When I was a teenager, I was awkward. Really awkward. Painfully awkward. I had a hard time talking to people and making friends. I was shy. I was insecure. Being home schooled was not helpful for me in this department. (My taste in clothes at the time probably wasn’t helpful either.)
But then I became a woman and put childish ways behind me. Well, sort of. I became a woman around the time a bunch of other awkward people were becoming adults too, and by the time I arrived on the scene with a driver’s license and voter’s registration, being awkward was incredibly cool. Introversion was in. What a time to be alive.
This is a huge oversimplification, I realize, but it makes me laugh. I spent all my teen years wondering what was the matter with me, trying to push and prune myself into assertiveness, and then I got to college and realized that it was okay to not do all that.
This was a blessed relief to me. I didn’t have to bring myself up to some standard of social interaction. I could choose what was most important to me and not feel guilty for cutting out what wasn’t. I could celebrate the personality God gave me without regret.
But my newfound pride in introversion came with a dark side: when you’re an introvert, you don’t tend to do things unless you have to. So if millennial internet culture says being anti-social, loving naps and coffee and Netflix, and getting anxiety every time you go out is okay, introverts have a hard time coming up with the oomph to disagree. We’re terrible at disagreeing with a majority, we introverts. We also have very low stores of natural oomph. Besides, the land of naps and coffee and Netflix is our native country.
Is this bad? Should we force ourselves to get off our pajama-clad butts and be more Type A go-getters? I wonder. While I’m naturally drawn to a quieter, slower-paced life, I also know myself enough to realize that if I don’t push myself, I’m going to miss out on accomplishments, relationships, and opportunities because I fall back on the introvert excuse.
I’m totally fine with missing out on some of those things; I have no desire to be some amazing networking socialite. But I know I’ll hate myself forever if I miss out on everything because I couldn’t learn to keep it together in the face of awkwardness.
Oddly enough, all the jobs I’ve had have been pretty extroverted. It’s not until recently that freelancing has given me some freedom to hide behind a computer. I’ve done food service, retail, and office work. One time I was telling my friend about my various experiences working in malls and she shook her head.
“How did you get into that business?” she asked.
“I honestly have no idea,” I said.
I forgot to tell her about the year I worked selling jewelry at house parties. I went to strangers’ houses and sold jewelry to them and their friends. Even looking back makes me cringe. What the hell was I doing? I loved that job in theory, but in practice I was a bundle of nerves. And I know I’ll never do anything like that again. But for a year I did it, and I survived. Because I pushed myself. (Also, money.)
So I think the problem is not with being an introvert, but in forgetting that while introversion has its strengths, it also comes with inherent weaknesses, just as any personality has. Introversion’s weaknesses are sneaky, though, because they wrap you in a blanket of comfort and say, “There there, just slow down. Sit this one out. You’re delicate. It’s okay.”
Yes, introverts often need more downtime than others. But giving self-care doesn’t mean we should self-coddle. The world misses out on all the thoughtfulness and sensitivity that introverts can offer because introverts are just too damn scared to speak up about it, so no one has any reason to listen.
Personally, I’m still trying to figure out the balance between self-care and self-coddling. It’ll probably take me a while to find that balance. And that’s okay. It starts with being aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert. It starts with learning when to push myself and when to relax.
This week, I’m presenting some of my writing in public. I’m terrified. There are moments when I ask myself what the hell I’m doing. There are moments when I wonder what the cancellation policy is on public readings. But ultimately I know this is a time where pushing myself into assertiveness will positively impact my writing and well-being.
What the am I doing? I’m learning to do what I love and live with the pain of awkwardness.