Monday, 19 May 2014

Being somewhat introverted


I recently got myself a new job, which I start in 6 weeks. In the second interview I had, the interviewer asked me whether I would consider myself an introvert or an extrovert, and how I felt I could work with people who were the opposite to me.

I paused for a moment, reflecting on my tendencies. My answer was thus: I am predominantly an introvert, but I have taught myself to be extroverted.

I am a classic introvert. Just for a recap, this doesn't mean that I'm shy, but more that I gain energy from within myself. I hate using the telephone, especially to people I don't know. I hate small talk. I like to party, but only when I'm in the mood and I've had sufficient time to recharge my batteries beforehand. I like being alone. If people come to stay with us, I get antsy after about 3 days, because there are people in my space and I feel like I have to be 'on' all the time. Big events exhaust me.

But at the same time, I have learnt to buck this a little. I was a politician, which meant doing a lot of things that were completely outside of my comfort zone, like knocking on doors asking for people's support in an election. It probably speaks volumes that I never directly asked that of people without asking them something else first - I could never walk up to someone and outright ask them to support me. I had to learn to network, when small talk is my most hated thing. I had to learn to deal with stuff I would normally shy away from.

So now I consider myself an introvert with learnt extrovert traits. I still need space to myself. I can still ground extroverts, providing much needed balance to their enthusiasm (unfortunately I always feel like I'm the party pooper as a result). Being an introvert is a bit of a problem when you're learning a new language as well - you need to be able to make small talk to improve your skills, but if you hate small talk doing it in an unfamiliar language is the worst thing ever!

I was thinking about this because I read Sarah Wilson's piece on introverts and extroverts. She mentioned something about going to concerts not because the thing itself energises her, but because the experience pushes her. That made me pause - I love going to concerts. Music is my passion and live music is what I love. But only when I'm alone (or with someone who shares my love for whichever band we're seeing). The concert will fill me with energy and love, but if I'm with someone else then I end up using some of that energy being 'on'.

I read somewhere else that introverts are best partnered with extroverts. I don't agree with that - The Beard is as introverted as me, but in different ways. He is much better with small talk and networking than I am, but less good with mass social outings to parties etc. I'm fairly confident that one of the reasons we mesh so well is because we understand each others needs and don't try and push them too hard. But because we're differently introverted we don't end up with the stuck in the rut thing - we know how to push each other in different areas.

Extroverts can be hard work if I'm with them too long. I need time to recharge, time to refresh. Not too much time though - one thing people don't always understand about introverts is that even we get cabin fever. All that energy that we recharge when we're in down time has to go somewhere, and eventually we need to interact with other people.

As with just about everything, balance is the key.

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