My Life … in One Article

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“You’re not an introvert! You speak in public all the time and do just fine.”

“You’re not an introvert! You used to be on TV. How could you be an introvert and put yourself on camera five nights a week?”

“You’re not an introvert! I’ve seen you out at parties or with friends and enjoying yourself.”

Those are some of the common responses when I tell someone that I’m a closet introvert. Nobody gets it, and I’ve never been able to do a good job of explaining that you can appear outgoing, you can enjoy speaking in public — and still be an introvert.

My wife recently found an article that does a really good of explaining it … and explaining me. Seriously, I was nearly in tears as I read this. It’s the first article like this that really had me nodding in agreement throughout the whole thing and thinking, Finally, someone gets it. I’ll link to the article below, but here’s the stuff that really hit home.

8 Things That Describe Me (Almost) To a “T”

1.) Being introverted doesn’t mean I’m shy.

“Shyness is about fear of social judgment,” Cain said. “Introversion is more about how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. So extraverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments.”

That explains, for me, why I love working at home so much. It’s the perfect environment for me to be productive. But how do you explain the TV thing and the public speaking thing, Matt? Patience, grasshopper. We’ll get to that.

2.) I withdraw in crowds.

The resulting crowd, which is often loud, noisy and congested, easily overstimulates introverts and drains them of their physical energy. They end up feeling more physically isolated than supported by their surroundings, and would rather be anywhere but that sea of people.

For me, this manifests itself at things like Christmas parties or smaller gatherings where there’s an expectation of ongoing social interaction. This is why, a couple summers ago, I skipped a July 4th neighborhood block party and sat quietly with my dog on our back porch. (I have to say, though, that I did enjoy last summer’s block party — I avoided the bigger crowd up the street and had an fun evening hanging out just with our neighbors directly across the street.)

This doesn’t mean I dislike, for example, going to a Seahawks game or a U2 concert. I love those, despite the enormous crowds. But in that kind of situation, the crowd is actually too big to be a problem and it’s easy to just withdraw and interact with whomever is with me. There may be 80,000 people there, but the number of people expecting to interact with me is a tiny fraction of that.

3.) Small talk stresses me out.

This relates to #2 above … the small talk at mixers and parties is awful. It also explains why I always prefer an aisle seat. Sitting there gives me a chance to focus myself away from small talk with the people in the row with me.

4.) But I’m comfortable with public speaking.

“At least half of people who speak for a living are introverted in nature,” according to Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D, a certified speaking professional, executive coach and author of Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference. They simply play to their strengths, and prepare extensively. In fact, some of the most successful performers are introverts. Remaining on a stage, removed from a massive audience, proves far easier than the small talk-filled conversations that follow.

I do prepare extensively. I’m probably obsessed about prepping for public appearances. If my presentation isn’t finished 2-3 weeks early, I turn into a nervous wreck. And yes, being on stage is so much easier because it’s not small talk.

5.) I write for a living. From home.

Introverts naturally prefer spending time alone or in a small group, delving deeply into one task at a time and taking their time when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. Therefore, they fare better in work environments that allow them to do all of these things. Certain professions — including writers, in-the-field natural scientists and behind-the-scenes tech workers — can give introverts the intellectual stimulation they crave without the distracting environment they dislike.

6.) Where’s the exit?

Introverts not only feel physically uncomfortable in crowded places, but also do their best to mediate that discomfort by hanging as close to the periphery as possible.

Cari shared this article with me right around the time late last year when I had three conferences/events in the span of about six weeks. And as I read that bit in the article, it immediately occurred to me how I spent much of the social/mixer time at one of them hanging out in a quiet table/booth right next to the exit.

7.) Think first, speak later.

It is second nature to them to take their time before opening their mouths, reflecting internally, instead of thinking out loud (which is more common among extraverts).

This is why I’m terrible at (and really dislike) having conversations about current issues in social settings — at dinner with friends, at parties, or wherever. The quick flow of opinions and declarations doesn’t give me enough time to think through what I want to say. So I’m almost always quiet while others are discussing politics. And ultimately, several hours later when I’m in my office or hotel room, or driving in my car, I’ll think of the perfect thing I should’ve said.

8.) Phone calls are physically painful.

This is the part of the article that really hit me, because I absolutely loathe speaking on the phone!

Most introverts screen their phone calls — even from their friends — for several reasons. The intrusive ringing forces them to abandon focus on a current project or thought and reassign it to something unexpected. Plus, most phone conversations require a certain level of small talk that introverts avoid. Instead, introverts may let calls go to voicemail so they can return them when they have the proper energy and attention to dedicate to the conversation.

That paragraph describes exactly what I feel and do about phone calls. It drives my wife crazy how I’ll always let an incoming call go to voicemail. “It’s my phone and it exists for my convenience,” I like to say.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been debating posting about this for a couple months now, because

a) I may come across as a jerk to people who don’t know me very well.

b) Friends, neighbors and co-workers may read this and think I don’t like them, or don’t like talking to them and spending time with them.

I can’t control “a” above. People who know me will tell you that I’m not a jerk, and that’s more than enough for me.

As for “b,” it’s not true. It’s not that I dislike you or being around you, it’s that I’m not as good at dealing with some of the most common types of social settings and stimulations as you are. I love hanging out with you and talking with you, but I’d rather do it in a quiet setting where we can really enjoy each other’s company than at a big party or something like that where conversations are shallow. As the article says…

“Think of each of us as having a cup of energy available. For introverts, most social interactions take a little out of that cup instead of filling it the way it does for extroverts. Most of us like it. We’re happy to give, and love to see you. When the cup is empty though, we need some time to refuel.”

Anyway … here’s the full article if you want to check it out.

4 Responses to My Life … in One Article

  1. David Wallace January 14, 2015 at 5:58 am #

    You and me are so alike my brother! I’m with you on all points.. especially the phone thingee!

  2. Matt McGee January 14, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one, David! 🙂

  3. amyg January 14, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    Matt, I so get this. One of my dearest/closest friends is a complete extrovert in closed company (funny, talkative, laugh-out-loud type). As soon as we enter a room with multiple people she doesn’t know, she’s done. I’ve seen her social anxiety result in actual red welps on her neck while trying to make small talk…I also can spot her “come-get-me-out-of-this-conversation-now” look in a heartbeat.

    (Her sister is worse – the whole phone thing is spot-on; she can barely order pizza over the phone!!)

    Thanks for posting this – I’m going to share it with both of them asap.

  4. Doc Sheldon January 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    Matt… give me your number and I’ll give you a call sometime when you’re too cheerful. 😉

    I can actually identify with some of that. The small talk drives me up a wall… I enjoy sitting down with someone that likes to really think things through and talk philosophy, science, the future of mankind… that sort of thing. but which political party has its head furthest up its collective ass, who will make it to the super bowl or how there’s nothing good on TV anymore (even if it’s true), bores me senseless and has me looking for an excuse to leave.
    Now if you want to talk about how you can optimize a website, we’d better get another pitcher over here before we start…

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