That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight ~ [Losing My Religion, R.E.M.]
I’m a classic introvert. I’m not shy, because introversion has nothing to do with shyness. It also doesn’t mean I have no social skills, no friends or that I can’t deal with personal contact – I’m quite happy getting up on a stage and speaking and have done so at several international conferences (and a local one last week), and I think most people will tell you I’m not afraid to express my opinion at such events. I’ve worked in and run teams with people from all over the world, and I enjoy many regular group activities. But even while I might enjoy group activities, while I’m doing so I’m burning through emotional energy, and eventually I just want to go somewhere quieter, either alone or with one or two people I know well enough that I can sit, think, read and say mostly nothing and it won’t be weird. That’s where I recharge and do the kind of deep thinking and independent creativity that I crave intensely. Some people like the ‘buzz’ of being around others all the time, but I don’t; extended periods of quiet solitude are absolutely essential to me, even if you can’t tell when I’ve got my ‘social hat’ on. When I go to these events I do so because I like occasional social contact, influencing and being influenced by other people, but it doesn’t mean I want to do it all the time. Don’t take it personally, but I need my space.
There are plenty of people who just don’t understand this, and even people who might relate to it but who have been convinced that it’s somehow an “incorrect” preference that they must learn to get over. Sometimes it seems like the modern world is all about 24/7 collaborative working, teams ‘working and playing hard’ together , open plan offices, and that social must be woven into every facet of your day, otherwise it’s somehow a lesser experience. It’s actually nonsense to think that this is a universal truth, and I’m glad that people like Susan Caine have written books and spoken so eloquently to large audiences on why some people are different, but still, it remains much more fashionable to be an extrovert. It certainly doesn’t help that the people who think extroversion is the norm tend to also be the loudest and most attention seeking people in the room, skewing the perception of the average towards that end of the scale.
So I’m very flattered when I get invited to events, programmes and group activities, and I’ll accept some of them. But if you’re expecting a fully engaged community person eager to fill his calendar with group activities, unfortunately you’ve got the wrong guy. Mentally I’d be a dried out husk in short order if I did that, and there’d be nothing left to do what I enjoy most – I’m an independent maker of things at heart, and while I love to meet and converse with people, receive feedback and debate, this isn’t how I actually work. For me it’s the occasional stuff between the ‘real work’; still important to do because it influences and informs the work, but it’s not the core of it like it is for some people.
That’s the best way I can explain how I like to work. I’m fortunate that I’m now in a position to choose to work how I want to, and I’m old enough that I don’t want to burn time working someone else’s way. Beyond that I’m also informed by a decade I spent over-working which caused me health problems and which I never intend to repeat. I sometimes get concerned that it may offend nice people when I stay somewhat at arms length from organised groups when they kindly invite me to take a more active role. Please know that it’s not you, it’s simply my preference and energy conservation system to be merely peripherally associated, but I hope we’ll continue to intersect occasionally & swap notes.