Monday, June 05, 2006

On being an introvert - and faking the extrovert (Part Two)

Flowering agave in Lanzarote. Copyright: WebWeaver ProductionsBefore you delve into Part Two, you might like to read Part One, if you haven't done so already.

Depending on which bit of research you accept, the proportion of introverts to extroverts in the general population has been estimated as: about 25%; or, just under 50%; or, "a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population." Heh. I like that last one.

Now it could just be that extroverts are louder, so it seems like there are more of them :) but certainly in the US it appears that being an extrovert is more acceptable than being an introvert. Introverts are often misunderstood and are sometimes seen as being aloof, or arrogant, or too serious.

Here are some of the tricks I’ve figured out, being an introvert in a predominantly extrovert world.

Pace yourself

I accept the fact that I can only handle intense social interaction for a few hours - and I listen to myself and leave when I feel I've had enough. Sounds simple, but I used to hang on far longer than I had the energy for, and it was never much fun. Now I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with my friends, and then I value the sense of peace and solitude I feel when I go home.

I find that arriving early at parties works best for me. That way I can get used to the stimulation of new surroundings and a few new people, which allows me to feel more comfortable when everyone else arrives. Arriving at a party once it's in full swing would be just.too.much!

I also take regular breaks when I'm socialising. I'm a smoker, and it's the perfect excuse to get away for a short while. Every so often I go outside to have a quiet smoke and a 5-minute break, which recharges me enough to keep going (and enjoying myself) for a while longer. Bathroom breaks, or just a short walk around the block, can also do wonders for your staying power.

Window detail, Germany. Copyright: WebWeaver Productions

Be open and honest about what you want/need

I'm still not great at parties where I don't know many people - and I still sometimes decide not to go. But now, instead of making some lame excuse, or just not turning up when I said I would, I explain that I'm not that great at parties, and I arrange to meet my friends for coffee or lunch instead. That way I'm happy with the choice I've made, I've done it honestly, I don't let my friends down, and we still get to see each other.

Fancy dress parties are good! I think it's the fact that I'm in costume, and so I can play a different role for the evening. That somehow makes it easier for me to overcome the fear of going. It also makes for great conversation openers, which is always useful if you're unsure of how to talk to people you don't know.

Enjoy the time you spend alone

I've found a bunch of things I really like doing, with which I can occupy myself when I want to be alone. Stuff like gardening, reading, hanging out with my cats, following international politics, being part of an online fandom (hi CH!), and now blogging. There's nothing worse than being bored with your own company when you really can't face being with people - I feel I'm really lucky to have found so many things I like to do alone.

Tree roots, Kaitoke regional park, NZ. Copyright: WebWeaver Productions

Find the right career for you

When you're an inny, your job can be quite a significant part of your life - and if you choose to spend many evenings and weekends alone it can be quite a large part of your social life too.

I realise I've discovered my perfect career in web design/development. It requires a balance of creativity and logic and it's mind-stretching (I'm always learning new stuff). CSS (especially bug-fixing) requires patience, attention to detail and serious focus. When I'm deep into building a particularly complex design you won't see me leave my seat for hours!

Being a perfectionist helps me to do the best job possible, which has been really useful when I've been contracting and needed a personal recommendation. It also turned out to be the ideal way to get into my new permanent job in Wellington where everyone in the industry knows everyone else.

I've chosen to work mainly for web design companies. That's good for me because they are generally quite sociable places, so I can enjoy the sociability going on around me and choose whether to listen quietly or participate for a while. They're also pretty focused, which also suits me. They're quite casual about appearance and work style (as long as you get the job done they're not too fussed), and everyone knows that if you're plugged into your iPod or you've got your big-ass DJ headphones on, they'd better have a really good reason for interrupting you.

Your iPod is your friend

Speaking of my iPod - what a brilliant invention for an inny! Any time I need to really focus, to get fully into the zone, I just get my iPod out, plug into some ambient electronica, and I can simply... disappear.

Accomodation at Nikau Lodge, NZ. Copyright: WebWeaver Productions

Find the right workplace for you

I've also realised that the style of workplace/job can really make a difference. I was recently offered (and accepted) a great job with an up-and-coming web design company. Lovely people, an awesome boss, really nice studio environment, an excellent range of work/clients, and a strong work ethic. Should have been perfect for me, and yet within two days I had realised I was totally the wrong person for the job.

The problem was the work style. It required a high level of multi-tasking, which I realised was completely wrong for me. I need large chunks of time to myself where I can really focus on one thing and really get into the zone. I hate being distracted when I'm thinking deeply about something, and I get very frustrated when "the flow" is interrupted.

If I'm fully engaged on working through some tricky CSS layout, and the phone rings, or I need to respond to an urgent email from a client, or suddenly I have to update another website double-quick, not only do I get frustrated and grumpy, I also find it takes me a while to get back into the flow of whatever I was originally working on. It's not an efficient way of working for me, and it's not great for my employer either because it takes me ages to get anything done! There were days when I didn't achieve anything at all on my major projects, because every time I got into it I'd have to stop and do something else, and then I'd lose the flow. And no sooner was I back into it than I'd get interrupted again... aargh!

My leaving cake!  Copyright: WebWeaver Productions

Have the courage to make your own choices

I felt terribly guilty when I realised I'd chosen the wrong job. The people there were so nice, and so accommodating, and I felt as though I was really letting them down.

I did some serious thinking (as we innys are wont to do!) and decided I needed to focus on what was best for me - and that meant I should resign - and do it fast so that they had a good chance of finding someone else quickly.

Within a week I had handed in my notice. I had no other work lined up, but I figured that some of my existing clients might still be interested in having me do contract work for them - as long as I wasn't out of circulation for too long.

The interesting thing was that as soon as I had resigned, I felt much more cheerful about being there, and working out my 7 weeks' notice was really quite fun. I guess because I knew it would only be for a short time, it became something I could handle more easily.

I was also able to recommend a former colleague of mine for the job, and I'm pleased to say that he was offered (and accepted) the position. He started last week, the same time I started my new job at Shift. This new job came out of the blue - I had approached Shift after I resigned from the other job, hoping to do some more contract work for them - and they offered me a full-time position!

Just goes to show that stepping into the void isn't always a bad thing, and that the Universe Will Provide, if you allow it to.

Get a cat!

My cats are prefect. They allow me to be solitary without being lonely. They are independent like me, and they don't need fussing over all the time. If I feel like company, they seem to sense that, and they are happy to hang out with me. If I don't, they're happy to leave me alone. I think every introvert should have a cat. Maybe they do!

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

If you're interested in finding out more about how you tick, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a useful resource, especially in relation to the workplace.

The MBTI measures four sets of variables, each with two options:
  • Natural energy orientation: Extroversion (E) vs Introversion (I)
  • Way of perceiving or understanding: Sensing (S) vs iNtuition (N)
  • Way of forming judgments and making choices: Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F)
  • Action orientation towards the outside world: Judging (J) vs Perceiving (P)
Your response to a range of MBTI questions places you on a scale between each of the two options in any given variable, so you can see how strongly you display each characteristic.

As the four sets of variable each have two alternatives, this gives 16 possible personality "types".

Niagara Falls. Copyright: WebWeaver ProductionsI'm a borderline ISFJ/INFJ, and this has remained pretty constant over the last few years. I exhibit strong I (Introvert) and J (Judging) characteristics, somewhat strong F (Feeling) characteristics, and I seem to hover just on the side of S (Sensing) (which means I also exhibit lots of N (iNtuition) characteristics too).

Do you know what type you are?

Free online personality tests:
Useful links:

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The Bizarre Jokester said...

very nice blog!

webweaver said...

thank you! :)

lurkerbee said...

A CH lurker, I wandered over to your blog from a link you posted there. I'm enjoying your blog enormously and finding myself nodding in agreement at much of what you have to say. One of my passions is personality--especially the MBTI. My type is INFJ, so I was interested to see that INFJ might be your type as well. I've liked what you had to say about introversion. If a complete stranger can suggest a topic, I'd love to hear more of your thoughts about personality.

webweaver said...

Thanks lurkerbee! I'll have a think about that - it's a great topic suggestion :)

Megumi said...

I stumbled across this post when I googled 'introvert'. Thank you! It's great to know you're not the only one. Since I was young, I've always been quiet and shy. My family called me a bookworm because I was always sitting in a corner with my nose stuck in a book instead of playing! In high school, I was envious of those louder people because they always seemed to have lots of friends and fun things going on. Sometimes I still am. But now I am more open and confident now, largely because I went on exchange and was forced to talk to so many new people. I guess it was also a maturity thing. But I know that inside I am somewhat more reserved. Anyway, I'm learning to accept who I am. Introverts unite!

Personality Types said...

Good stuff webweaver and you've done your research. I was going to mention that it seems to be partly a cultural issue where introverts aren't as encouraged in the US, but you mentioned it. I was going to recommend The Introvert Advantage, but there you have that. So nothing to add other than glad to meet another introvert that understands the issues so well!

Jonathan said...

Great post! As an introvert in a very extroverted profession (mental health/counselling) I often feel out of place. But I know I have good skills to excel in the job and I enjoy it! It's a matter of balancing how much interaction I have over a day/week and having time alloted to be by myself.