What’s an introvert? How does introversion effect us at work and play? In our friendships? In our search for meaning and happiness?
I’ll explore these and other timely questions about introvert life in this column, as an introvert entrepreneur, artist and journalist.
Want to ask a question? Just use the email below.
P.S.: even if you don’t think of yourself as introverted, you may find some helpful info here. Why? Because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin: we assume our differences divide us, only to find we share common ground.
Today’s introvert-astic question comes from Kate in Lyons
Do introverts ever find it awkward to have a long silence, say, for example, while riding in the car with an extrovert?
Thanks, Kate, for this awesome introvert in-the-wild question. (And by in the wild, I mean, anywhere outside our quiet minds.)
As nature’s overthinkers, introverts often worry about what we say. And don’t say.
The good news is? We can turn an awkward-feeling quiet patch into a kindness-fueled connection.
The stressful power of expectations
I gleaned a big “aha” on this issue at a yoga retreat (yep, I know. So stereotypically Boulder County, right? Except it was in upstate New York. Anyway ...)
The instructor gathered us in a circle and said, “Today, I’m going to teach you a chant. The words are Sanskrit, so you’ll need to focus on every syllable.”
So far, so innie. We’re all here silently learning together. Listening. Yay.
Then the teacher said, “I’m going to sing the chant once. And then each of you will sing it solo to the group.”
Cue the anxiety. Would I remember the words? Would I be on pitch? Would people laugh at me when I mess up this chant, which I haven’t even heard yet?
So stressful, right? But how does learning a Sanskrit chant relate to an introvert potentially stressing out about silently traveling in a car with an extrovert?
Everything is relative
Let’s ask Descartes. The popular introvert philosopher behind that classic koan, “I think, therefore I am,” had a recipe for assessing a problem: Divide it into its simplest parts.
And so we pause the yoga retreat story and return to the introvert in the quiet car: Are they worried about the correctness of being silent? Or what the extrovert beside them is thinking about them?
Back to that chanting circle.
Innies fret the details
One by one, at the yoga retreat, each student attempted the teacher’s song.
Afterward, the relief in the room was palpable.
“How many of you were afraid of what everyone would think of you when you repeated the song?” the teacher asked.
The whole class raised our hands.
“And how many of you didn’t hear anyone who sang before you because you were so worried about remembering the words?,” the teacher asked.
“And how many of you didn’t hear anyone who sang after you because you were so relieved your turn was over?”
“This experience wasn’t about the chant,” the teacher said. And then, being an experiential mentor, they didn’t say what it had been about.
But here’s my guess. Worrying removes us from the moment that’s unfolding before it — beautiful, weird, memorable, ordinary.
Imagine if one nervous chanting student had smiled at the others. Or laughed. How much fun and kindness we could have shared.
Now, let’s return to the introvert potentially stressing out over an extended silence while traveling in a car with an extrovert.
Worrying if it’s OK to be quiet? That’s naturally, classically innie. But we can transform our worry into self-compassion and connection by acknowledging it.
“I’m really enjoying this quiet time with you,” an introvert could tell their extroverted companion. And watch the road unfold before them both.
Have a question about introvert life? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Glassman is a Longmont-based introvert lifestyle journalist and creator of Smile Songs gifts. The thoughts and opinions offered in this column are intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.
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