Tales of an Introvert Living in an Extrovert’s World

I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean that I’m shy, exactly. It’s more that I require lots of time on my own, getting lost in the world of my imagination. That’s part of what I love so much about traveling solo—it’s a perfect excuse to interact when and how I wish and then retract, replenishing my internal batteries when needed. I have always preferred one-on-one time to being in groups and long, in-depth conversations to any level of small talk. For years I navigated these social nuances with relative ease, but now that I work for myself and am a parent I no longer have the ability to just disappear into my own little world, unless I’m traveling on my own. In my self-reflection I’ve become acutely aware that many of my recent struggles stem from being an introvert in an extrovert’s world.

You might think that being an introverted writer sounds ideal since writing entails a lot of solo time lost in one’s head, right? Strictly speaking, that’s true. But it’s only one aspect of what a modern writer does. Or a modern human, for that matter. We live in an extroverted era—an era that idolizes those who capture the most attention, regardless of what else they offer (à la Kardashians, Trump and Kanye). This isn’t to say either disposition is better than the other, just that the way our society is currently weighted, it tips in favor of those who flourish with lots of attention and are good at getting it.

Our complex social lives are probably the dominant force in human evolution, driving the evolution of intelligence, creativity, language, and even consciousness. The human reward system, therefore, most likely evolved to be particularly responsive to social rewards.

Indeed, one of the most important gateways to rewards (e.g., money, power, friends, alliances, mates, exploration of the environment) is the ability to capture the attention of other people. Along these lines, some researchers have suggested that extroversion represents a high-intensity strategy for gaining social attention. –Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American.

Books need help finding eager audiences and that requires talking to people, doing interviews, signings and (gasp) readings. It requires professional networking and small talk. An extroverted writer would be energized by these scenarios while their introverted counterpart would feel drained. I blame introversion for my gross neglect in terms of marketing my first two novels, but understanding why is only the first step. I still have to navigate the world of marketing in order to reach new readers. And I have to find a solution that doesn’t sap all of my available energy, especially if I want to keep writing more novels. I find myself gravitating to social media and online marketing as a much less draining tool. So thank you, internet, on behalf of introverts everywhere. Everything is easier when I can do it from home in my pjs.

My photography and videography business also requires me to direct people, to keep their energy levels up and to guide them through their insecurities in front of the camera. I love getting to tell visual stories and feel honored that people want me to capture their creativity, families and special moments. But after a shoot I usually collapse onto the couch, exhausted. I love it, but I have to remind myself to build in time to recharge.

And then there’s parenting—between playdates, school activities, sports and sheer time spent with a little human possessing superhuman quantities of energy, I often find myself feeling overwhelmed. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I do. I love being a mom—watching my son make friends, try new things and learn to find his own place in the world is immeasurably rewarding. But sometimes Mama needs a time out. And my need for time outs seems to be more frequent than my extroverted husband’s. For quite a while, this aspect in particular felt like a failing on my part. I kept thinking that I should be able to just power through. Tune out the noise. Make endless small talk at the park or school or sports field. But I can’t.

I need time alone. I need space. I need to rejuvenate. Otherwise I’m no good to anyone. And while it may be an era geared towards extroverts, introverts have a different, complementary set of strengths that, when given the energy we need, can quietly fuel the imagination, be a great audience and give others the time and space they need to learn and grow.

I’m beginning to see that it’s not a selfish thing to ask for what I need. Just as an extrovert needs to be in social situations that allow them to get the attention that recharges them, I need the opposite. For me, a lot of that comes in the form of travel. In the last couple of years I’ve taken a number of solo trips for just this reason. And while I’ve heard from plenty of people who opine that I’m being selfish and neglecting my maternal duties, I know that every time I come home I am better, more engaged and more connected. That time to myself gives me the space to feel gratitude for the abundance in my life.

Since I happen to be married to a (rather talented) singer songwriter who has learned to understand this about me, I am also lucky enough to now have my own anthem. But the song isn’t just for me; it’s for everyone who needs to follow the call of their own solo adventures.

photo by Sharisse Coulter

The song is called “Don’t Belong” and the video, which will premier tonight at The Studio Encinitas was filmed by me and edited by Lee. My hope is that it will resonate in the hearts of my fellow wanderlusters and introverts. May you all enjoy whatever it is that energizes you and ignites your passions.

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