A big part of my personality is introverted.
People are often surprised when I tell them that, and I hear… “What, you? Introverted? Ha!” All the time. I’m not antisocial, or misanthropic, or maladjusted. I only have social anxiety when my human-interaction energy stores are depleted (which has happened all to often, in the last 7 years of running a one-on-one service business… hence my retreating to Bali now).
Here’s the definitions that resonate with me: it’s about where your energy comes from –
- Extroverts get energy from being with others, and are drained by being alone
- Introverts are drained by being with others, and get energy by being alone.
By that definition, there’s no question I’m an introvert.
I come off super social. This is partially because I’m all about saying “yes” to life, including this new people that show up in it. It’s also partially because I have to start getting close immediately, and bring people in as friends early, because spending time with them as strangers is exhausting. And ultimately, no matter how close we are, I’m going to eventually need to go away for quiet alone time, frequently.
This has been very hard for me to accept. Over the years, I’ve identified several reasons why:
- I’m in a society that praises extroverts. (Or, at least a society where I can very audibly hear the extroverts praising themselves, while the introverts are quietly withdrawing to recharge).
- I’ve long held the (false) belief that you can’t make a living as an introvert. I’m still working through some money fear, and an introverted entrepreneur is still a bit of a nuanced thing to be, but the last year has seen this belief unravel, A LOT.
- I didn’t experience my parents as having many friends, while I was growing up. In the infinite know-it-all “wisdom” of adolescence, I decided this isolation was the major source of any discomfort that my family and I might have experienced during my raising. I decided I’d never let that happen to me. I’ve since come to appreciate what a huge gift my parents gave my brother and I, through their exclusive focus on providing for and raising us. (Though no doubt, I’m sure I still can’t even begin to see the magnitude of it). But first I made that misguided youthful vow to always keep a bustling social life.
- As a very young child, I couldn’t distinguish between introversion and shyness. A common mistake for many. I remember on a family trip through one of our national parks, a park ranger was kind enough to gift me a small children’s book on the local birds. I was absolutely thrilled, but going through that shy phase that toddlers do, and couldn’t bring myself to thank him for the beautiful gesture. I was so touched, and so mad at myself for not being able to speak. I remember making a promise to myself to not be quiet anymore. I didn’t realize yet that I could be quiet, and still retain complete capacity to express myself and share joy with others.
These are all “old-news” to me, and part of my life story that I’ve told over and over. I didn’t expect another key piece of the puzzle to emerge for me this week, but it did. As I was floating near the waterslide, in between sips from my fresh coconut, taking an afternoon of peaceful distance away from my hostel mates, some forgotten memories resurfaced.
Like so many people, I had a rough go of it, in Jr High. I was bullied a fair bit as are many. Some of it was rather traumatizing and left lasting fear, as it does for many.
I remembered that what the kids at school used to say: That I was stuck up. I was a snob, and they were going to put me back in my place.
But I wasn’t a snob, I just only had so much energy for the endless popularity contest. And I had a ton of drive for school and extracurriculars, and my constant need to do it all and prove myself and maximize every day kept me too busy for pre-teen gossip circles and wandering around the mall. But they didn’t know that. They just knew I didn’t hang out or go to great lengths to be friends with them, and so (innocently enough) they thought, I thought, I was better than them. And so they sought to cut me down. Sneakingly aggressively.
And in a way, it worked. It became not safe to be quiet. It became dangerous to prefer to be alone than to work to surround myself with friends. It made me change myself to be more like them. Or try to..
(If you ask the couple decades of afternoons of compulsive eating to try to keep generating social energy, they might tell you I couldn’t choose the quiet out of myself at all).
So, having realized this,
And having lost my phone (and alarm clock and ability to really reliably make plans with people)
And having travelled halfway across the planet from most people I know,
And being determined to radically accept myself,
And having chosen extended travel in Asia to usher me into a new overall life,
I gave myself tentative permission to stop fighting.
I let myself set down the social vows, just as an experiment, for now. My other experiments with risking letting go of my fears here in Bali have gone so well, that it seemed worth a shot.
The last 4 days have been largely a personal hermitage. I invested a bit more money to move into a private room (which overlooks a fish pond and is tucked in the back corner of the property and so perfect for me). I’ve spent most of my time meditating, when I’m not going for a gentle, quiet yin yoga or tai chi class, or drifting about in the quiet waters of the pool. I’ve been sneaking on and off hostel grounds, to avoid interacting, and when I do pop into the live-music area here, I make sure to sneak out in the middle of a song, so I can’t be pulled up on stage to sing (which is such a huge privilege and I absolutely adore and am so grateful for, but right now, everything within me says “be quiet – go within”, and so I’m honoring that).
And some trippy stuff is happening.
I’m naturally eating a lot less, and a lot healthier (I’d noticed both sugar cravings and emotional food longings creeping up over the previous week or so, and I did not uproot my whole life just to perpetuate those patterns). I knew unsupportive eating habits had been tied with social stuff before, but I didn’t see the degree to which it appears I may have been eating to keep myself from withdrawing.
My stories about myself are shifting. Or, more accurately, they’re getting blurry. I’m not feeling the constant hum of ambition pushing me to choose what’s next – that constant elevator music that’s played in my head for as long as I can remember. I’m quite happily imagining returning to Los Angeles and moving back in with my mom, or couch surfing with friends, and maybe getting a job for a bit at a Trader Joes, because I think it would be fun to stock the shelves. I don’t feel the need to prove myself with my accomplishments, and define myself with overextended career goals, the way I always have.
Actually, and I know this will be far out and I’ll lose some of you here, but I’m finding I’m defining myself less at all. I’m not seeking anything outside to identify with, and the very experience of identity is softening. It’s like the single narrative of self I’ve been working on weaving my whole life is unraveling. And it’s totally okay.
Last night, in my dreams, the girls who bullied me in Junior High came to me as friends. It was so easy to set down the old stories that they were enemies. They asked for my help with a project, and I was actually happy to help. Funnily enough, I ended up inadvertently foiling all their plans, and unintentionally getting them in trouble with the law. Waking up, it felt like the dream had brought the gift of wordless insight that you always hope will come from a Buddhist Koan. The clear sensation being “it’s all as it’s meant to be”, “there’s nothing to fix” and a lesson to not get too attached to any of the story… even who I thought I was, in it.
I’m really tripped out to think that in a week I’m leaving for a silent 10-day meditation retreat at an incredible mountaintop monastery…. If this is how my system is preparing for that, then… um, I’m open for anything there.
I hesitate to share all this publicly, because though I share a lot of my inner journey, I think this is some of the most, for me, deeply personal stuff on this blog, to date. Also, because as dear Goenke, who’s lineage I did my previous 10-day silent meditation retreat with, taught: “This will also change”. This is just this moment in time. Let’s none of us become too identified with this story, either.
If the hypothesis I’m exploring about the Mayan Calendar holds true, this all might change for me significantly, on Tuesday. It’s just a hypothesis, so it’s being tested – one of the million things I seem to be not attached to right now, but just enjoying playing with.
So, here I am. Whatever “I” is.
I can tell you this much: whatever this “I” is, it is enjoying the hell of of being alone right now.
I might just have to make this okay.
(Photo credit: Konstantin Tilberg)