Walking the Fine Line.

In every job, there comes a day that I eternally avoid, all the while dreading its approach. Thoughts of budget meetings or annual reviews may jump to your mind, but those events don’t result in a state of restlessness and discomfort. Those wonderful emotions result from… team-building day.

Staff retreats and team-building days are usually events that employees look forward to; a “free” day of work, free lunch, and free entertainment. How could one go wrong with that?! Well, the answer to that my friends, lies in the mind of the participant.

Drawing by Adele Palmquist

Drawing by Adele Palmquist

Despite an extremely active social life in my early 20’s, I am an introvert through and through. Looking back, I can recall the mental drainage after social activities and my strong desire to be alone with my thoughts, my feelings, my questions. A beach day with girlfriends would never out-win a day reading a book alone, tucked in the corner of a library.

This dude's got the right idea.

This dude’s got the right idea.

The problem with introversion is that you never know what’s in store for you as you age. No one will say, “Oh, by the way, you will be judged and outcast because you enjoy your own company and need alone time.Clearly my parents forgot to sell that spiel of a lesson to me before I alarmingly slammed into the realities of being an adult introvert.

Mute. High-strung. Rude. Anti-social. Agoraphobic. Freak.

These are just a hand-full of the names and descriptions tossed around about introverts for years. All of these judgements come about because a person isn’t externally motivated or stimulated. Imagine a world where society judges extroverts for being loud, outgoing, mischievous, or co-dependent… would this ever occur?

Enough said.

Enough said.

In society’s eyes, introverts walk the fine line between introversion and anti-social behaviors. Our actions and behaviors won’t be accepted on the first round; expect to be questioned, pushed, and externally appraised. Our need for quiet, alone time transitions to perceived actions of a depressed, anti-social person. Our absence of small talk is apparently rude, or displaying a ‘higher than thou’ attitude. And our personal enjoyment of our own time, thoughts, and feelings is interpreted as freakish or fearful.

I hate to send society and their overreaching assumptions flat on their asses, but talk about really missing the mark on introverts.

Society's guidelines of how to piss off introverts.

The truth about introversion.

I am an introvert, but I am not:

Mute – I simply don’t talk unless there is something to say; small talk is draining and uncomfortable. Not to mention, half of the things people say is boring me or nonsensical. Myself included, of course.

High-strung – This is your interpretation of my quiet personality; being focused on one’s work and self is not high-strung, it’s self-reflective and motivated.

Rude – Just because a person doesn’t join in on a group conversation, they are not rude. They are focused on settling into and working through their day.

Anti-social – I enjoy spending small batches of time with loved ones, but solitude and self-reflection are needed in my life to enjoy those interactions.

Agoraphobic – I leave the house all the time. Instead of heading to a mall and movie theater, I go to book stores and antique shops to imagine worlds beyond this one. It’s a difference of opinion and enjoyment, not a psychiatric condition.

Freak – Why, yes! It is quite freakish to be comfortable with yourself, your personality, and your own company. How could anyone ever want such self-acceptance?!

If you don't believe it from me, at least believe it from Henry Rollins.

If you don’t believe it from me, at least believe it from Henry Rollins.

25 responses to “Walking the Fine Line.

  1. As an introvert, I have made myself learn better social skills over the years, but I still LOATHE team-building exercises and meetings. They are so incredibly unnatural and pre-schoolish. Can’t we just be adults and get on with things?

    • That’s exactly how I feel about them. I find myself always thinking: If I wanted to be social with some of these people, I would be. I don’t need middle school icebreakers to do so.

      It always feels like such a waste of time and I am drained by the end of it. For the last few years, I’ve always opted out of anything along those lines – and even when it’s voluntary, people look at me like I’m crazy. How dare I not want to waste 8 hours listening to people name a fruit that matches their first name, or listing our backgrounds on repeat?!

  2. As the Mom of two “introverts”, and being a self proclaimed extrovert, I love this piece. We are all different. We all have our unique and beautiful ways of dealing with ourselves and the world around us. I am THRILLED I raised my kids to embrace who they are and not knuckle under to society’s foolish expectations.

    • Very true – there is no good and bad when it comes to personality types. It’s not wrong to gain your motivation and excitement from external activities, just as much as it’s not wrong to gain that internally. What is wrong is to judge someone or throw labels at someone that is content and peaceful through introversion, and not extroversion.

  3. I wonder how much of our “extroversion” in our teens/twenties was fueled by alcohol.

    And everyone hates team building exercises (I used to lead them, and we facilitators hated them too). I once attended a retreat where each group was charged with the assignment of presenting their work product “but you must also make it fun!” Good f-ing grief. Literally ORDERED to make it “fun.” You never saw so many painful, excruciating, UN-FUN presentations ever.

    • Karen, that’s a really good point. Reflecting on my own past, during middle school and high school when I did not drink, I was very openly and visually introverted. However, when I reached college and began drinking around the clock, I started partying and becoming little miss social bee. However, even with those moments (drunk or sober), I knew I was being fake. I knew the party girl, loud mouth was not the true Caitlin. I suppose it was all conforming to society’s expectations for a brief period of time that’s dripping with peer pressure and the desire to fit in.

      Also, you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear the facilitators hate it too! Sometimes I will sit in observation and wonder how/why the facilitator chose this as a job, and whether they really feel as peppy as they display, or if it’s an act. Now I know the secret answer 🙂

  4. I love this piece! I’m an uber-extravert, but my mom and my husband are both introverts. They’ve taught me a lot about how to understand the mind and life of an introvert, and I’m really glad that you and other folks are shedding light on this. There are lots of wonderful people who aren’t super chatty — and, exactly as you said, it doesn’t make them anti-social. There’s nothing wrong with introversion; to the contrary, I thank my lucky stars that there are people who provide balance in a very extraverted world.

    Along that line, there’s a great book — “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain — that does a great job of bridging the introvert-extravert divide. It taught me a tremendous amount about what it’s like to be an introvert (to my surprise, it also made me realize that despite my near-pathological extraversion, I actually have quite a few introverted tendencies), and my mom said it hit the nail on the head. It’s a great read! (My one and only criticism of the book is that the author makes extraverts sound like self-promoting, shallow types…I promise, we’re not all like that!)

    • You hit the nail on the head – it’s all about balance! If the world was filled with all introverts, or extroverts, nothing would move forward; there would be no friction to look for solutions; human interactions could be at a stand still. Not only that, but we all hold qualities of both personality types – I’m 99% introverted, but there’s some extroversion kicking around in me somewhere.

      I am definitely going to check out that book… it sounds amazing! I love analyzing the way I think / feel / react, so this book sounds perfect. It’s too bad the author portrays extroverts in a slightly negative light.. this happens all too often! Introverts are freaks and extroverts are attention-hungry… WRONG! More like some of us are more externally motivated and stimulated, while others are internally. Most of my favorite people in my life (my boyfriend, my best friend, my mother, etc) are complete extroverts! It’s always nice to be around that personality type because it also helps me pull out of myself a bit more.

  5. Good post! I read Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet” as well, and found it invaluable in understanding my own introversion. Everyone would benefit from reading it, especially parents who wonder why their introverted child behaves the way he/she does.

  6. Preach!

    I’m an introvert, too, and I loathe any and a exercises like that. I really think most work activities are designed for extroverts to shine. But I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said here! I’m definitely rude and a freak, but those have nothing to do with my introversion.

  7. I absolutely love this post. As a woman who was “released,” from a job for being “anti-social,” which when prodded was clarified as “doesn’t come to company outtings,” and “doesn’t seem like you’re into the company environment,” or something…I wish each one of my former bosses would run into an article like this. Problem is when people make work their alter little else makes it across their desk, for a bit.

    This piece could have been written by me, I identify so deep. Good look in the hyper social waters…

    • I’m glad this post was so relatable for you, and I’m also very sorry to hear about your hardships in your previous company. I don’t know if you live in the states or not, but if you do – I’d look further into that. It sounds like unethical hiring/firing practices and might break federal labor laws. Best of luck to you in your future… don’t let anyone push you into being someone you’re not!

      • The problem is – this was in 2009. I probably should have done something about it then. I was absolutely enraged and deeply offended. I even challenged my manager in the meeting where they released me telling her her reasons made no sense to me. I was a hard worker, got along well with my team, had really high numbers as a sales person. Afterwards went to the owner of the small company who would not stand up for me, apparently this manager had been ‘building,’ a case I had not been told about. The whole thing was pretty yucky. But thank-you so much for your support. Now I work for myself (very small business) but that was totally unfair and jerky.

        So watch those folks who think they’re and orange so you’d better be too. All the best! xoxo

  8. I so get it! I find that I need to recharge after being around groups of people. I also abhor small talk. I just can’t ask someone a question that I’m really not interested in knowing the answer to just to make small talk. I to enjoy having alone time….introverts unite:)

  9. I consider myself an “extroverted” introvert. I do enjoy interacting with people, but I’d rather do it on my own terms, than have interaction forced upon me. I intensely dislike small talk and petty gossip, but I enjoy a really good laugh. Truth be told, I’m far more comfortable interacting with myself, than having to interact with people whom I share nothing in common. That’s where Henry Rollins and I are similar in that regard.

    • Gus, that’s a good way of putting it – I suppose if the interaction is on my terms, I’m better with it. I just don’t have the patience to sit and listen to someone blab about things I couldn’t care less about, all for the sake of small talk. Plus I find people very dramatic on the whole, getting all worked up over small things. Rollins and you have the right idea!

  10. Well stated. I loved it and have sent it on to a couple of my introvert friends. One of the great things about being retired is not having to go to those meetings. As a technical manager I loved meetings and activities to get things done to brainstorm and create. Oh did I dread the others and as you stated once I got to a position where I could get away from attending I did. Often getting the same questions you did. After a few years it got to be more of a joke as people learned of my propensity to not attend.

    • Thank you for passing along my writing… that is so appreciated! I look forward to the day I can retire and not face these sorts of events/meetings. However, I’ve found with time that I’m just honest. I used to push myself into these events and then feel miserable and drained all day. Now I simply explain I don’t like them, they make me uncomfortable, and I’m much more content to do what I’m paid to do: my job. That normally makes (at least) the boss happy!

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