Introversion has gained a lot of media attention lately, and with it, I sense a creeping-in attitude among some to proudly own the fact of introversion. I credit Susan Cain and her well-known Ted Talk for this movement. It’s even a bit trendy to talk about understanding fellow introverts, or, in conversation, boasting one’s own introversion. And I will not complain about this. I veer toward the extreme end of introversion and have sharply honed my social skills over time to pass gracefully in the presence of so many extroverts in the world. I experience a constant tidal motion of exposing and retreating, giving and hiding, responding and reflecting. And so, I welcome this time of the introvert. I welcome the peace and ease that comes with knowing some people realize you’re not a freak if you are one, and the relief brought on in the moments when my need to retreat is honored instead of mocked.
The older I get, the more I realize that my introversion – extroversion balance depends mightily on how much time I spend at work. Paradoxically, I cannot imagine a job where I only interact with myself or one other person, and I have a strong social justice leaning, and I’m fascinated with how people think and act, and so, I am a clinical social worker, a mental health therapist. (Many therapists *are* introverts, I’ve also found!) I interact with people all day long. I cannot imagine a work life where I didn’t talk and listen all day long, return calls and have meetings, and reach out when people miss their appointments. I thrive on this work. But, why? Why, when I am such an extreme introvert, did I end up as a pretty contented, pretty skilled social worker?
I took a longer maternity leave than most in the United States – about 5 months – before returning to work very part time, and after about a year total of not working full time, I was quite bored and very, very chatty when I did get adult time. This showed me that I was not a complete introvert. I do have some extroversion traits, but it took a whole year to uncover them. Now that I work full time again, it’s taken about 5 months to want to retreat all the time, to want to go inside every evening, to avoid personal emails and voicemails, and to think about cancelling social events on the weekends. I am not depressed (trust me, I have checked on that possibility). I am just… spent. I am done talking, listening, and engaging. I want to be in my own head a lot more than I’m allowed to now.
It seems the right balance is so difficult for me to find. Too much time with one-on-one my child grew mentally unstimulating. Not enough hours with a part time job, and I had itchy feet. Too much full time work, and I miss my kid like crazy and want to hide from the world in my pajamas every night. I can’t find the right balance, and I am flummoxed by the ping-ponging experience. I feel incredibly lucky for all that I have – a rewarding career, a beautiful family, interesting problems to solve, and the self awareness and self acceptance to protect my own introversion. But I do honestly wish to find stability in the right balance. Even in saying that, I imagine that for me, this introversion – extroversion dilemma is just that, a balancing act, and the type of balancing that requires constant, fine-tuned motions. Like a spinning top, like a person on stilts, like a flamingo on one leg – I seek my center point, and over and around it, always seeking the ever-impermanent, ever-satisfying center point.