on the back of our necks are triggered by fear.  It can be a healthy thing.  But it has nothing to do with being an introvert.  Personally, I am also shy.  Growing up, that was also labeled as a negative thing.  Double whammy for me – though being shy and being an introvert were essentially the same thing.

Reservation is an act of caution.  It can be rooted in fear as a defense mechanism, but it is most often being cautious about who we share information with.  It’s about trust.  Can I trust you with the information I share?  As with anything, it can be taken to an extreme, making it unhealthy, but I personally see being reserved as a strength.  The definition of ‘reserved’ is restrained in words and actions or not excessive or extravagant.  I think it’s good to be restrained or to not be excessive or extravagant.

Introverts are not withdrawn.  Most of us truly enjoy being around people.  If I’ve had enough downtime to recharge, I would rather be around people – especially people I care about.  I grew up in dance and theater.  Most performers fall into one of two categories.  They are either natural ‘hams’ who are always performing and entertaining no matter what they are doing.  Or they are introverts who can flip a switch when they are ‘on stage’.  I fall into the latter category.  I am a great example of an introverted performer.  I grew up on stage, and I spent years in front of classes, teaching dance.  As hard as it is to believe for most people who know me, I don’t mind speaking in front of people when I’m talking about something I care about.

Introversion is a personality trait.  It is a preference relating to how we focus our thoughts, and how we gain energy.  Introverts are inwardly focused.  We like to think and explore our own thoughts and feelings.  Usually, being around people interferes with our desire to be introspective.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t like conversation.  We just tend to enjoy deeper conversations about thoughts and ideas instead of small talk.  From a personal standpoint, I hate small talk.  It bores me.  I want to hear about your life, and I want to exchange ideas and connect on a deeper level.

Introverts like to reflect on new information – analyze it, process it – and only make decisions after some time.  We very rarely like to tell you what we think if put on the spot unless it’s a topic that we’ve already analyzed, but we are capable of carrying on a conversation about almost anything.  We just may not enjoy that conversation very much, and it will drain us of energy.

Introverts gain their energy from being alone.  That is how we recharge.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t like being around people.  We are not ‘antisocial’.  I love being around people.  If it is someone I care about and enjoy being with, I can be invigorated by the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  It is the larger settings that drain us – not because we don’t enjoy them, but because they use our energy.  I heard an analogy once about the difference between introverts and extroverts.  Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are like solar panels. For them, being alone is like being under a heavy cloud cover. Solar panels need the sun to recharge, in the same way that extroverts need to be out and about, interacting with lots of people, to refuel. Introverts need time to restore their energy, and it flows out faster than an extrovert’s energy. In order to function to the best of their ability, they need to calculate how much energy something will take, how much they need to conserve, and plan accordingly.  Speaking in front of a group of people will knock me out, and a one on one conversation can invigorate and challenge me, but I have to balance both of those with some alone time to recharge.

I love being an introvert.  I love that I think before I speak.  I love that I think before I act.  I love to listen to other people without always having to add my voice to the conversation.  I love that I share with a small group of trusted people.  I love that being an introvert allows me to see the world from a different perspective than the majority of the population.  It fits the rest of my ‘minority’ personality traits.  It ties me together.  It’s who I am, and there is nothing wrong with it.  It is not a social disease.  It is not something that should be changed.  It is my preference, and I’m finally ok with that.

 

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Joy

Over the last few months, I have been trying to put how I feel into words.  There’s been this feeling inside of me that I don’t recognize.  I feel…happy?  Yes, but it goes beyond that.  I’m…content?  For the most part, yes, but it’s even more than that.  What is it?  It seems vaguely familiar – like I’ve felt it before, but I can’t quite remember.

Recently, I’ve been able to figure out what the mystery emotion is.

Joy.

Wow…it’s been a long, long time.  Years and years of battling depression has caused me to lose touch with joy.  Believe me, there have been good things in my life during those years – happy moments, great friends, awesome blessings.  But the underlying climate in my life was so heavily clouded with anxiety and depression that I could never connect with joy.

So much has changed in my life over the last six months.  It’s mind boggling to me sometimes.  I’m not the same person I was just that short time ago.  Some things are still the same.  My life is by no means perfect – nor do I expect it to be.  I’ve got some tough stuff going on in my life right now, but at the end of the day, I’m smiling.  When I start to feel anxious about something, I still feel the surprising, overwhelming feeling of joy.  I sometimes find myself checking for it.  Is it still there?  I’m really upset – did it kick joy out?  But it’s still there.  Life is good.

There are so many factors that led to me finding joy again.  One of them was Godspell.  It was choreographing that show again that led to me finally recognizing that joy was back in my life.  As rehearsals were increasing closer to the show, I was also working a lot of hours for my job.  After our 12 day work week, everyone was looking forward to having the weekend off.  I mentioned something about not having the weekend off, and someone said, “Well, that’s your choice.”  To a certain extent, that’s true.  I chose to choreograph the show, but at the end of the day, I also had to do it.  It’s a part of who I am.  It’s been a huge part of my journey in the last year.  I can’t lose connection to the creative side of me.  That’s not what God wants for my life.

Godspell went so well.  The kids did a great job, and I was proud of them.  How much they grew throughout the show was really cool.  I had a couple of parents talk to me after the show, and it was cool to hear what they had to say about how much their kids loved doing the show.  One parent complimented me on the choreography and said that my joy is evident and reflected in the kids on stage.  That was the moment I realized that I had reconnected to my joy.  It was a funny statement to me as well.  It was definitely a high compliment, but I also thought, “If my joy is evident and reflected in them, it is only because they helped me rediscover it.”  Between last year’s show and this year’s, those kids helped me reconnect – not only to joy, but to myself.  It is their joy that helped me connect with mine.  They are the reason I choose to do what I do.

Another parent said that this ministry had done so much for her daughter.  She didn’t have to tell me any details.  I could see for myself.  Her daughter reminded me a little of myself.  And that’s why I do this.  Dance was such a huge part of my life growing up.  It was my escape from everything.  It was the one place I felt like I belonged.  For years, it was the only reason I got out of bed.  I have no doubt that it is the only reason I am still here today.  I love to share that with others.  If I can pass along that safety; that comfort; that sense of belonging; that joy; to even one other person then everything – the hours, the energy, the occasional frustration – is all worth it.

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy – Psalm 30:11

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