My friend was pretty irritated with me for saying it. She felt like I was going a little too far, like claiming I was suddenly a woman and completely understood menstruation, sexual harassment and the joy of giving birth. But more importantly she was unhappy with the idea that I talked about my new experience in the world as though it was some kind of terrible illness that I was struggling to overcome. Regardless, I can’t deny that I’m getting at least a small taste of what it’s like to be an introvert.
A few years ago a friend told me something that was very important in my understanding of introverts. He pointed out that introverts are often very social, and that they like being out sharing the world with other people, but that there was one key difference that drew the line between introverts and extroverts. Extroverts are energized by people, and introverts are drained by them.
Suddenly I was able to understand some of my very powerful, social friends. They loved creating big events and conducting symphonies of humans building, creating, sharing and reveling. They loved intense conversations. They loved going to parties. They just also knew that they were on a clock, using up a battery, and that for every minute they spent in a world dense with people they were going to have to be completely alone to recharge.
Those Who Hail are Loud
Susan Cain talks about introversion in modern America at TED. In reference to my metaphor above, she talks about being a minority in a world shaped by a very different majority in much the same way that Yashir’s great piece If Men Had Periods: Women Would Know All About It talks about this experience for women. There are so many often invisible ways that a society reinforces one way of being and denigrates another. Our society has been shaped by loud people.
Before the CO, I could run forever on human presence. It was like I had a solar cell in my forehead and people beamed sunlight. I could be lying exhausted from twenty or more hours of nonstop work and if one person came up to me and asked a question, I could grunt a response. If they stuck around, within minutes my brain would be spinning back up, lifting me like a helicopter into a seated position, and then with a loud whine the jet engines would kick in and I would rush into full speed, talking and listening and telling stories and leaping around like I had just won the lottery and a degree in counseling.
I could run off of this energy for days with little sleep and I was well rewarded for it. People that looked and acted like me were hailed for having created an internet revolution. Few people know Steve Wozniak. Everyone knows about Steve Jobs. Apple Computer would not exist without both. Steve Wozniak did much of the work building the famous computer without which you would never have heard of Steve Jobs. Wozniak is now relegated to consulting on Steve Jobs’ biopic. There is no question where our society puts value.
The Other Side
Last weekend I went ziplining with some friends. We had a great low key morning zooming through the sky and ended up at a friend’s house where, admittedly, most people were also ready to take naps or take it easy after all of that time in the sun. I ended up on a couch talking with someone I find endlessly fascinating and a little of the energy kicked in. We had a good conversation but then I reached a point where the ache in my head was too much to ignore and it was hard to keep talking. She wandered off and I thought I would just take a nap but somehow I couldn’t relax. I needed to sleep or rest but I felt a weird tension, even though the people in the room were either asleep, working quietly on computers, or reading books.
My friend Ori Sofer was there and he’s like a brother to me. We’ve been through years of road trips, adventures, and construction debacles. I felt this weird need to get out of that house and back to his. Somehow just being in a room with people was draining me but I felt oddly like somehow he wouldn’t. Thankfully, I managed to get this message across and as soon as I was away it was like I had been hanging for hours over a pit of steel spikes and I was suddenly easing into a comfortable sofa. The mild sense of panic vanished and I didn’t even have to nap right away.
My friend Sarah Miller laughed at my glimpse of her world. She says there are always people like this. Her husband is this way for her. She can be around him and somehow relax and recharge as though she’s alone, although interestingly enough she can’t do this with her kids.
In fact, the more I talk about this the more people come out to me as introverts. I’m getting better at spotting them, no matter how many massive armies of people they lead into the desert or festivals they run. They tell me it’s not so bad. They get a lot done in their alone time. It’s so much easier to be focused when you don’t have to run around finding new people to recharge you.
I haven’t become a woman. My race isn’t going to change. I’ll likely never truly know what it’s like to be an introvert, but at least I have a small rare glimpse into another experience. I’m still struggling with how much to accept this new, perhaps temporary, version of myself, but I am appreciating what I’m learning. And maybe, with new understanding, I’ll do a better job of making space for the people around me.