I guess at some level I always knew that I was… different.

Sure I experimented during my younger years. Even though I’d heard it would make you go blind, I did it constantly. Reading, that is. And coming up with dubious excuses to avoid parties and stay in. And lurking in places where others like me hung out (libraries).

It’s just a phase, I would tell myself. Eventually I’ll grow out of it and be like everybody else.

Like the people in movies and TV shows. Shiny, happy people. Socially active, big-group people.

At school and while studying for my first (commerce) degree it was easy to hang out in small, close groups. To eschew parties and frequent socialising and just keep a low profile.

But when I started working in large financial institutions, it became harder to fit in. So many people. Endless meetings. So much talking. Constant get-togethers. Open-plan offices where I could never concentrate and would have to stay late every night to get my work done after people went home. Bright overhead fluorescents that flickered interminably. People always chattering, buzzing around, so much energy, so much confidence. Talk talk talk. People people PEOPLE.

How could I be so young and feel so utterly exhausted?

What the fuck was my problem?

If this guy says ‘going forward’ one more time I’m going to smash my glasses and stab him with a shard.

I’d Rather Be Fishing (And I Hate Fishing)

I remember a team-building weekend when I was at Macquarie Bank. It was held at a lovely resort on the water. My suite was gorgeous. The food was fabulous. Yet I was in introvert hell.

After a day of ice breakers and group activities, another girl and I swiped a bottle of champagne and escaped from the evening’s socialising to join some fisherman who’d invited us onto their little boat. We just sat and sipped, the fishermen fished, it was quiet.

Our colleagues were not happy. And I understood that, part of me knew why they were judging us. But I simply couldn’t go back until it was quiet again and I could creep into the peace of my room. I lay in the dark sensing my colleagues’ disdain.

What the fuck was my problem?

Kill me.
Kill me now.

There’s Something Wrong With This Fantasy

During that time I had a couple of excellent bosses, great opportunities, challenging work I enjoyed and was good at, and I was very well paid. Which is probably how I managed to last as long as I did – about 13 years.

And the thing is, I desperately wanted a corporate career – or thought I did. Now when I look back I wonder if it was because in my formative years the only females in pop culture who did things, rather than simply nagging or being a sidekick or needing to be rescued, were corporate high flyers. In those days we had no Buffy or Veronica Mars to show that a girl could be the hero of her own life in her own way. I wanted to be a girl who did stuff, and in those days the girls who did stuff did career stuff.

Either that, or it was the little business suits with the big shoulders that enticed me to a corporate career. Yeah, probably it was the cute suits.

Anyway, eventually the signs that something was wrong grew more insistent. One day I was chatting with a friend and mentioned a fantasy I’d have when returning to work after lunch.

You know, when you fantasise about getting hit by a car so you don’t have to go back? Not a lot; just enough to land you in hospital for a few weeks?

Her eyes widened. No, I do not have that fantasy, she said slowly.

Hmmm. OK then.

What the fuck was my problem?

What are the chances someone has poisoned the end of this pen so I don’t have to go back to work?

Corners Of Shame

I guess the look on her face sank in, because not long after that I left. My department was undergoing (yet another) restructure that would have me reporting to someone I didn’t respect. So I took that as a sign to get out and asked to be made redundant.

During my outplacement I was put through the usual battery of psych tests. The psychologist who wrote my report took me aside one afternoon and said, I’ve never seen someone less well suited to this kind of corporate culture. How have you stayed so long and not had a nervous breakdown?

Whoa. It was one of those defining moments. It started to dawn on me that maybe it wasn’t me who was wrong, maybe I was just in the wrong place. Square. Peg.

But what was the nature of my squareness? What precisely did the others have that I lacked? What made up my corners, made me nervous-breakdown-able in this environment?

After leaving corporate life I went back to school and did a psych degree – something I’d always wanted to do – and it was there I found my answers.

Repeat after me: We are all individuals.

Weirdness, Thy Name Is Introversion

While studying the subjects of psychometrics (psych testing) and personality theory, two things became clear.

First, one of five aspects of personality that are pretty intrinsic to who we are and how we navigate the world is extraversion/introversion – this is how easily we’re stimulated by people, noise, lights and external input. Neither is better than the other, although extraversion is certainly more visible in movies, the media and pop culture – perhaps leading introverts to feel like the odd ones.

Second, I am at the extreme end of introversion. You know the long tail? I’m in that triangular bit on the end.

In light of these discoveries, a cascade of memories came tumbling over me and got re-interpreted, re-processed, exactly like that scene in The Sixth Sense. It’s a pretty significant epiphany to realise you’ve been misjudging yourself, and Bruce Willis, for a long, long time.

"one of five aspects of personality that are pretty intrinsic to who we are and how we navigate the world is extraversion/introversion – this is how easily we’re stimulated by people, noise, lights and external input"

There’s No Avoidr For Introverts

At first my attempts to embrace the introvert lifestyle were tentative. There’s no Grindr for introverts (Avoidr?) to help you along. And anyway, no one would ever use the options to chat or connect, so I’m not sure how it would actually work.

But as I came to embrace my inner (and outer) introvert, I learned a lot.

  • I learned that turning up begrudgingly to gatherings you yourself have organised is best avoided by not actually organising such gatherings in the first place.
  • I learned that you can bypass the 5 stages of cancelling plans by sending a gracious decline early on.
  • I learned that good friends invite you to their parties, send a sweet note telling you you don’t have to come, and then make a separate quiet date with you (yes my friends are really this awesome).
  • I learned that genuine conversation with close friends is the best.
  • I learned that TV shows are a fabulous way to feel like you’re spending time with people without feeling like you have to be ‘on’.
  • I learned that for me no amount of money is enough to justify working in a corporate career.
  • I learned that once you stop worrying about not being an extravert, there’s a lot of pleasure in being an introvert – a happiness in your own company, a delight in books, crossword puzzles, TV shows, thinking, planning, creating, learning, ideas, or however you like to be a nerd do your introverting.

Can’t talk. Introverting.

My Introvert Lifestyle

Over time I’ve also made a bunch of decisions and trade-offs to have a lifestyle that makes me happier, and therefore a better wife, relative, and friend.

  • I start the day with breakfast alone while I do the crossword.
  • I work in my apartment, in a quiet home-office. I get more done and do better work than I was ever capable of in an open-plan space.
  • I manage my schedule with care, generally limiting myself to no more than one or two social dates a week.
  • Every few weeks I schedule a weekend with no social plans at all.
  • If I start to feel overwhelmed and peopled-out I take an afternoon off to binge-watch TV and eat junk food.
  • I keep a big pile of books by my bed – fiction, humour, memoir, biography – so there’s always something to match my mood. And I read every night before falling asleep.

These days I love being an introvert and get a kick out of laughing at my idiosyncrasies.

And I’ve stopped asking, So what the fuck is my problem. I’ve realised there isn’t one.

The plant can stay because he doesn’t say much. Usually.

What’s your coming out as an introvert story? Please share in the comments!

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